It’s like having a football pitch in your own backyard

November 6, 2014

Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park on sunny afternoon in October
I’m not sure Jen and I live in London anymore. We have a telephone number that begins “020”, but I spotted a temporary sign near our flat which warned that a leafy road was “closed for toad migration”. That was some time before we moved here in July. Since then, I’ve woken to hear parakeets squawking in the garden and breakfasted to the sound of clopping hooves outside our living room window. We didn’t get those sorts of things when we lived within earshot of two Premier League football clubs. Although we did get a lot of shouting on Saturdays.

I knew this area from years of cycling through it (in fact, I am only a 25-minute bike ride from our old flat) but it didn’t seem quite as pastoral before we began living here. We have moved to the edge of Richmond Park and, as I write this, I am looking at a row of trees which define part of its perimeter. On rainy days like this one, those trees are a forbidding wall, telling me to stay where I am until less inclement cycling weather comes along. During sunnier days, the branches sway in the breeze, beckoning me for a quick three laps. And how can I possibly refuse?

Imagine if you had somehow managed to buy a home that had its own football pitch, tennis court or Olympic-sized swimming pool; as a cyclist, that is how it feels living with the capital’s cycling Mecca on your doorstep. I am a mere seven minutes away from the meeting point of London Dynamo’s ever-popular Parkride (you missed a key selling point there, Zoopla) which enables me to fall out of bed at ten past eight on a Saturday morning and still make the eight-thirty start. I’m usually starving, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. But, hey, I’m there.

Or rather, I’m not. Recently I’ve been knocking out laps much later on a Saturday, the idea being that I can still put in a good workout by trying to finish before the sun sets. It works, but for some reason the sorts of cyclists who frequent the park at that time of day are much less likely to leave you alone. Lone riders chase each other down, form a cluster, and then interpret my gradual easing past them as an attack. Even when I slow down and leave two bike lengths between us, I still get the old elbow flick telling me to come through.

I mean, really. What rudeness. Don’t they realise this is my park now?

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