Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

London’s Lungs

September 15th, 2010 · 6 Comments

When I first heard that the parks in this city were referred to as “London’s lungs,” I simply wrote it off (with no basis) to an inflated sense of self-importance.  But now that I’ve visited five of the Royal Parks (Regent’s, Hyde, St. James’s, Green, and Kensington Gardens) I truly appreciate that these parks are giant green oases.  Out of the five, I only stopped to walk around in St. James’s and Green; the rest I ran in, albeit many times.  So there is a caveat that comes with my writings about Regent’s, Hyde, and Kensington Gardens.  For a runner, how the workout went is inextricably tied to the perception of where the workout took place.  I could be running in the most beautiful place in the world, but if I’m struggling to keep pace and then my knee starts to bother me, my memories of that place are going to be negative.  With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown, plus a note about the running culture I’ve experienced.

Regent’s Park: The park I have spent by far the most time in, and a place that I have fallen in love with.  It seems like Regent’s is specifically intended for recreation, as there are massive open grass fields, some of which have rugby goal posts and soccer goals.  Also, I have definitely seen more runners here than the four other parks.  There is an element of the high society sense that is a bit more present at the other parks in the Inner Circle, which contains the Regent’s Park Boating Lake, some restaurants, and private land.  If this blog entry were not already far too long, I would talk about how this is a classic metaphor for a center-periphery dispute.

St. James’s Park: Perhaps the polar opposite of Regent’s, but along with Regent’s, one of my two favorite parks, for its stunning combination of history and natural beauty.  St. James’s faces Parliament on one side, and Buckingham Palace on the other.  Additionally, St. James gained notoriety during the Restoration period as a center of debauchery, as immortalized in this spectacular poem. What makes it Regent’s polar opposite is the fact that there is minimal recreation there.  Mikey, Luke and I picked up on this fact when we came to throw a rugby ball around and slowly noticed that we were the only people exercising other than people running on the asphalt path.  Well, it turns out that we were committing something of a faux pas, as ball sports are banned in the park.

Green Park: Beautiful, small, directly connected to St. James’s on the Buckingham Palace side.  Not much else to say here, but I did get some great pictures.

Green Park

Hyde Park: I did one 11 mile run that was split between here and Kensington Gardens.  While I was not blown away by Hyde, I wish I had gone there more often (and will try to in our last week here) because of the sheer  history: Crystal Palace, Speakers’ Corner, and countless concerts and sporting events.  The impression I got in my time there was that for a park, there sure was a lot of cement.  I did enjoy the lake, which I later learned was called The Serpentine and is the formal separation between Hyde and Kensington Gardens.

Kensington Gardens: While I found Kensington largely unremarkable, one thing that I enjoyed that it was very green.  Unlike Regent’s, it isn’t chock full with playing fields and running trails, but it’s a place where you can run around in the grass as you like.  Or at least I think it was allowed.


Long distance running is convenient as your chosen sport when you’re in a new city for the first time, as running through a city is a great way to explore it.  Trying to run through and around the massive crowds on the sidewalks on the way to Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Regent’s Park has given me a true appreciation for just how crowded London is.  The runner also cannot resist comparing running culture in a new place to that of his home.  Many things are different: as usual, you always, always, always keep left.  Driving on the roads, walking in the stairwells at Tube stations, and especially when running or cycling on the trails, you keep left.  Back in the States, runners crossing paths will sometimes wave or nod at each other, acknowledging their comradeship in pain, boredom, and abs.  I have adopted the habit here of waving to every single runner I cross paths with here, simply because none will ever wave back.  In fact, many will actually avert their gaze in embarrassment.  This fits in pretty well with Kate Fox’s “social dis-ease.”  Another striking difference is that on any given run in London, you are likely to see dozens of burly men running with backpacks on.  There’s really no other way to explain that one.  Finally, one of my favorite routes thus far in the city involves a part run alongside Regent’s Canal.  The Canal is frequented by party boats full of drunken Spanish and Dutch people.  While I don’t speak a word of Dutch, and my five years of Spanish classes tend to fail me in real life, the taunts screamed at me from the boats sound distinctly like “Run, Forrest, run” and “Nice shorts, loser.”

On second thought, maybe the running culture isn’t so different here.

Tags: 2010 Dennis

The Old (In Fact, Distinctly Young) Mid-Symphony Cough

September 3rd, 2010 · 3 Comments

I grew up attending orchestral concerts. My mom is a musician/music professor/teacher, and my sister is the same. So are 2 of my grandparents. My mom and dad met because of music. As a result,  I’ve gone to more concerts, willingly and unwillingly, than I can count. I was quite excited to attend the BBC Proms series at the Royal Albert Hall. The performance featured the Czech Philharmonic playing a bit of Dvoråk and Janacek, and highlighted pianist Sir John Eliot Garder on the Grieg. Oh yes, and there were a couple encore pieces… what?

The Philharmonic and Gardner both played extra pieces, not listed on the program. After their wonderful display, and in response to raucous, and deserved applause, both Gardner and the orchestra played encores. The addition of pieces to a concerts’ repertoire is a foreign idea to American symphonies and formal concerts, where I’ve experienced a much stricter and reserved atmosphere. However the encore pieces were not the only differences between the Proms and American symphonic concerts.

Another major difference were the surprise coughing fits that infected the crowd in between movements of the symphonies/concertos. During these breaks at American concerts, the crowd is silent, waiting for the next movement to begin. while they contemplate the last bit, or potentially chuckle at another onlooker who is a concert rookie and actually clapped, a symphonic gaffe. However the Brits seem to either hold in all their coughs (and there are quite a few) or they are trying to subtly acknowledge that yes, that was quite good, please continue and keep up the good work! There is apparently a growing movement to actually clap between the movements, which can be read about further here and here. Perhaps the coughing was in fact an anti-clapping movement, as those with sudden bouts of whooping cough, bronchitis, or emphysema sought to defeat the class-less onlookers. Anyway, this whole thing puzzles me, but it is certainly not mirrored in American concerts.

Other disparities between the two cultures’ concerts include the “heave…ho” chant howled by onlookers as the stage crew moved the piano, the baseball-game-esque servers with iced buckets of beer parading the lower levels during intermission, the area for standing-crowd-only right in front of the stage, the incredibly animated movements of both the conductor, soloist, and orchestral members, and the heavy drinking of many concert-goers evidenced by the presence of flasks, beers, martinis, etc.

All of the aforementioned differences provided for a much more relaxed atmosphere, which  made the concert ultimately more enjoyable. This phenomenon explains the last, and in my opinion awesome, difference: the overall number of attendees, but specifically the amount of younger members of the audience, was much higher than I have seen at American concerts (of symphonies and other variants of classical music). In short, the place was packed, and there a fair amount of young concert-goers, not all of which were with their parents. This increase in younger generations attending the concert is also reflected in the museums, portrait galleries, and theatre shows we’ve attended.

I can think of several reasons for this. First, the museums/shows/concerts in London are either free, or are still much cheaper than their American counterparts. Young adults are infamously cash-strung, and the steeper prices of admission to American centers of cosmopolitanism, intellectualism, etc. (including college) may deter attendance. Secondly, London’s examples of these cultural experiences are much more enjoyable. Most museums feature fun, creative and interactive displays/games/things-that-help-you-learn. Though for the concert these features were more subtle, like the exaggerated movements and poses of Gardner (frequently resembling Michael Jackson in Thriller) or the incessant coughing (at least, I did/would have enjoyed this time-to-make-noise period), they certainly made the experience more entertaining. Lastly, the relaxed atmosphere makes it more acceptable for younger people to attend these concerts/museums/etc. The museums and specifically the concert, are clearly not only for stuffy upper-echelons of society and rich old folks, but for all interested citizens.

The concerts, and theaters, museums, etc. draw young people to them. I would like to see America follow suit.

Tags: 2010 ChristopherB