Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Nighttime in Highbury Park

When we first got our dog, Charlie, from the Dogs Home in Digbeth, he had not yet been neutered. This meant that we got into the habit of walking him late in the evening when there were fewer other dogs around for him to force his attentions upon.

However, even though he has now been 'snipped', the late night habit has continued. If anything his walks have become later still, and the average number of family members coming along has decreased. Most nights it is just the dog and me in the darkness of Highbury park.

As soon as we arrive I let him off his lead, at which point he usually disappears to do his own thing. Sometimes I can see him as the faintest of shadows against other shadows. Sometimes he will hurtle past me on a mad dash to nowhere in particular. But most of the time all I have is the vague idea that he is around somewhere.

Highbury park is a big old place, big enough to get away from the sound of traffic and light of street lamps.

Occasionally, for no clear reason, the darkness will spook me and for a minute or two I will find myself constantly resisting the temptation to look around me for the approach of unknown assailants. But mostly it is a relaxing emptiness, free from other people, or the expectation of them, and free from the plethora of sights and sounds that fill almost every part of the city in the daytime.

I am using these walks to learn about the stars. I have an app. on my phone which provides me with a 3D view of the night sky from my current location, with all the planets and constellations labelled. I have started from the Great Bear ( the one that looks like a saucepan, and the only one I already recognised ) and worked outwards.

On cloudy nights I  just stroll along. With so little sensory input, small changes become instantly noticeable. Now that Autumn is underway, the leaves on one particular tree have become dry enough to rattle softly in the breeze as I walk past.

Once in a while there are other people. One night I passed a trio of silhouettes on a bench by the river. Low muttering tones and the hiss of an opening can suggested street drinkers who had nowhere better to be.

Once I heard, but didn't see, younger drunken people in the distance, at least one man and one woman. At one point the woman's voice rose in screaming fear while the man shouted his hatred back at her. A few moments later they were united again in harsh raucous laughter, receding away into the night.

A couple of days ago the police were searching the park in pairs, their white torch beams bobbing up and down as they looked for a couple of guys whose appearance they were unable to describe to me other than that they were carrying JD Sports bags. For a few minutes the park seemed transformed into a vast dark arena where some primeval hunting game was being played out.

But these nights are the rare exceptions. Almost always it is just the dog and me, which, I think, suits both of us fine.