Walking with Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead on 23 May 2011


Richmond Park (Day Time)

I am walking with Rebecca French, Andrew Mottershead and their seventh month in utero little French-Mottershead/Mottershead-French. I first met Rebecca and Andrew at a workshop-performance-lecture event they staged at the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh in August 2001. It was also my  introduction to the artists’ concept of micro-performances. During their public lecture I performed my own pre-rehearsed micro-performance (vigorously nodding my head – an exaggerated version of the encouraging audience member that I typically play).

Rebecca has plotted our walk and I love the serendipity that of all the walks possible, she has selected Richmond Park– but this will be a day time walk. Rebecca also intends for us to walk out of Richmond Park and follow the Thames alongside Kew Gardens.

It’s a bright, sunny day. At Kingston Gate (South West of the park), the beginning of our walk is marked with a delightful reading-aloud from Andrew of the invitation I sent them in December 2009. Rebecca has chosen this walk because she knows I like deer and Richmond Park is home to 650 of them. She was brought here by her mum a few times when she was wee and remembers seeing the deer then. Andrew has only ever driven through the park. Andrew sets us the task of deer hunting; I predict that Rebecca will spot our first deer, though Andrew claims to have Eagle Eyes. A few yards into the park and Rebecca remarkably, immediately, points out a group (not quite a herd) of fallow deer lounging under a copse of trees. As we walk closer, they seem not in the least bit bothered.

Andrew sets the compass and we head northwards, aiming to end up at Richmond Gate. We climb up a steep hill and encounter more fallow deer, most of them sheltering under oak trees. The ends of the trees’ branches have been munched to the same length, forming a perfectly straight, horizontal line – like a skirt – as if manicured by landscape gardeners. I catch a glint of bright green flitting into a tree – a parakeet. I am thrilled as I’ve never seen a parakeet in the wild before. It seems very exotic. We also spot two pale, skinny boys sunning themselves in the grass, exotic specimens too. The ground is exceptionally dry, the grass like straw. There has been no rain for weeks in London and very few wild flowers are visible.

Looking across the park, I get a sense of its vastness. At 1000 hectares, it’s the largest Royal Park in London. I am very glad to see it in daylight and am surprised that it actually feels more removed from the city because the megalith buildings that encircle it are not as visible as they are at night (when bedecked in bright lights). We encounter a few dog walkers, but there’s still a sense of empty space (though admittedly it’s a Monday). As we climb higher, I notice it is very windy – an observation that will take on more meaning later in the day.* Parakeets flash in and out of trees, tag teams.

In the Isabella Plantation – a maintained garden with ponds, irises, rhododendrons and other ornamental plants – we watch a female Mandarin duck corral her numerous chicks. In another pond, the male Mandarins display their more flashy modernist apparel – all colourful symmetrical angles. Leaving the Isabella Plantation we head in what we think is a westerly direction. Rebecca insists on carrying their rucksack, claiming it counterweights the bump that threatens to topple her forwards. The park is scored by endless dusty tracks walked onto its surface. We manage to stay off the car roads the entire time. I am awestruck by the confidence with which Andrew and Rebecca presume a bearing, certain that we need to head westerly; or north; or north westerly. There is little faffing about which path to take and decisions are made quickly. Perhaps for this reason I am paradoxically relieved to find that though we were aiming for Richmond Gate (North West), some three hours later we end up at East Sheen Gate (North East). (I am informed later that such bravado was prompted by the fact that as were in an urban park it didn’t actually matter if we lost our way.) A passer-by reassures us that Richmond Gate is  only a mere 20 or so minutes away. On this side of the park, the wind is even stronger and walking against it takes some effort. Eagle Eyed Andrew, temporarily distracted by a gate on his right, fails to see the springy tree branch thrown towards him by the wind’s force. Whack. Ouch! He’s left with a small hole gouged into his forehead, which bleeds a little.

In the open expanse to our right, we catch our first sight of Red Deer – much larger, with impressive antlers. As we head towards Richmond Gate I have a sense of ‘being here before’, and surmise that a small gate on our left is Cambrian Gate. It is strange to see this patch of land in daylight; it’s not really recognisable and I would have trouble retracing my steps from the walk of two nights earlier. Then, I walked only a small corner of the park. Today, we have weaved our way across many miles of it. Passing by a pond, we are watched by Mr. Heron. A sign – too late – pronounces that ‘Deer are Dangerous in May, June and July’. The dirt track leads us direct to the large entrance gates (a different route to the one taken with Zoe). I very much like the fact that these two walks, side by side, lead to the same point but from very different directions.

We may have been aiming for the Thames and Kew Gardens, but our feet and tummies have got the better of us and we decide to replace deer stalking with tea and cake hunting – the latter in fact proving to be far more elusive. Following Richmond Hill into town and feeling increasingly more desperate, Eagle Eyed Andrew finally earns his name by spotting ‘Le Coin de Paris’, a French patisserie. Here, I order not one cake but two, and a pot of Earl Grey tea. Though I don’t have the excuse of ‘eating for two’, this is my birthday treat after all. And what a treat this day has been.

 * I had planned on getting the 19.30 train from home from Euston. Walking in Richmond Park we were utterly oblivious to what was unfolding in the north of the country. Gale force winds cause the cancellation of all trains to Scotland. I end up in Crewe (a surprise visit for my dad!).

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