I suppose THE place to be on the summer solstice is Stonehenge. But I loath Stonehenge. My youngest drew a picture of me being sad at Stonehenge a few years ago, when yet another American guest demanded to visit. The drawing hangs proudly on the refrigerator. Why do I hate it so? Because it is just a bunch of rocks. In a field. That takes 2 very very very long hours to get to from my house, a journey that feels even longer as it shouldn’t take that long at all. If only all those idiot gawkers on the 303 didn’t make the traffic crawl along. Actually it doesn’t even crawl. It stands still, with occasional bursts of forward movement. And no, it isn’t a Druid site. The Victorians made that up. So you put all those ridiculous costumes away. (it is actually much older ….but I just can’t muster any enthusiasm…). However, the summer solstice I do love. The longest day of the year in a country that can often be dark and cold. And what better place to spend it than with Alice on the Common.
London is a very green city. Surprisingly green when you read the stats. Of course there are the 8 beautiful Royal Parks, which would have all been royal hunting grounds back in their day, and cover almost 5,000 acres in Greater London. But the Commons are for the people, hence the name, a place where people could have grazed their sheep. I googled the total acreage in London and got a long list of public green spaces with the footnote that other large, green spaces are recognized under a different Commons Act….suffice to say, London has a lot of protected, common land. And while the sheep may have gone, we don’t need the land any less. In fact, given the closeness that is modern urban living, we need them even more. Down here in SW London, everyone uses the Commons. Dog walkers, exercise clubs, cyclists, football leagues of all ages, cricket, lots of cricket. Rugby too. Families, teenagers, runners, power walkers, packs of chattering women holding takeaway coffees. My youngest had a lacrosse training session on Wandsworth Common last Sunday. All the local schools use the Commons for games, for matches, running children round. And in the hot weather people just lay themselves down, anywhere, and soak up the rays. I have always lived near a Common, in London. Our first house was close to Wandsworth Common. Our second equidistant between Wandsworth and Tooting Bec. Now we live just off Tooting Bec Common, a sprawling area of green that even boasts its own Lido. That is an outdoor, public swimming pool to my non-UK friends. Clapham Common is only up the road and I have run more races round it than I can count. These three Commons are a reason that southwest London is such a desirable place for families to live. Maintained by the local council, these spaces are taken seriously by local residents. Very seriously. Recently, CrossRail (a new speedy railway) development threatened a corner of Wandsworth Common……wow, I have never seen residents so angry, so motivated, so engaged. No way was that going to happen. And by use of all democratic processes available, it didn’t. Thankfully.
So when Alice suggested we meet up, in the evening, on the Common, Wandsworth Common, how could I say no. We bought gin and tonics from the Hope Pub and carried them across the street, you are allowed to do that here. Flopped down on the rather parched grass, it has been hot, hot, hot lately, with Alice’s gorgeous dog Peppa next to us. We watched a game of softball played by two London Adult Mixed Softball League teams, strangers all. The level of skill was impressive from these Brits. We cheered for both sides. And we set the world to rights. For hours. The sun stayed out….and eventually turned the sky to that amazing inky blue.
Stonehenge can remain the venue for misinformed, historically inaccurate, aging hippies. Southwest London, on the Common, is the truly perfect location for the solstice, and perfect it was.