Thursday, August 28, 2008

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park

I first visited Hyde Park with Bertie Wooster. Speakers’ Corner was where he ran into his friend standing on a soap-box in a false beard and mouthing Commie rant in order to impress the father of the girl he was hoping to marry. I am not particularly sure how the story turned out, though I am sure Jeeves saved the day, and Bertie Wooster ended up either with egg on his face, or a hangover cure in his hand.

What is do remember is that I was fascinated by the idea of a place where anyone could stand up and talk about anything they chose and nobody could haul them off to prison or sue them for slander.

So when I found myself in London and had a free Sunday there, one of the first places I hauled myself to was Marble Arch. Speakers’ Corner was every bit as enthralling as I had expected it to be – there was the man in a salt and pepper beard (real, hopefully) talking about redevelopment in urban areas, the young black man in jeans and bomber jacket getting excited about the discrimination against people from the Caribbean, a middle aged man talking about how difficult the government made it for an unemployed single father to bring up three children. There even was an anachronistic piece in tweeds that had actually brought along a wooden soapbox – her thick plait bobbed for emphasis as she spoke about how the government should not have given up its colonies.

It was my last day in London- there were landmarks I could have photographed, museums I could have visited, souvenir stores I could have gone to. But I could not tear myself away from Speakers’ Corner. Heck, I even bought myself a cappuccino and a hotdog and had lunch watching the people speak. Most of the stuff the people were talking about meant nothing to me and even the things that I did not necessarily agree with- but the experience was compelling.

I was almost tempted to grab a place against the fence and start talking about something, anything. What would the people gathered there have made of an Indian girl in a funny accent ranting about how the only people in England who made her feel uncomfortable were the people of Indian descent? They would probably just have wondered why I did not think to equip myself with something to stand on.

The moment passed. I did not get on the soapbox. I did not air my views.

But neither did I ever forget that one place where anyone could say anything. Whether or not anyone heard you was not the point. Whether the people you would have wanted to speak to heard you was not the point either. The point was that you were free to say anything you wanted. Anything!

I often through fondly of Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park. Then I discovered blogging.


vasantha said...

Thanks Natasha for reminding me about Bertie Wooster and the Speakers' corner in Hyde Park !

My father was an ardent admirer of PGWodehouse and my self and my brother followed him admiring our father's taste !

I am just back from a visit to PGW pages in Wikipedia.

Thanks again

Natasha said...

Wikipedia is incredible, isn't it? I went there after reading your comment, and found they actually have an entire article on Comrade Bingo (the story where Bingo rants against his uncle in Hyde Park).

And PG Wodehouse IS the best - no other author comes even close to him in that field.


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