Saturday, 23 February 2013

Battle of Lake Batteau

Charlie jumped off the bus and wandered through the park gates. It was a gorgeous spring morning. The sky was ice blue and the temperature was just as icy but Charlie loved mornings like these. So fresh and sharp, you really woke up and looked at the world around you. Charlie walked along the tree lined avenue that was the main pathway through the park. As he was halfway along a squirrel shot out, stopped dead in front of him and started nibbling on some minute crumb lying on the tarmac. Charlie stood as still as he could to watch the little fella, but within seconds the squirrel was off scavenging through the rest of the park.
Charlie turned the corner and was stopped dead in his tracks. The door to his hut was open. Not again, he thought. On cold nights kids or sometimes the homeless looking for warmth and a dry place to sleep would break into his hut.  He was doubly annoyed because the previous night had been dry and the temperature had been mild for the time of year, also he had fitted a new padlock at his own expense just the week before. The hut was like the sentry huts the guards stand beside at Buckingham Palace, just large enough for a chair, a kettle and a calor gaz ring. Charlie’s job was to sit in the hut collecting the money for the boating lake and the putting green. He was also there just in case of emergencies. He ran up to check on the hut and make sure his few meagre possessions were still there. The hut wouldn’t be needed after next week as the council had decided to close the boating lake and the putting green and replace them with a state of the art play area, but Charlie still wanted his things to be okay. The council had sorted him out with another job but he didn’t have money lying around. Once he got to the hut he saw there was nothing to worry about, everything was still in its place except the padlock which had been cut through with what must have been bolt cutters. That was unusual, thought Charlie, as kids and the homeless tended to just loosen the catch the padlock was attached to, the screws holding it into the wood were old and rusted. The padlock was just a deterrent once you looked at the hut it was easy to find a way in without having to cut through it.
Satisfied that nothing was missing Charlie grabbed his kettle and wandered over to the public toilets to get some water. As he was coming back he noticed that one of the boats was in the middle of the lake. Bother, he would need to row out and get that back before the day could start. He stood looking at the boat, something wasn’t quite right but what was it? Charlie got back to the hut and took his glasses out of the top pocket of his coat. That was better. He looked over at the boat and couldn’t believe his eyes. A large man wearing a big overcoat, a furry dear-stalker hat and holding a walking stick was sitting in the boat. He had a blanket across his legs so he had been there a while and had intended to be. Charlie went back into the hut to get the megaphone he used for calling in any overdue boats. The megaphone was missing, what was going on?
‘Hello, hello. You there in the boat, can you hear me?’ Charlie called through cupped hands.
The figure moved and the boat rocked precariously. As the boat steadied the figure waved at Charlie in a friendly manner.
‘Are you stranded? Do you need some assistance?’ Charlie called, not sure how the man had got out into the middle of the lake but convinced he needed to be fetched back in.
The man raised Charlie’s megaphone and called back, ‘No Thank you Charlie, I’m staging a sit in so you can just carry on as normal and don’t worry about me.’
‘Is that Mr Coulson?’ Charlie shouted. He recognised the man as one of the residents of the local care home. On sunny days some of the residents would come down and sit by the boating lake feeding the ducks. The more able ones often had a game on the putting green.
‘Sure is Charlie. The rest of the gang will be down later. I’m the forward guard. You carry on as normal don’t worry about me.’
Charlie suddenly realised the other boats were missing. The boating lake was not that big, so there were only six boats but the other five were not moared by the hut as they should have been.
‘Have you seen the other boats Mr Coulson?’
‘Yes they’re quite safe.’
‘But Mr Coulson what if someone wants a boat? I could get into trouble if they’re missing.’
‘They’re not missing Charlie, I have borrowed them. You ‘phone your supervisor and tell him what’s going on if you like. I know you have to do your job. But just don’t come out here trying to get me back in. I would hate to have to hurt you,’ Mr Coulson waved what Charlie had previous assumed to be a walking stick. He now saw it was an air rifle.
‘Now Mr Coulson, there’s no need to do anything rash.’ Charlie was worried that the old man might hurt someone.
Charlie rushed back into his hut and grabbed his mobile phone. He wasn’t paid enough to sort this out, time to call his supervisor.
‘Hi Charlie, can we have six for the putting green please?’ Charlie turned around having just finished explaining the situation to his boss.
‘Hello there Mrs Olson, Beautiful day today.’ Charlie smiled at Mrs Olson, a resident from the same care home as Mr Coulson.
‘It certainly is. Lucky for us, I would have hated for the boys to be out on that lake if the weather had been bad.’
‘The boys? Do you mean Mr Coulson?’
‘Oh it’s not just Eric; they’re all out there now.’
‘Excuse me please Mrs Olson I need to see what’s going on.’
‘Not until you give me the clubs and balls for the putting green please,’ Mrs Olson was not going to move until he did as she asked and he didn’t want to have to push a little old lady out of the way, so he took her money and handed her the only six clubs and balls in his hut.
Charlie emerged from the hut to see all six of the boats now in the middle of the lake. He turned around and saw Mrs Olson handing out golf clubs and balls to five other women from the care home.
‘Mrs Olson what’s going on?’ Charlie was very confused as the park seemed to have more people in that ever before and it wasn’t even 9am.
‘Don’t worry Charlie. Have you called your boss?’
Charlie nodded, ‘He says he’ll be here later but he didn’t seem overly concerned.’
‘Well he might be a bit more concerned when the television people get here.’
Charlie visibly paled and shaking his head went back into the safety of his hut.
Counsellor John Jackson had won his seat as head of the council by shaking a lot of hands and kissing a lot of babies. He always wished he had chosen politics earlier in life, head of the council was as high as he was going to get now. However he enjoyed the local celebrity status that it gave him and his wife enjoyed being the centre of attention at the tennis club. He was just sitting down to his first cup of coffee of the day and was listening to the local radio when the news report came on.
‘Redfern Park is this morning experiencing something of a resurgence as the crowds gather to witness the local care home residents stage a sit in.’ The radio announcer reported.
John Jackson nearly spat his coffee across the kitchen table. He put down his newspaper and turned up the radio as the announcer continued.
‘The local care home residents, represented by Mr Eric Coulson and Mrs Mavis Olson, say that the closure of the boating lake and putting green at Redfern Park to make way for a new children’s playground will affect their quality of life. They state that the current council is only concerned with the youngsters in this community and that the elder generation was not thought of when this decision was made. We will be down at the park throughout the show and I am hoping to be able to row out and talk to Mr Coulson personally. To all my listeners out there, why don’t you pop down to the park and lend these members of our community your support?’
Within two minutes John Jackson had got hold of the Head of Parks. Apparently he had spoken to the Park Keeper first thing but hadn’t though that one old chap in a boat was anything to worry about.
John Jackson pulled into the car park of Redfern Park and couldn’t believe his eyes. The park was as full as on an August Bank Holiday Monday. There were three ice cream vans with large queues and a huge number of families wandering around the boating lake. There was a camera crew on the putting green interviewing Mrs Olson and the other ladies and a man with a microphone was being rowed back to the edge of the boating lake by a teenage boy. John Jackson started heading for the Park Keeper’s hut when he was spotted.
‘Mr Jackson, Mr Jackson. Can you spare us a minute please Mr Jackson?’
John Jackson turned to see the man with the microphone in the boat desperately scrabbling to get out and chase him down. The camera crew heard the shouting and spotted him. Excusing themselves from the ladies on the putting green they joined the pursuit.
‘Mr Jackson can you tell us how you feel about the sit in that these elderly residents have staged?’ the man from the boat asked. He turned out to be the local radio presenter John had been listening to earlier.
‘All I can say is that the planning of the new playground went through the proper procedures and these people should have opposed it then,’ John Jackson said.
‘Was this the only site suggested for the new playground,’ the television interviewer interjected.
‘As there was no opposition there was no need to view other areas. I think you’ll find that this area is very rarely used.’
‘But will it not be very expensive to fill in the lake? What about the wildlife that depends upon this water and its surrounding foliage?’ The television interviewer was a member of the green party and was really starting to get into his stride.
Just then the teenage boy that had earlier been rowing people out to interview Mr Coulson pushed through the crowd.
‘Excuse me Mr Johnson but granddad; I mean Mr Coulson, wondered if you would like to talk to him about the decision.’
Jack Johnson was about to insist that the old man rowed in to him but his politician’s instincts told him that that would not go down well with the surrounding media. ‘Of course. Will you row me out?’
It took Mr Coulson’s grandson a little longer to row out this time as he had Mr Johnson and the two presenters in his little boat. It had been agreed that the camera man and all his equipment couldn’t fit in so he had stayed behind to film as much as he could from the shore and the sound track would be over laid later. When they eventually got level with Mr Coulson’s boat Jack Johnson smiled and stood to shake his hand. Unfortunately this unbalanced the boat and Jack Johnson had to sit down quickly to avoid a dunking.
‘Now Mr Coulson, we all know that this has gone through the proper procedures and I am afraid there is nothing that can be done about it now,’ Jack Johnson gave his best politician’s smile.
‘I don’t think it has Mr Johnson. For a start you only priced up this venue and the consultation period was only three weeks and it has to be at least twenty eight days.’
‘We at the council decided there was no need to spend tax payers’ money surveying lots of sites when this was the most obvious. We have to ensure that we don’t waste money you know. There is a desperate need for a playground in this area. Would you deny the children?’ Jack Johnson knew that the old folks would lose their sympathy vote if it looked like there were stopping children getting what they deserved.
‘What about the tennis courts at the back of the park? They’re only ever used during Wimbledon fortnight, when everyone gets the bug, and the rest of the year they are empty. That would save you the extra cost of filling in the lake and everyone would be happy.’
‘Ah, but the council has promised to give the local school access to the tennis courts. We can’t go back on our word you know.’
‘Well give the school access to the tennis club. It is next door to the school and your wife’s a member so I am sure she can talk them into it. Or is that the problem? The tennis club don’t want school children running around do they?’
Jack Johnson’s face fell; he knew he had been caught out. ‘Well I shall take your concerns to the council but I can’t promise anything.’
Jack Johnson opened the morning paper and for the second time in as many days nearly spat his coffee across the kitchen table.
Three days after the sit in, the television and radio crews were back at the boating lake.
‘So how does it feel to have won your fight Mr Coulson?’ The interviewer asked.
‘It is a shame it had to come to a head as it did, but I am glad that the council saw sense in the end.’ Mr Coulson smiled.
‘Mr Johnson, how do you feel about this whole issue?’
‘I feel that the result has been the best for everyone. I don’t condone this kind of action and would suggest that Mr Coulson and his friends should have brought their concerns to me first, rather than taking such drastic action. At least everything has been resolved and the boating lake has been saved.’
‘Will the design of the playground be affected by these changes?’
‘Not at all. We are currently in discussion with a number of contractors and we expect to award the contract by the end of the week. Hopefully this will only put the project back a couple of weeks. We are still aiming to complete in time for the summer holidays.’
‘And how is your wife taking the news that they local children will be playing tennis at her tennis club?’
‘My wife is a huge advocate of youth tennis and she is very keen to help the sport grow and develop young talent.’ He expected that was what she would have said had she been taking to him. However the diamond bracelet brought from the winning contractors fee he had received the day before would help salve her disappointment.
‘Well thank you both, Mr Coulson and Mr Johnson, and here’s to many happy years of the young and old enjoying Redfern Park.’

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