If anyone had told me at the start of the year that come December, I’d be handing Christmas presents to loved ones in the park behind my house, I’d have thrown them a stern look and told them to get some sleep.
Let’s face it, folks: 2020 has seen us do many of life’s typical activities in parks. Birthdays, weddings, catch-ups, anniversary celebrations, you name it. Parks have been a crucial hosting point for us as we learned to socialise outdoors.
Usually the fleeting funscapes of July and August, they’ve become the place to relax. The place to exercise. The place to ponder. The only place to go. So, in the interest of remembering all we got up to in green spaces this year, here’s a month-by-month account of park life in 2020.
January: Ignorance Is Bliss
Who the hell hangs out in parks in January 2020? No one, that’s who.
Christmas is done and it’s deepest midwinter, pre-pandemic. You’re either wallowing in the self-pity heaped on you by the pressure of keeping up a resolution you failed, or you’re happily cosied up on the sofa under a blanket.
A park? In January? Are you mad?
February: The Odd Lurker
I’m inside, but I see some people from my window in the park opposite – the odd lurker going for a walk with a friend, or a run. I don’t take much notice.
I’m watching the TV, and there’s been the first mention of something called the ‘coronavirus’ in China.
Coronavirus is the buzzword, but we’re still allowed to socialise indoors.
The days are opening up for evening walks somewhat, and I’ve been in all winter, so it’s time to go outside. At the weekend, I go to Hampstead Heath (insert local large park to your area). This is the very beginning.
Fast forward a few weeks: it’s the end of March and we’re stuck inside. Parks feel like the only places many of us can escape to. We go on solo walks, or walks with members of our household, just once a day.
April: No Hope
I’ve spent the past month walking around my local park. That and staring at the queue outside Natwest from my window. The nation is collectively struggling.
Given the reality of thousands of tragic deaths, and spiking cases of alcoholism and drug use, the park – for me and my comrades I see every day – has, thanks to a freak heatwave, become the refuge.
Sometimes we sit down, very briefly, but we then realise we must continue walking – following the government guidance. Only exercise is allowed.
May: Thank Goodness For Spring
There’s talk among loved ones and those on social media about how to enjoy nature more, now we’re in parks more than ever: how to enjoy the leaves, flowers, and bug life. Others are searching for colours on their daily walks.
For now, the continuation of the heatwave means parks have become the new pubs – we can now sit down and have a picnic. There’s barely a spot free in popular parks, and tabloids splash photos of others that are endlessly busy. We try and find the hidden ones, the quieter ones.
June: This Is Our Luxury
Parks are no longer the uncomfortable second best. They are luxurious! Picnic blankets, hampers replete with lunch options, the pop of a cork. Who’s got a bottle opener?
The walk of shame to the wee tree is the connector of all humans under lockdown: yep, everyone is peeing in bushes.
July: Everyone’s Got A Trestle Table
People are getting inventive. Pubs are open – but many still prefer the park.
After a rainy start to the month, trestle tables have become as pervasive on the parks scene as discarded prosecco corks. Every grassed nugget of public space is replete with wobbly, precarious tables: buckling in the middle, with a giraffe’s posture, and stacked with red cups for beer pong.
A badminton court has been set up. Outdoor games are in full swing. Play goes on until late. People try to keep a distance from one another.
August: Rain Stops Play
Outdoor fun is temporarily packed up in early August as rain ruins chances of parkside fun. But before long, they’re back – mid-month – for a midsummer blow-out.
Covid cases are down. Conversations heard in the park ponder whether there will be a second wave. Large groups are meeting up, despite the two-household rule.
September: Is This The End?
Summer transitions into autumn and there’s nothing we can do about it. Shorter nights mean less time in the park. Some people still stay out late with picnics and drinks, as long as they can.
We enjoy our last moments of calm, legs akimbo, sprawled out on the grass. We wonder how we will socialise in winter if Covid carries on.
October: Autumn Is Here
Many retreat back to the pub as it gets colder. But some people remain loyal to parks. They continue to walk, as it’s too cold to sit down for too long.
We notice – more than we ever have before – how the trees and leaves show us autumn is coming. We walk with a warm coffee in hand.
November: Déjà Vu
It’s a second national lockdown. Pubs are closed, and weekends – and days off – are filled with the only thing we can collectively do: stride through the parks. We’re back.
The landscape has shifted, not just from sitting to walking – but walking to striding. Spontaneously deciding which way to walk, or where to stop, is usurped by the need to carry on. It’s bitingly cold, colder if you stop.
Attitudes have shifted, too: this is less about the park, more about trying to keep happy and healthy: squinting up at the sky before 3pm to catch the blueness before it’s lights out.
December: Christmas Is Cancelled (For Some)
Covid-19 cases continue to rise, and indoor mixing isn’t allowed in many places across the UK. We find ourselves swapping Christmas presents in the park. Instead of the annual pub meet-up, we do lap or two around the park with a friend, drinking a festive latte.
Many decide it’s too risky to go home. And then Boris Johnson tells many areas in the UK – just a few days before Christmas – that we must, yet again, stay home. Our days leading up to Christmas are spent wrapping up warm, popping to the park for some daylight, then cosying up indoors with our tree.
On sunny, dry winter days, the green space can be as inviting as it is on a warm summer one. And there’s always an invite to the park. Thank goodness we have them – or else we’d all be in a much darker place.