Common thoughts

Common thoughts

I sat on a bench the other morning on the edge of a common.

A typical London common. Stop-start traffic sounds blend with the caws of magpies and crows. Coarse grass vies with shrubs I cannot name apart from the ivy creeping along shady ground.  Blackberry bushes stretch thorny tendrils to catch at my jeans as I walk a well-trodden path. Oaks, sycamores, horse-chestnuts start to spill their seeds. Hopefully.

I’m in a small area of a larger common criss-crossed by roads. Alongside this patch of green, large houses hold their ground as if they have a right to be there and will outlast nature. The cricket square is still marked, though the season is over. Two pale wickets lie side by side behind a flimsy, optimistic cordon of nylon wire. On the eastern edge, a church stands dark against the morning sky.

The bench has a commemorative plaque, as many do. I often scan them as I pass. I usually don’t sit long, if at all. Rarely pause to take in the meaning of the tribute. Mostly they mark long lives and life-long loves – of a particular spot or view. They’re everywhere – parks, cliffs, riversides, woods, hilltops, seafronts and commons. We Brits are generous with our benches, it seems.

It’s about 9.30 am. I’m early for my appointment. Time to idle, to let the thoughts run this way and that. The day is warming up again. Enough to sit awhile. Enough to be caught up with the words on the plaque. And fall to wondering about the life of “Buck who loved this common”. A short life – just 11 years. I was imagining a young boy and tragic circumstances. What sad events unfolded for Buck? An accident? An illness with no possibility of recovery?  Buck. Strange name for a boy this side of the Atlantic. Maybe he was an American boy come to London. And so the thoughts ran…

Or maybe, more likely, Buck was a four-legged friend of the common. I chuckled inwardly – perhaps outwardly. In quiet, solitary moments you never know what the face betrays as thoughts run about in your head.  You’re not paying too much attention to your facial expression. Maybe I laughed out loud for my thoughts of calamity when all the time Buck was a spaniel or a labrador. He’d fetched a stick for his owner and returned it time and again, tirelessly, to this spot. Hundreds of tiny journeys. Attentive, his owner would whistle at him to remind him not to tread on the patches of smooth pale green beyond the wire. Eleven seasons. For a dog it’s a reasonable span of years.

But I could be wrong. It could be a human tragedy that’s captured here on this bench with its view of common, green, wicket, tree, steeple. You never know.

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