My first Hyde Park concert was Closing Night of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The final evening of what had been weeks of euphoria. The city that I loved had made me fall head over heels in love with it all over again. I had never been so proud to live here. That night the headliners were Blur, perfect sing along band, with New Order before. New Order!! Oh that took me back. I went with my friend Mark and we took my daughter Lizzie and her best friend Alice with us. They were 13 at the time and this was their first concert ever. They weren’t very impressed. “Is this it?” Lizzie asked in bewilderment. “You just stand around like this?” Lizzie and Alice spent much of the night sitting in deck chairs provided by The Sun newspaper, reading through stacks of copy. “The Sun is filled with information,” they cheerfully told us when they re-joined us. Mark particularly admired their word choice. Information indeed. And despite their reservations, it was a wonderful, magical night at the end of what had been a wonderful, magical few weeks. (For the record, since that night, Lizzie and Alice have taken themselves off to music venues all over the city to enjoy what I can only describe a Scandi heavy metal played on lutes. London caters for all tastes.)
The following year, Hyde Park hosted Bon Jovi, and my husband invited me to join him for a corporate event. I love corporate events. This one was fantastic. The hospitality tent was incredible. Towers of shellfish, endless rivers of champagne. I received a marriage proposal from a man, a stranger, sitting with two women. “wow, you are optimistic,” was my reply. Bon Jovi puts on a great show. Come on, we ALL know ALL the words. And Mr. Jon Bon Jovi has an amazing AMAZING plastic surgeon….if anyone has the name, please send.
And then, this past Sunday night, the 3rd of my British Summertime experiences…..it could not have been more perfectly timed. London is still reeling, bruised and battered from the recent Brexit vote. Who better to heal our aching souls than the one and only Carole King. I have been excited for this concert since the annoucement of it months ago. Really really excited. “I don’t know why all you women are so crazy for Carole King,” my husband grumpily announced the other night. “Because,” I gushed, “she has written the soundtrack to my life.” A great deal of eye-rolling ensued. But it is true. We love Carole King because she HAS written the soundtrack to our lives. Yes, lives that are privileged and sheltered certainly. But lives filled with heartbreak and best friends and the eternal question “will you still love me tomorrow.” And her concert in Hyde Park was tremendous. Notoriously shy of the spotlight, the enormous crowd in the Park was determined to let her know she was loved. LOVED. From start to finish. The review for the Guardian described it as a 50,000 person sing-along with group snuggling. Well that was certainly true where we were. From the first racucous chord of I Feel the Earth Move, we were off. And when the gorgeous group of strangers invited us to join them, far too generous with their chilled wine (a wine bucket! How clever!) the evening just bloomed into something very very special indeed. A night to remember forever. How fun the last several days have been getting to know my new Cheltenham and Dorset friends over Facebook, the euphoria of Sunday just rolling on and on. And then yesterday I learned that one of them, Clare, is starting her 5th round of Chemo for breast cancer. Suddenly the sunshine and music seem even more magical because reality is often grim. But not without hope.
Today, as I write, is July 7, 4 days on from the concert. The last day of term for all my children. And the last day for my youngest at her current school, a school she has loved for the last 6 years. It is also the 11th anniversary of the London bombings, an event that remains frightening and surreal and desperately sad. So with memories of that horrible day more than a decade ago and thoughts for my new friend Clare, mixed with the usual distractions of motherhood (when am I going to do the food shopping, does younger son have his gi ready for the karate weekend etc.) I walked into the beautiful St. Luke’s Church Battersea, for the Broomwood Hall Leaver’s Service. Broomwood does ceremony well. This was no exception. Given that my daughter is very excited to be joining her sister at secondary school, and that I will continue to see many of the other mothers on a regular basis, I wasn’t expecting to feel much more than admiration for a service well done. I was simply looking forward to 45 minutes of reflection and calm before the end of term storm. Then those little voices began reading out Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. It gets me every time. “..do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.” I started crying. A lot. The woman next to me, a stranger, handed me a tissue. I felt so grateful.
And that is why we love Carole King, why we love singing along with her, arms round people we have only just met, in a beautiful park in the sunshine, because the world is a hard place. It is filled with bombings and political confusion and cancer and sadness. But it has great moments of joy as well, and these are what we hold on to through the dark days. As Ehrmann wrote so perfectly “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” Share your tissues, hand out the wine, sing with strangers, remember the good and above all, Love.
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