Wednesday, 17 September 2008


The September sun has finally returned to Nappy Valley, so it's time for us to revisit our favourite pastime - hanging out in the local parks.

Friends who don’t live in London often express sympathy for us during the summer, thinking that we don’t get a chance to go out and enjoy the greenery. But in fact the opposite is true. We live within striking distance of no less than two Commons and three parks. All of these are within walking distance or involve a 10 minute drive. Having two energetic Littleboys and a tiny paved backyard, on a typical day at home with them we can cram in two parks (although, as another friend with two small kids once said to me, a three park day means things are really getting bad at home).

Luckily for us, each park has its own character, and its own particular clientele. So not only can you choose a parkscape to suit your mood or how energetic you are feeling; you can also morph into the surroundings and fit in with the prevailing tribe. (Hmm, do I feel like a Yummy Mummy today? Or is it a jeans, fleece and unwashed hair day?)

Here's the lowdown on a few of them:

Clapham Common

Our nearest, and our most regular haunt. I am a big fan of the Common. It might be encircled by the A3; it might have a reputation as a gay cruising ground by night; and it might get horribly crowded at weekends. But during the week it’s relatively empty, has two good playgrounds, lots of green space, a beautifully restored bandstand that makes a perfect scootering ramp for kids. As well as the Bugaboo brigade, and a fair number of yummy mummies with their Boden-clad kids, you get all the local dogwalkers and the ordinary folk of Clapham going about their business.

Typical kids' names called out in playground: Harry, Mia

Typical pram: Phil & Teds

Conversation topic: House prices in Abbeville road

Coffee: Good Italian stuff at the bandstand cafĂ©, which also (if you’re feeling more daring or have had enough of your screaming kids) serves prosecco.

Dress code: Anything goes, but jeans and fleece are fine.

Brockwell Park

This has an edgier and multicultural vibe, probably down to its proximity to Brixton, but is all the more refreshing for it. Even the middle-class crowd definitely look more bohemian. I've seen Dads sit smoking joints on the edge of the playground or, at weekends, young couples sitting swigging bottles of wine while their children play on the swings – things that would definitely be a no-no in other local parks, but somehow here it's OK. Somehow, even the ducks look a bit cooler here. And it's beautiful, with a fabulous vista over London.

Typical kids’ names: Noah or Ariel

Typical pram: Maclaren

Conversation topic: the local veggie cafe or latest arthouse film at the Brixton Ritzy

Coffee: Disappointly watery stuff at stunningly located cafe in old manor house.

Dress code: Hoodies and trainers / flowing ethnic tops, berets and ponchos

Wandsworth Common

Home to black Labradors, green wellies and Cath Kidston bags, Wandsworth Common really is the one to march around pretending you’re in Gloucestershire. Not only that, but it has a railway cutting through the middle for little boys who like trains. If you get bored, you can pop down to Bellevue Road and blow several months’ salaries at the boutiques or a meal at Chez Bruce.

Typical kids’ names: Hugo or Isabella

Typical pram: Bugaboo Bee

Conversation topic: Cornish beaches; Mark Warner

Coffee: have it with yummy cake at Common Ground- but you’ll fight to get a table inside in the winter.

Dress code: rugby shirts, Boden, green wellies.

This is what I love about London. You can choose who you want to be, even if it's just for a few hours. And best of all, you can people-watch and then write scurrilous blogs about it....


Nota Bene said...

By contrast, I remember when the boy was no more than a few weeks old walking into Finsbury Park at 9.00 am on a Sunday, having to decline various offers of 'stuff'. And a few years later, it was always necessary to check out the play areas for discarded needles, condoms and the like. :-(

Anonymous said...

I spend a lot of time in Battersea Park. I might not have kids, but the children's zoo there is remarkably tempting!

Iota said...

Oh, I didn't think I was homesick, till I read this.

Make the most of those parks, because - if my experience is anything to go by - you won't find them when you move to the US. I don't understand it at all. Land is really cheap and plentiful where we are, but the parks are tiny. A play area for kids and a bit of grass the size of a couple of tennis courts. I suppose it's because they don't really do town planning. They just sell off chunks of land to developers, and what developer would bother to waste space and money on a park? The nearest they get to gree spaces are golf courses. We're still looking for somewhere to take the kids to ride bikes.

It's one of my huge beefs.

(One nice thing about parks here, though tiny, is that they aren't full of broken glass, so the kids take their shoes off and you don't have to be so paranoid as in the UK.)

Mom/Mum said...

Ohh makes me feel homesick for Clapham Commom (where HD and I used to enjoy picnics and laughs with M&S sarnies in our heady days of dating). Am a tad concerend to be able to tick off a few things on the Clapham list, but sort of pleased that might make me the 'yummy mummy' I always thought was way out of my reach!

As for US parks, I have to disagree with iota, so parks must be v different depending where you live. The parks around our area are beautiful, and so clean they practically sparkle in the sun. We have small neighbourhood parks sure, but very many metro and city parks with big play structures, lots of walking and biking trails and grills for summer BBQs. Not a needle or condom in sight (but the look on some Moms faces when they spot a stry discarded water bottle is, I must say, a treat. They'd go into anaphylactic shock if they visited London!)

So, if you do come Stateside, check out the parklife, but best not move anywhere near me - you know how I attract the loons, nice park or not!

Expat mum said...

I think it depends where you live in the States. Here in Chicago (the city, not the burbs) we have tons of parks AND a fab free zoo a couple of blocks away, and miles of beaches! Trouble is, in the middle of winter, the last place you want to be is outside!

Iota said...

Nappy Valley, you're just going to have to tell us where in the US you are headed. You can tell we're all angling.

valley girl said...

NB, I wonder if Finsbury Park is still like that? Or whether has been annexed by the yummy mummies of North London now?

Mud, we are also fans of the Battersea Park zoo. It's another excellent local park - the only reason that I don't go there more often is that Littleboy 1's former childminder, who we fell out with, lives right by it and I really don't want to bump into her....

Iota, that's a real shame. One great thing about London really is the open spaces - even if we are the most populated country in Europe, as I read online yesterday....

Mom/Mum - glad to hear you have a different experience. My only experience of US parks is Central Park and a couple of wildlife parks in Florida - am looking forward to finding out more..

ExpatMum - I can believe that of Chicago. I went there once on a press trip and was amazed by how beautiful, wide and clean even the streets were, and of course the lake was fabulous. But I hope for your sake they also have soft play for the freezing winter!

valley girl said...

Oh, hi again Iota, we are headed to Long Island. No idea what parks are like there!

Anonymous said...

What a great post! You made me feel like I was actually there. Thanks for making me feel even more homesick for the UK! LOL

chris said...

Wonderful post - really really accurate!

I spend most of my time on Wandsworth Common and most of my income in Amandine so I relate to your descriptions. I'm off to throw away the wellies and the Barbour!

Frog in the Field said...

We have a park near our favourite and local fish and chip shop. It's about 7 miles away (yep, that's local).
I think that's the only park I've ever been to with the children...oh, and Bath incredibly busy place, but don't think badly of me, I do live in the countryside remember.

Jaywalker said...

I did enjoy this, though I'm a North/East London gal. Many of the same tribes though..

You HAVE to try the hilarious "Diana memorial garden" in Ken Gardens one day. Oh my god, the expat bankers. Wall Street Journal, those padded riding jackets with corduroy collars and multilingual spawn essential.
My son nearly went wild with desire at the incredible toys within stealing distance; I was busting a gut to try and stop him making away with them, and some incredibly urbane banker guy just went "Nah, it's fine. He wants trucks? We gotta heap more trucks" and pulled out a giant Hamleys bag of pristine earth moving equipment. Eldest son nearly dropped dead with happiness right there.

Millennium Housewife said...

I miss London! Lovely, homesickness inducing post. MH

that girl ? said...

People watching is my favourite sport.... and not just because it requires minimal physical exertion!
We have a park in our village but variety is a bit thin on the ground! The only guaranteed species you will spot are the skater crowd looking moody whilst hanging out near the climbing frame! Don't they know that the climbing frame part seriously damages their cool factor?

valley girl said...

Gosh, London parks seem to be an emotive subject with the US crowd!

Thanks, crunchiemummy, we aim to please.

Hello Chris, I'm glad it rang some bells. (Please don't throw away the wellies - I need people watching material!)

Frog, who needs parks when you live in the glorious Welsh hills? Glad to hear you have fish and chips, though.

Jaywalker, I have been there and YES, YES, YES.

MH, you are welcome to come down one day and join us on the Common!

That Girl, people watching is fantastic, isn't it? Strategically positioning oneself by the window in a cafe is one of my joys in life...

Nunhead Mum of One said...

How true! We've got Peckham Rye park for the duck pond, Dulwich Park for the yummy icecream and what Mac calls the lake (big pond)and Telegraph Hill park for fabulous views of London.....different atmospheres in different parks, lovely!

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Aah, I have lived near all of those parks too! Clapham, I did once see a tramp do a poo under a tree in broad daylight one Saturday afternoon...I nearly puked. LOVE Wandsworth Common, have sat there having a cold beer many a time...
London parks are ace, especially when it's sunny. Wish that we could boast the cleanliness of the US parks.
We now live out in the 'burbs and have a fab park which also has a paddling pool in summer, ice cream van, skate park for the older ones, free tennis courts, and dress code is anything you want. Can't boast that its sparkly clean as teenagers still seem to like writing who is a slag in black marker on the choo choo train and rocket...hey ho...can't have it all...

GoneBackSouth said...

I used to live right opposite Wandsworth Common. Loved it. Saw things from a different perspective though, as it was pre-kids.

valley girl said...

Hi Nunhead mum, we go to Dulwich Park a fair amount too - have probably passed you in the playground sometime....

CTTF, Yeuck to the tramp story! I will be more careful where I lay my picnic rug in future.

GBS, you are right - pre-kids it was all about where to get the best picnic spot near the pub....I never went for a coffee on the Common before my kids were born!