Greenery & Greed



Last year councils decided to start charging personal trainers who use parks for one-on-one sessions, a move 99% of the public is totally opposed to. They then hired spies to look out for trainers and fine them. The system is also in place in Australia. But that’s missing the point. In Australia it’s nice to exercise outside. In England it’s often a really horrible idea.

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been drawn to writing about London’s parks and council corruption in the next Bryant & May novel, ‘Wild Chamber’. The greenery is all around and barely noticed until it falls under threat.

London is like an old man’s nostrils; the fecundity is astounding, and you never know what you’re going to find there. Thanks to global warming the capital’s seasons have now shifted considerably. Winter = January to April, spring = May to June, summer = July to October, autumn = November to December. When I wrote this piece three days ago the sky was a blazing blue, shorts and T-shirt weather, the Christmas decorations had, grotesquely, already gone up in Oxford Street, and the trees had yet to lose a single leaf. This is, of course, Very Wrong Indeed.

But upon returning to the UK from Southern Europe, it’s the greenery that staggers the traveller used to bright bare spaces. Leaves and branches and roots sprout from every nook and crack, weighing down fences, tumbling from trees and pushing up through pavements. Where I live, in one of the most trammelled central spots in the capital, new buildings are swiftly covered in moss, pavements turn green, bricks are split by plants, roads are lifted by root systems. It’s a problem for London, which has no overhead cabling, for all is buried in the ground, and trees with lateral root systems are planted by the city’s arboculturists so that they don’t shear through wiring.

What we’ve lost in the last five years is the whitening of the city in January. I have photographs of myself waist-deep in snow at my old house – which was a 25 minute stroll from Leicester Square – but there hasn’t been a flake for years now. For tourists, the most disappointing month is August, which is invariably miserable, cold and rainy. Why do so many of us insist on outdoor pursuits then? Open-air theatre productions, sports events, concerts and barbecues are routinely washed out and we never learn to reschedule to September.

The softness of London light puts a matt finish on every colour, taking down the tones to a colour-drained Photoshop image. For years, London’s greenery was allowed to run wild and unchecked. The housing shortage removed the empty lots which had remained since rubble clearance after the war, but residents are fiercely protective of their gardens and green spaces, and while councils still seek to monetise every last scrap of land protest movements have been at least partly successful in halting the greedy land-grab.


The above shot was taken on my phone no more than a 100 yards from my front door, next to the city’s busiest transport hub.

7 comments on “Greenery & Greed”

  1. Wayne #1 says:

    A green corridor. So close to home. How wonderful. Have you got your Apartment back now then? Your refit completed.

    Tantalising us with more mentions of the new B&M, can’t wait.

  2. admin says:

    Er, no Wayne. Sore point. I don’t move back in until Christmas now. We’re overrunning a tad!

  3. Helen Martin says:

    You’re not really surprised by this, are you, Admin? Anyone you know who has done work on their home knows it goes over budget by at least 25% (and 25% over your 25% contingency add-on as well) and over time by the same percentage (and the same contingency allowance).
    I have to hack away at the blackberries and hazelnut bushes if I want to be able to get into my house. One blackberry threw itself up onto my gazebo, came down through the vent and was dangling into the main space and more of them were scraping the car as we went out the drive. “The Egg and I” gave a great picture of the persistence of growth in our climate.

  4. Brooke says:

    …”in one of the most trammelled central spots in the capital, new buildings are swiftly covered in moss, pavements turn green, bricks are split by plants…” What accounts for the rapid growth of green stuff? London is not entirely surrounded by waterways like NYC or Boston. Are the underground rivers taking their revenge?

  5. admin says:

    You say that, Brooke, but it’s in the Thames basin, which is criss-crossed with canals, rivers and ponds. Water accumulates everywhere, all the time.

    And Helen, less ‘The Egg & I’, more ‘Day of the Triffids’!

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Which was set in London and haven’t they named a street for the book? I was thinking about the description of fence posts sprouting leaves as typical of the persistent growth in westcoast rainforests.

  7. Brooke says:

    thanks.. i should have done my homework before asking.

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