In praise of parks

On Monday we took the afternoon off and drove over to Morecambe. We’d explored the promenade pretty thoroughly on our last couple of visits, so for a complete change we headed to the northern suburb of Bare and mooched round that. What we found was a real blast from the past, with small, old-fashioned shops and a wonderful public park with the titter-some name of Happy Mount (in Bare, no less).

Putting the name aside, this was a real chance for some nostalgia. Not only did it have formal beds stuffed full of colourful flowers, a cafe, roses, a level area where ladies were having a line-dancing session, and a small train full of toddlers, but more unusually a Japanese garden (above).

It brought back happy memories of various parks I knew as a child. Top of the list was Hesketh Park in Southport, where my parents took me a lot. It was a pleasant space with the bonus of an aviary with quail and a talking mynah bird, and a pavilion that sold ice lollies (oh, the excitement when I was occasionally allowed a Fab!). Less often, we went to Southport’s Botanical Gardens, which I remember less clearly apart from the guinea pigs, a fernery, and a small on-site museum that had a frog mug and a collection of elephants (not real, obviously!) arranged in order of size.

By the time I got to university I had Liverpool’s Sefton Park at the end of the road. We didn’t often go – it wasn’t thought safe after dark and some areas were very run down. I still have fond memories of a fireworks display over the boating lake, and the Peter Pan statue (a copy of the one in Hyde Park), a pirate ship, the stunning palm house, and a wonderful rocky ravine with a waterfall.

I haven’t been back there for many years but it stayed with me surprisingly clearly – so much so that I used it as one of the settings for Echoes of Blood. Towards the end of the book the vampires take main character Daniel to the palm house for their own nefarious purposes, and it’s there he finally realises what and who they are.

‘It’s open, master.’ Edmund pushed the door, then stood back and waved them into the warm, sultry darkness. It smelled sweet, of wet earth and rain and tropical flowers, and the fronds of palms and bananas and other leafy plants were everywhere. A soft place, a gentle place, Daniel would have thought. And yet there was another scent too, stifling, sickly, over-powering the hothouse lilies that surrounded them. The scent of death…

I’d love to get back to Sefton Park, and perhaps even some of the others I’ve mentioned too. In the meantime, at least I know there’s a good alternative in Morecambe to get my park-y fix!

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