Hydrangea Danger

My trips to London these days are inevitably more about leisure than business. For me that’s a bonus of quality time with the members of the family that live there. I’m happy to be in their company witnessing the urban environment slowly changing for the better. Much of this of course is due to increased awareness of climate change and a new wave of urban community activism that it has fostered. Such things help people cope with the stresses and strains of city life. In South London for instance, my cousin Quetta and like minded souls in the Forest Hill Society (FHS) have been engaged in putting a bit of the forest back on the hill. Centrepiece of their ongoing environmental improvement campaign is the railway station, through which thousands of commuters pass each day. It stands on a twisting elbow of the traffic chocked South Circular Road. Sadly the dignified Victorian station was demolished and rebuilt in the wake of WW2. it presents today as a soulless set of bare utilitarian platforms defined by boundaries of high spiked railings. Gradually its harsh metallic outlines and public furniture have been softened and enhanced by the green fingered FHS volunteers. The set back mini garden they created next the waiting room on platform one has bushes, an apple tree and shrubs that trail over the open section of the bleak brick lined underpass beneath. Back on the platforms purple petunias and orange marigolds in tubs under station signs mirror the corporate colours of Transport for London (TfL). Outside the ticket office hanging baskets add a welcome to the busy scene while the mature trees in the cramped concourse car park have been under planted with a range of seasonal bulbs. People still stub their fags out in the tubs and beds they take for ash trays, drop litter right next to the litter bin and even steal herbs and other plants, but nothing quite matches occasional outbreaks of officially generated vandalism. A couple of weeks ago, Quetta tells me, a visiting TfL official had a hydrangea in full flower in the little platform garden ruthlessly cut back. The reason? Nefarious human activity could be screened by such luxuriant growth. I was glad to see the hacked hydrangea sprouting new shoots. Like the determined foot soldiers of the FHS it remained bowed but unbeaten, alive to another day.

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