There’s something special about Greenwich Park at this time of year, when it’s open beyond 9pm. The usually-packed viewpoint from the General Wolfe statue is peaceful, left to immediate locals and more adventurous tourists. And so it was just after the sun set on Thursday, the shortest night of the year.
And so it was as the clock approached 9.30pm, official closing time for the park, as a handful of people took photos and took in the smoggy view over the capital.
Then, more or less at 9.30pm on the dot, the security van came along. “The park is closed… please leave the park,” it garbled.
Not satisfied that the tourists, still taking photos, were moving fast enough, the guard then got out to shout at them. It was 9.31pm. Some words were exchanged. There was no need to bellow at people for staying sat on a park bench for 60 seconds behind its official closing time
Now, obviously, the park has to close, but there’s ways of dealing with people and ways of not dealing with people. Readers with long memories will recall the job used to be done by the old Royal Parks Constabulary in a big van with a megaphone. These days, it’s done with a harsh recorded message by a private security van in a hurry – I could hear the van doing its rounds five minutes before the park’s closing time.
“You don’t know how hard this job is,” the security man told me when we met again on my way out of the park. And yes, turfing people out of the park straight after a glorious sunset isn’t going to make you Mr Popular. Ask anyone who’s ever had to get people out of pubs at closing time.
But when you’re dealing with people from around Europe and around the world, barking at them to leave isn’t going to make them feel welcome in this area. Talk to people, for heaven’s sake, engage with them. (Jangle a set of keys, even – tell them you’re locking up, even if it’s only for show.) And re-record that bloody message in the van. How about thanking them for visiting the park? Anything other than a bloke shouting at you to leave.
I’ve always felt that in Greenwich, we’ve always treated tourists badly – happy to take their money but only grudgingly looking after them. But it’s the small things that count. We should be working harder at making sure people leave with a smile, not a scowl – getting closing time in the park right would be a start.