I kept waking up but with no hand to hold and no car to jump into to drive a bit I let the darkness and sound of rain put me back to sleep. I forget my mask amongst the list of things I’ve shoved into my waterproof coat and am reminded by a sign in a hardware store. I’ll bring my camera, phone, keys (one for the outside door, one for the flat, one for my room, and one for the broken lock), credit card, and Oyster card; leaving my coffee cup, umbrella, and tiny shopping bag behind.
I made a few lists before my flight — National Parks, World Heritage Sites, English Heritage, Natural Trust, hiking trails, tour routes, restaurants, things to do, foods to try, and a few parks I could spend the day in. On one of those was the idea to see Dinosaur Park at Crystal Palace, so I decided to walk the two miles there and was sure to grab my mask but this time out the door I forgot today’s itinerary that I went through the trouble of making.
I pass two restaurants that seem to have good offerings on their menu and I’m thinking I’ll get a sandwich of sorts for takeaway, but it’s not till I reach Arin Cafe and decide to sit at one of the distancing tables that I feel hungry enough to order. The owner brings me a menu from another table and suggests a coffee with my meal. We have a hiccup when I go to the counter to pay because he takes cash and tells me there’s an ATM at the Tesco Express on the corner. I was going to leave my coat as collateral but he trusts me and tells me to take it since it’s raining out. I put my credit card in the machine, thinking about how this will be my first cash advance, but no luck. I go inside hoping to pay for someone’s groceries if they’ll give me the cash I need.
This guy has the cash but isn’t willing to take the deal so the cashier suggests I go to the post office store next door where another guy has the money too but this place takes debit only. I go back to the grocery store and this guy isn’t willing to part with his coins, as I’m still trying to pay for his milk, because it only covers part of my cost. These people make me feel like a beggar instead of a trader and perhaps that’s the local mindset. I return to the restaurant and he can tell by my demeanor that I didn’t have luck, so he simply suggests I come back tomorrow, no problem; maybe not for him but it’s going to bug me.
I walk to the train station, debate looking around the park first because I’m so close but ride back to get my debit card as I think about how I let the covid situation change my travel usual — always bring some cash for moments like this, even if you assume everywhere will be contactless or chip payment. These guys say hi to me as they smoke hand-rolled cigarettes outside a barbershop and after a short conversation I’m on my way to remove the inner lining of my coat because of the heat but realize doing so would leave me wet during the quick-dry process. I’d have talked longer if they weren’t smoking as I remind myself this trip is like no other. My only goal is to be outside after having outside locked away for a seemingly long time.
I’m on my way back to the train station with determination when one of the guys from earlier, Daniel, who is British-Jamaican, is getting his dog Boskoe (possibly named after the LA rapper of same name fame) from an alley and putting him in the boot of his car. I understand the trunk is open to the rest of the interior but I’m burning up outside and can’t imagine the sauna that dog is about to encounter… that is, until I experience it when Daniel is impressed with my story and offers to take me to the cafe because he believes that 70% of people in my position just wouldn’t go back.
The owner is glad I returned to pay for my discounted breakfast and offers me a coffee. I can’t decline and before I leave ask if he makes Turkish coffee, but that’s a treat for his home as he offers the British what they prefer, for the last 15 years, of which the last dozen have been in this location. Daniel’s car is still there 30 minutes later. Don’t worry, I did come out and ask if he wanted anything but he was fine playing on his phone. I thanked my driver who decided it was a good idea if him and his dog join me on a walk. I’m not averse to the company, especially when they’re willing to do what I want. We parked in a puddle on Crystal Palace Park Rd and Caleb called as we made our way left over muddy path and under wet trees.
My husband gets interrupted by work calls but each time Daniel gives me space while pointing things out and asking for directions. He would see the dinosaurs with me and wanted to show me the maze — deal. We walk by Bowl Lake, past a dog that doesn’t listen (most are off their leads and behave) so I carry it back to the walker via its vest harness so she can re-leash him. To our right is what the 1936 fire left of the palace built for the 1851 Great London Exhibition of the technology and arts of England’s empire that was moved to its current location three years later to be the centerpiece of attractions that went bankrupt before they burned.
We continue past a sports center that we return to so I can use the loo (an informal British term for toilet that originated in the 1940s), and by part of Lower Lake before realizing the dinosaurs are hidden among the trees of this oddly-shaped body of water. The most accurate model is of the extinct Irish Elk, having roamed Europe and Central Asia just 8,000 years ago. The male shed his antlers annually and an original pair sat on the sculpture but were removed because the body was too weak to support the massive fossilized bone. Antlers are found in the deer (elk, moose, chital, muntjac) family, are an extension of the skull, and grow from the tip. Horns are found in the bovine (bison, sheep, antelope) family, are composed of keratin on the outside and bone at the core, and grow from the base.
We happen upon a statue, listed Grade II (worthy of every effort of preservation), that was erected in 1961 to honor Guy the Gorilla who arrived to the London Zoo on Guy Fawkes Night in 1947. He was a gentle giant, known for his kindness towards birds that flew into his cage, and preferred the attention of people and their sweets to the company of Lomie, who he met at 25 years old. It was the abundance of treats that would lead to a tooth infection and his death in 1978. His story is the epitome of how people should strive to be — considerate till death and then set free, but we choose our sins over dignity. (The guy is Sir Joseph Paxton M.P. who created the palace.)
The maze will be harder to find, as it’s on the opposite side of the small lake we passed first, and once we do it’s a closed gate we arrive at. This maze dates back to 1870 and in 1909 a group of girls formed Girl Guides, which now has over ten million members. They worked with Brook and Black, and others, to refurbish the maze for the girls’ centenary celebration, but to create something for the local community that would also attract international visitors — and it worked.
On our way out of the park, Daniel throws some crisps at a duckling but attracts all the pigeons within sight who commence fighting over chip crumbs. We managed to spend the afternoon at the park and I get dropped off around 5p. I’ll talk with Caleb again as I explore what’s down the street to the right — historic home of William Walker (the deep sea diver who saved Winchester Cathedral), fish markets, Caribbean food restaurants, a Polish grocery, and mini grocers among other shops that may be closed for now or forever.
I’ll buy an egg and cress sandwich for dinner. They don’t seem like much but they’re an England staple, just as lentil soup is in the Middle East (at least for vegetarians). I tried using self checkout and ended up in queue for the cashier so I could insert my contactless card. Doing so requires a signature and this bewilders the man enough to ask his coworker for help who tells me to sign the receipt. Sometimes banks use the insert and enter PIN for verification between transactions and some cards come with limits for fast spending on cheap items to keep the line moving in the morning.
I get to enjoy a 100-104°F shower, in the hot tub heat range, and want one with a temperature knob for winter and summer settings. I walked 12 miles today and gained about 200 feet in elevation. Yesterday I walked half as far but more than double in stairs climbing out of the underground. With the on and off rain I don’t have as many pictures as I would if the weather were drier and appreciate that my camera fits perfectly inside my coat with me.