Friday, 31 July 2009
A Unicorn in Hyde Park
It was hushed up at the time, quite amazingly all things considered. After all, how do you hush up a unicorn in a London park?
But it was done nonetheless. I know because it was nowhere in the news and even the internet did not mention it at first. But I was not caught and made to sign the Official Secrets Act so I am posting this to let the world know that on the 16th of June 1999, there was a unicorn in Hyde Park. This is how it happened.
I was on my way to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I always got the Tube to Marble Arch from Holland Park where I was living at the time. I would get up very early and from Marble Arch I would walk through Hyde Park to the museum. I would enjoy watching the people passing wondering about their lives. I would say hallo to the 'regulars' I passed and enjoy the trees. This morning as I was passing through the park heading towards the broader end of the Serpentine, I noticed a commotion and heard a loud snort as if a retired army major were letting off steam. I did not quicken my pace, not even when I heard a scream - not even when suddenly people were running in all directions. Four men even took a running jump into the Serpentine - fully clothed.
I was surprised, who would not be, but I did not run. As I continued I saw it trotting towards the path between the Serpentine and the building in the park. It was as if it had got down off a plinth at Kensington Palace and decided to go for a stroll. A large unicorn, shaking it's horned head and stamping it's hooves. It's leonine tail lashing it stood for a moment a dazzling white glorious beast utterly real and very physical. I stopped and stared. I daresay my mouth was gaping for I could not believe what I was seeing. A woman stopped nearby and took out her mobile phone. Directing it at the unicorn she took a photo, sure that nobody would believe such a thing. This was not a horse with a horn stuck on its head, it was an actual, honest to goodness unicorn. It lashed its tail and tossed its head dangerously and slowly, almost instinctively I backed away struggling to keep calm. Part of me wanted to touch it, to confirm what my eyes were telling me.
The other part of me wanted to run, even knowing that I would be run down and killed if I did so. I dared not meet its gaze for fear it would notice me. The grandeur, the nobility, the sheer beauty and physicality of it did not take away from the fact that it was a wild and untameable creature and in that I admired and respected it. Most of us are tamed by our society, but this beast was beyond taming, it was not to be controlled in its wild aspect.
Sirens were heard and the unicorn turned its head but did not panic. The police were soon dashing into the park with riot shields and batons, like modern knights errant readying for battle. In the face of the unicorn they seemed small and insignificant. The creature looked at them with a mix of curiosity and mild contempt. It was certainly not afraid of them in their armour and plastic riot shields. The police on the other hand had a mix of disbelief and horror. As beautiful as the unicorn was, it was powerful and strong - and armed by, well either nature or supernature.
The police advanced together, their shields before them, their batons between the gaps of their shields. The unicorn snickered and half reared, but did not back away. Still the police advanced and now I watched among a few others in fascination. Suddenly the unicorn began to stamp with it's fore-foot upon the ground. It was getting cross. Now it pawed the earth and snorted, tossing its great head, the spiralling horn clearly a threat. Then it lowered its head and the police stopped. For a moment they seemed unsure what to do, then the further flank of their line curved slowly to cut off the unicorn from South Carriage Drive. The unicorn charged towards the centre of the curve and the police braced themselves until the last moment when their natural fear made them fling themselves aside. The great horn of the beast swept behind them and there was a cry as three men fell. The unicorn turned sharply, but the police gathered up their fallen and retreated slowly. Round one to the unicorn.
A young girl walking on her way to school saw the unicorn and sat down on the grass before it. For a moment, every adult, especially the parents among them held their breath. The unicorn trotted up to the young girl and lay down beside her placing it's great head in her lap. To everyone's surprise, she began to stroke the unicorn and to sing a little song to it. The wild untameable beast had been calmed and tamed. I found myself smiling and mentally kicking myself as I remembered that only a virginal maiden could tame the unicorn.
The police began to advance again, slowly, hoping to draw the beast away from the young girl. They meant well, but they were wrong. Police marksmen now came into the park and people were gathered up and taken away. I hid myself quickly behind the bandstand where I could watch. I felt suddenly sick at heart, guessing the intentions of the police. Still the young girl was stroking the great head but as the police advanced the unicorn slowly drew its head from her lap and glared at the myrmidons of the law. The police stopped and the unicorn lowered its head. But as it did so, two shots were heard. I watched in horror as the young girl seemed to fling back her head, her arms flying outwards as she fell back on the grass, blood spilling from her head. The unicorn had taken a bullet also but staggered to its feet and turning lowered its horn to the young girl touching her gently. To the surprise of the police and myself watching the young girl seemed to sigh and turn over on her side as if she were only asleep.
Then the great beast turned and reared up. The marksmen raised their guns, but at that moment, the clouds that had obscured the sun now fell away and the unicorn became a dazzling light and disappeared. Where it came from nobody knew, but the young girl was taken by the police to hospital where she was found to be perfectly healthy if somewhat dazed. The police made everyone they could find who might have seen the unicorn sign the Official Secrets Act so that nobody would mention the unicorn, but I was missed for I sat beside the bandstand struggling to deal with what I had seen. I had not taken a photograph, but I have placed my handwritten notes in this biscuit tin with a parrot on it and the motto, 'There is no Substitute for quality'. How very true.
I met that girl a few months later in the museum. She had been bright and bubbly it seems, now she was quieter and more reflective. Whether it was the unicorn's touch or not, she became a great doctor. I on the other hand left the museum and fled from the police to Ashdown Forest to hide. I have lived here for nearly fifteen years with my cat and the few belongings I have. I do not go out without sunglasses and a scarf and my coat on. I make sure I always carry a staff and so far I have not signed the Official Secrets Act. But I have lived on what food I can get and Arnotts Biscuits are sent to me secretly from Australian curators.
It's late now, but I am glad that finally I can tell the world of that day when there honestly was a Unicorn in Hyde Park.