I did not realize the negative impact of COVID-19 on my social life until quite recently.
I am usually in the kitchen, cooking or working on my computer. It has become the hub of my daily activity – domestic chores and work. From time to time I glance through the window overlooking Swinton Grove Park [next to Plymouth Grove].
I am used to seeing the park with an aura of life, overflowing with people, some strolling about, others sitting on the benches chatting, reading or making phone calls. Others lying on the grass, cuddling the clear sky, appealing to the sun for a sun-bathed skin. On summer days people would stay until the park was soaked in complete darkness.
On the first Saturday of every June, a funfair is usually held in the park, an important local event that local children and their families eagerly await. Music is played and singers sing and chant; children rejoice in their boisterous bouncy castle’s flights up and down, in face-painting, and in playing and chasing each other.
Adults meet with friends, sit on chairs or lay on the lawn and enjoy the beauty of the wonderful carnivalesque mosaic of the park. Not to mention the free burger sandwiches and juices that nourish the pleasantness of the event. This year, of course, like everything else, our fair has been cancelled.
Beautiful memories jump to my mind as I now watch the empty playground immersed in silence and seclusion. Before the pandemic it would be full of children playing and having fun, their voices and screams breaking the gloom of nearby roads and filling the place with joyous animation and liveliness.
Recently, I went out for exercise to the basketball court on the corner of the park. It was empty except for me, and the place was swimming in tranquillity mingled with a slight drizzle of rain. I felt a tremor of fear invading my body mixed with a quiver of cold. I struggled between the desire to continue or return. But I was more concerned that I had not been out for two months and I’d gained unwelcome weight and felt pain on my limbs.
“Are you back, Mama?”, said my teenage daughter on my return.
“No, I’m not; I’m still in the park.” I replied, jokingly.
She laughed and added quickly: “Please do not forget to wash your hands, Mum.”
I made myself some coffee and sat sipping it. My memory took me to last year when I had been to the park carrying a coffee flask and a set of cups. I sat on a bench, some children on bikes, a mother helping a child on a bike and dogs barking at the edge of the park.
I poured myself a cup of coffee, took a sip and closed my eyes with assured pleasure, feeling refreshed and energetic. Suddenly a voice broke my meditation.
“Can I have some, please?”
“Oh dear, I’m definitely waiting for someone to join me.”
The three young women joined me onto a now crowded bench. We shared the coffee amid an eager conversation; then we left on our separate ways.
The COVID-19 deprived us of all of this – the social intimacy and the sprinkles of warmth and liveliness, as it compels people to stay away from each other, garrisoned into their homes to stay safe, protect the NHS and save lives. People miss the fresh air, and the splendid time in the park. The lawns, shrubs and herbs grow taller and denser. The chirping noise of birds tweeting in the hissing branches are heard no more; I wondered if the birds too feared the virus and have perched elsewhere!
We are still waiting for normality to return to the parks … and blossom again with children, families, and friends, and when singing birds return to share not the human COVID fears but jollity and fun.