Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Best Free Entertainment in London

September 20, 2010 · No Comments

London’s public parks are impressive, in their size, beauty, and sheer number. Most people go to these parks to play sports, have picnics, hang out with their mates (both kinds), sit and read under a tree, etc., but my favorite park activity is people watching; and nowhere in London is the people watching better than in Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner. Speaker’s Corner is like an internet chat forum come to life, attracting people from every imaginable social background and point of view. Immaculately dressed women toting around their four figure handbags walk by elderly Sikh men in skull caps with long, gray beards. Middle school aged children in football jerseys weave between bikers and joggers. Indian grandmas in wheelchairs are pushed by their grandkids past punk teenagers in six inch platform boots. London’s parks truly attract all kinds, and Speaker’s Corner is the ideal place to find a varied audience if you have something to say, simply set up your little stool, hop on, and begin your diatribe against the government, the media, the cursed masses, who or whatever. If you have anything even remotely interesting to say, a crowd will soon form around you. Wearing a funny costume doesn’t hurt either, the crazier the better.

Just a guy feeding the pigeons. (personal photo)

I’ve simply strolled through most of the parks here, stopping every now and then to admire a flower or dodge a pile of dog poop, but Hyde Park caught my attention and kept it. Right across from the tail end of the Oxford St. madness you will find the Marble Arch, and beyond it a massive expanse of green space. Speaker’s Corner is lodged conveniently in the middle. The first character I encountered was a militant African man speaking out against the war in Iraq. He looked to be about 25 or so, and around him stood a rather sizable crowd. There was also a group of four physically fit 20 somethings advertising a personal training service and attracting quite a crowd with their boxing gimmick. One of the men held up a pad on each hand and challenged people in the crowd to get in 200 punches in one minute. A group of south asian men egged each other on in friendly competition as the crowd laughed and cheered. I was asked to participate, but declined the request. After I had had my fill of watching overweight middle-aged men try and fail to show off athletic prowess, I moved over to listen to a capital C Crazy preacher and the bemused, laughing, and heckling crowd around him.

Belligerent preacher pointing at me and asking me something silly like if I knew where I was going when I died. (personal photo)

My favorite speaker was a grizzled old man sartorially channeling the Gorton’s Fisherman. He had a much smaller crowd around him, an interesting mix of homeless people and business men in suits and ties, and me. He wasn’t so much Speaking as having an intimate conversation with his little crowd, discussing poetry and painting, interspersed with personal anecdotes of questionable validity.

Past all of this, Hyde Park is like all the rest, and if you walk in far enough you will undoubtedly be able to stake out your own patch of serenity. Muslin women in full burkas sit and read, couples sit shoulder to shoulder on blankets, its all really a very nice scene. I guess the behavior in the park could be described as English, in that, aside from the liminal space of Speaker’s Corner, people seem to keep themselves, on the whole, its all very orderly.

Mates playing a bit of footie. (personal photo)

Categories: 2010 Rachel · Uncategorized
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