My sit spot is in my local park, so I go there pretty much every day. I usually take my binoculars and enjoy 20 minutes or so watching the park wildlife. Even though I live in south London, our local park has a pretty rich ecology.
Just as I was leaving, a couple of young lads strolled over. “What ‘cha looking at?” Asked one of them. I felt myself tense and withdraw slightly as I replied, “I’ve been watching the birds”. Perhaps you can imagine the narrative in my head: ‘He’s going to make some crass comment and ruin my visit.‘
Actually, he didn’t say much at all; he just nodded and wandered off, leaving me feeling slightly chastened at my stupid assumptions. Then his slightly older mate came towards me, and pitched another question: “Have ya seen the pelican today?’
To the best of my knowledge there isn’t a pelican in my local park, but there is a good sized heron. “No – I think you mean the heron? I haven’t seen it for a day or so”, I replied, aiming for a tone that didn’t sound like I was correcting him.
“Right”, he said, wandering off, and then, turning back to me, added “I jus’ thought yer man would know where ‘e is.”
I learnt some good lessons from our brief conversation. First, don’t let the media hype about ‘wayward feral youth’ stop you from seeing kids for who they really are. Second, youngsters are as fascinated by the creatures they see in the park as they ever were. I also like to think that our little local park is a place of growth for those two lads. As I’ve said here more than once, green spaces are profoundly healing and essential for commuity cohesion.
Next time I hope I have enough savvy to engage in a less defensive exchange. Clearly, I need to get out more!