“… Sharing a park bench quietly?”

A park bench.

Two old men, ‘lost in their overcoats’.

And two young men, Simon and Garfunkel, perceptive enough in their mid-twenties to understand the importance of that friendship – and that bench.

’How terribly strange,’ they sang, ‘to be seventy.’

Now well past that strange age themselves, I wonder if the old friends have shared that park bench, quietly?

Interesting, that ‘quietly’.  A silence of memories shared? Of times past? Regret for lost beginnings? An unwillingness to think of endings?

Were those young men really able to put themselves in the ‘round toes’ of the ‘high shoes’ of two old men? Sitting together, quietly?

Once you begin to look at benches, you soon realise their role in human lives extends beyond the merely practical.

Simon and Garfunkel were singing about park benches …

A bench in one of our local parks, just after Christmas, with floral tributes to memory of the person commemorated ion the plaque

A bench in one of our local parks, just after Christmas, with commemorative floral tributes hiding the name/s on the plaque

View from the bench in one of our local parks on a rather drab winter's day

View from the bench in one of our local parks on a rather drab winter’s day

…but they materialise in all sort of places, benches.

Hiding in clearings in pine woods.

Facing the crashing waves on promenades and piers.

Nestling in long grass on country lanes where they subtly infiltrate the landscape.

A bench invites you – if not to sit – at least to stop, look, share what other people see when they sit and stare and rest and think.

Memories abound around benches. Like invisible heaps made of fragments of lives.

Sadness and joy. Hope and despair. Boredom – and inspiration.

A place to open the thermos flask and eat the corned beef sandwich. A view to be savoured with each sip and bite.

The turning point, neither there nor back.

And, physically, a limbo for aching limbs, a respite for recovery.

Last summer we found a new place to walk that had many memory-laden benches.

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When I say walk, I’m not a 12 mile hike kind of walker. I prefer my walks enjoyable. With plenty of time to stand and stare. To breathe deeply, not huff and puff.

A five mile round trip’s my limit.

Our new strolling patch is far shorter than that, in a nature reserve not far from a northern industrial city.

It happens to be the city where I was born. I never lived there, being whisked back from the nun-run Nursing Home pretty quickly, but it still gives me a frisson of pleasure that I’ve ended up living so close to my roots.

Anyway.

The nature reserve is on the site of an old brickworks, where clay was extracted for many years. Hence its name, Brickcroft.

It’s now a string of ponds, fringed by trees and swamps. An oasis amid an old, almost suburban world of housing, horticulture and, across the road – a bakery.

The Croft Bakery’s not for the frenzied. Queuing is an inevitable part of the experience.

Pea and ham 'soup'

Pea and ham ‘soup’

If you want a generous slice of game pie, a freshly made sandwich of roast pork with apple sauce, a huge scone loaded with jam and cream – or a soup of pea and ham you can stand a spoon up in – you will wait.

Outside are some damp (it’s usually rained at some point, or the frost is thawing) picnic tables – with benches.

There we sit and eat, then sup a cup of tea before taking our weekend constitutional.

Around the two main ponds passing strangers nod and say hello – or more. We pat the head of the occasional dog – and notice the seasons changing.

Early autumn’s delicious colours.

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The bare dark branches and bright red berries of frosty blue-skied winter.

And now, the climate-change warmth of a mild, wet, rotting-leaved middle of January.

In the largest pond a cormorant sits like a statue on the branch of a sunken tree trunk protruding from the water.

White birds sit on the ice of mid-November, reflecting like a blurred image in the greyly frozen water.

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A scraperboard illustration my father of our 'family bird'

A scraperboard illustration, by my father, of our ‘family bird’

 

 

A lanky-legged heron flits across the sky, no sooner spotted than gone.

An omen for me, a good one.

He’s my bird, the heron. A source for my northern surname on my northern father’s side.

 

 

 

 

The ducks quack as regular visitors throw them seeds.

A robin follows us, bouncing one tree ahead, or one behind, till he rests on the back of a bench.

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And I think of the person, Dennis, commemorated on its little plaque.

‘Preserve your memories,’ sang Simon and Garfunkel, ’they’re all that’s left you’.

Or should that be, they’re all that’s left of you?

It makes me smile to think that, perhaps, somewhere in the ether, a soul is happily watching as a cheery little redbreast perches on the back of his old haunt.

And I look at the view.

Sharing.

Quietly.

The view from Dennis's bench, in winter

The view from Dennis’s bench, in winter

Simon and Garfunkel singing Old Friends (grit your teeth through the ad):

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16 Responses to “… Sharing a park bench quietly?”

  1. Nothing says more about a society than the places created for people.
    Beautiful

    Like

  2. John Kemp says:

    Ah! Simon and Garfunkel!. Now when was that? Must have been the early 70s – Mrs Robinson, The Sound of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Just found them again in one of my cardboard boxes full of old tapes, along with Ray Conniff, Creedence Clearwater, Neil Diamond, J.J. Cale…. I’ve known some ponds too, peaceful places. Longest ago was near my boarding school in the bush in what was then Southern Rhodesia, very much like the one just below “Early autumn’s delicious colours”.
    Is it the “Earn-” part? Sounds as though it could be a local form of “heron”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John – Bookends was released in 1968 apparently in the USA, I must admit I also thought it was a little later than that. As for the heron and the earn – yes, it is one of two explanations for the origin, the other being owls – but I don’t buy that one myself. I mean, I like owls but a heron – inspiring seeing a heron in flight. Where would that school/pond be in what I presume is now Zim? Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thel says:

    Nice… my blood pressure just went down. Did your father create the heron scraperboard? I recall that he enjoyed illustrating.

    Like

    • Hiya Thel – yes, he did the heron scraperboard. He was rather good at scraperboard and many of the illustrations for his ‘Discovering’ books (houses and castles) were done that way. My sister had a few framed – I have two on my wall, one of a ‘modern’ house (early 60s I think) and a bit of an ancient house/courtyard not far from here. I recommend listening to S&G on YouTube for blood pressure maintenance!

      Like

  4. Thel says:

    Your dad was very talented!
    Thanks for the advice… I will listen to S&G all day on Friday…Inauguration Day in the USA.

    Like

  5. hmunro says:

    What a beautiful, touching post. I will never again look at a bench and see just an ordinary object. Thank you for that …

    Like

  6. Lovely piece Mary, my favourite Paul Simon song too, and still works its magic on the spinal hairs. He had an extraordinary way with words, you too, you brightened my dull day.

    Like

    • Thank you Peter, I’m glad it cheered your day. The sounds of the city falling like dust… I agree, extraordinary and I wish I had written those particular words, they described exactly how the noise of distant traffic sifted through the trees around the park. 🙂

      Like

  7. Pingback: Not in any way a last resort | MEMOIRS OF A HUSK

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