A mother and her son

There’s a mother and son I’ve not seen in a while. They’re regulars in the local park, like me. Except that they walk their dogs while I walk by myself.

I’m not too fond of their dogs. They’re small and yappy, and the mother and her adult son don’t call them away when they pester people. Instead, the onus is on the target not to feel pestered: “Don’t worry – they won’t harm you!” the elderly mother cries. She sounds irritated, like she’s been in the same job for too long.

The mother is slight and a little bent over. She wears a turban hat from the 1970s and an elegant long coat. Her son is in his fifties, a big bulk of a man in a big bulky jacket. He likes hats, too, but his hat is flat.

The pair arrive, each in their own car, at a similar hour every day. They walk a meandering half circuit of the park, talking about health issues and throwing wispy-haired tennis balls for their dogs to fetch. They always take a break on a bench at the far end, where they carry on talking and let their dogs run riot.  

I’ve learned to steer a wide berth at this point to avoid being hounded.

There are other regulars in the park, like the unrushed trio who wear wet-weather gear even when it’s not raining, and tend to circle the park clockwise. And the power walker who speeds ahead in multi-coloured leggings while her dog tries to keep up. She pumps her arms and never ever stops, and also likes to go clockwise. Not long ago she started greeting me with a nod after a year of nothing. It’s not quite a ‘hello’ but it’s something. 

My favourite is the man in his seventies and his scatterbrained dogs. We’ve been on smiling terms since the beginning, and soon progressed to exchanging remarks about the weather. Lately, it’s been all about the show of blossom in the park. He has a shock of white hair, wears a red scarf in the winter, and follows his dogs wherever they lead. 

  • cambridge, park, people, stories, spring
  • cambridge, park, people, stories, spring
  • cambridge, park, people, stories, spring
  • cambridge, park, people, stories, spring

But things change.

Recently, the power walker stopped walking. She broke her stride to chat to the slow-moving, geared-up trio – they were pointing at the clouds, so maybe they were calculating the probability of rain. And today, the red-scarfed septuagenarian called to me as he sailed past on his bike – a surprise as he was neither near the park nor with his dogs. He looked very happy and free. 

And I realised that I hadn’t seen the old mother and son for weeks. 

Once they were sitting on a different bench, right near the exercise machines. It was a beautiful, winter-bright day, so still and settled that it made our modest park feel timeless and somehow other than it is. Mother and son basked in the weak sunshine, caught by the same view as me. Even their dogs knew to be quiet. And as I walked behind them, they became silhouettes. I wanted to photograph them, but they were in their own world, and it didn’t feel right taking their picture without asking. 

I wonder if the mother and son will return. Or whether, like the seasons, they’ve moved on. Such familiar figures who mean nothing to me, and whose dogs I won’t miss if they don’t come back. Yet here are they are, starting and ending this post, and it occurs to me that I have never known their names.

  • cambridge, park, walking, people, stories
  • cambridge, park, walking, people, stories

Hats and Rabbit Holes …

Turban hat history and the Resistance

Flat caps and a 1571 decree