The building of One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, in 1991 toppled the record for the tallest structure in London, a record that had been held by the previous incumbent for over 50 years. I look out across the city from the foot of that deposed structure, the transmitter mast in Crystal Palace Park. Built for the BBC, the mast rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Crystal Palace that was destroyed by fire after its relocation from Hyde Park. I reflect on the sense of wonder experienced by visitors to the Great Exhibition.
Continuing to walk through the park I find myself in Dinosaur Court. Here, imposing models of dinosaurs and other extinct beasts are arranged around a lake. They are a magnificent memento of the Victorian age of curiosity, collection and discovery. Restored and now basking in their Grade I listed status, the sculptures serve as a perfect counterweight to the ephemeral Crystal Palace. The late afternoon light complements the tableau, ramping up the yellows and lending a hyper-real burr to the fastidious strut of a solitary heron. I am nostalgic for the summer just ending. Ted Hughes described a moment next to water like this in his poem August Evening:
Blue space burned out. Earth’s bronzes cooling.
Edges this evening…
The dinosaur models were created by sculptor and natural historian Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. On New Year’s Eve 1853, just prior to the opening of Dinosaur Court, Hawkins held a banquet for 20 ‘scientific and literary gentlemen’ inside the mould of the Iguanodon. Records show that the menu included mock turtle soup, raised pigeon pie, pheasant, snipe and macedoine jelly among a vast array of other delicacies. To accompany the feast the guests drank sherry, Madeira, port, Moselle and claret.
On returning home I open a bottle of Mosel Riesling. Its sweet apple and pear flavours somehow serve as a reprimand for all the walks I did not take over recent months. Now the evenings will begin to gather their shadow cloaks and I will have to be content with planning adventures that I will neglect to undertake next year. For now, I roll the supple fruit notes around my tongue, soothing the chilli kick from the accompanying spiced summer salad. Later, and clearly still riding a nostalgic helter skelter, I watch Jurassic Park. I had completely forgotten the inordinate amount of screen time devoted to Jeff Goldblum’s naked and wet torso. I wonder what the dinosaurs in the park would have made of it? They certainly stay in my mind for longer than their animatronic film counterparts.
Pictured: Hawkins’ 1853 banquet in the mould of a dinosaur