Friday, October 20, 2006

Sunday in the park with Ronald

It turns out that my last day out and about in London was Sunday. I wandered a bit, and ended up in Regent's Park in time to watch the sunset. Which I guess balances somehow, since I went to the same park to watch the sunrise on my first day.

I had bought a couple of sandwiches and a giant mocha, and I found a park bench facing the sun. I had only been there a moment, barely gotten my sandwich out of my pack, when an elderly man came along and asked if he could use my bench to do a bit of stretching.

I nodded assent, and started to eat my sandwich. I was a bit worried about birds since I was very close to the water, and there were thousands of them in and around the water. I thought they might smell my sandwich and flock around me. I guess they're better behaved than that, or conditioned to wait for humans to offer food or something.

I had encountered less polite behavior from the city pigeons. Aside from the ones I photographed swarming around the table at the outdoor cafe early on, one actually stood on my foot later in the trip, to get at some crumbs on my pant leg. Pretty ballsy, if you ask me. But I guess the fowl at Regent's Park are a bit classier.

The man finished his little stretching regimen and asked me where I was from, what I did and all that. He seemed nice enough, and genuinely interested, so I answered truthfully, and he told me various things about Chicago that he had heard, or such-and-such famous designer from London.

As we continued talking, I mentioned my intent to get back into writing. He was delighted. We chatted about books for a few minutes until his wife said something I couldn't hear, reaching into her bag.

She produced a book, entitled The Law is A Ass, by Ronald Irving, and handed it to me. He said that some of the illustrations heading the chapters were by an artist friend of theirs. I thumbed through it, finding it to be an anthology of legal quotations, anecdotes and sayings. The title comes from Dickens.

And then he revealed that he was, in fact, Ronald Irving: author of the very book I held in my hands. So we talked about the law a bit, and retired life, and London.

In the back of my head I was wondering if, provided I get published, I would carry a copy of my book with me. And soon that was really all I could think about. I had done nothing at the outset to encourage conversation. Was it possible that he and his wife trolled the parks of London, striking up conversations and producing the book at the appropriate moment?

I decided that it was possible.

And very human. My guess is that he wanted to feel relevant. That he was a vital man in his prime, and that age and retirement had robbed him of the external validations that had told him he was important.

Amazon tells me, though he did not, that he studied at Oxford, practiced law in London for many years, and also co-authored Know Your Rights, published in 1976 and apparently no longer in print, although it is described as a "classic" in his author blurb.

I liked Ronald, his quiet wife and handy book. I liked it that he trolled about looking for tourists to talk to. There was nothing pompous about it. He just wanted people to know what he'd done.

He walked away with his wife, leaving me to my sandwich. I called my brother in Denver, and as we began chatting some guy behind me started throwing bread to the birds. It was landing near me, and I was completely surrounded. He seemed genuinely embarrassed about how he had essentially attacked me with birds.

So I moved to another bench, ate my sandwich, talked to my brother, and watched what was essentially my final sunset in London, there by the little lake in the park.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Hey!

Well, reading from the bottom up (to catch up) I read this very nice story that began without a title or photo and thought to myself, particularly upon reading the last line which really felt very poetic, that I might read that again.

Imagine my surprise to find upon scrolling back up to the top that I actually WAS starting to read it again...

...Fearing that this might be the kind of thing I say that really bugs you about me... but hoping that my overuse of ellipses will distract you from such feelings...