On working in close proximity to Regent’s Park, I cherish the advent of spring as I can now go for a lunchtime walk inside the most attractive park in London. The stirring of nature’s passion has seen thousands of people descend upon the beautiful green plains in the last few weeks. This precious unpaid hour is always welcome in warmer climes but even during the harshest winters I have stoically insisted upon every second of my lunch break.
As a young child the clattering of the school bell signalled an hour of endless possibilities. One lunch time (a long time ago) in northern Scotland, I led a stunning coup d’état against our primary school matron, as hundreds of children gained their first experience of a democratic rebellion. Football had been banned on the school banks because it was supposedly too wet underfoot for hundreds of little feet to chase after a greasy leather orb. A handwritten petition circulated down in the concrete jungle and my fellow rebels enjoyed our moment in the sun, only to be reprimanded by an hour-long detention on the strike of the home time bell.
Despite having no discernible talent for football, I still fondly remember coming back to class soaked in sweat and mud. The ferocious competiveness of our games and high pitched squabbles over what constituted an imaginary bar are one of the few things from school I actually miss. Growing older and being fortunate enough to attend two of Scotland’s finest universities, I realise now that everyday is like a lunch break for an arts undergraduate. Student life on a picture book campus makes for a wonderful education and unlimited access to bars, cafes and newsagents. There is no such thing as a late lunch when you crawl out of bed at the back of noon.
On graduating and having to pay rent in Glasgow, I found myself temping for discredited financial institutions and lunch suddenly became very precious indeed. When the clocks go back in October, it’s almost like the Arctic Circle imposes a military curfew on Scottish daylight but I always left the office in order to claim my sixty minutes of freedom. Glasgow is like a miniature Chicago with its American style grid system and wanting to claim my precious hour of daylight, I would munch upon cheese and gammon sandwiches, crisps and two pieces of fruit on a well healed parade around the city.
Glasgow is one of the greatest Victorian cities in the world but since I was unwilling to power the glass turbines of big business for the minimum wage, I departed southwards towards London’s advertising and digital heartlands in Goodge Street. Lunch time suddenly became a flexible experience and I can now eat some of the finest cuisines in the world on my unpaid hour. Unprofitable media companies squabble over free deliveries of little Greek pies and nearby cafes, bars and stylish restaurants offer a penny sucking haven for anyone wanting to escape the soulless matrix of databases, targets and Microsoft Excel.
As the clocks move forward and the vernal equinox stimulates life on previously cold soil. The green tranquility of Regent’s Park attracts a primordial gathering around its duck ponds and playing fields. Lunch time may only be one hour but it remains universally celebrated across the Western world and something savoured by school children, workers and chief executives alike.