The soothing sensations of green space has become a salve for house-bound claustrophobia in lockdown. We take a lap of the park in place of a commute, head to the park for a quick rant on the phone, or take a moment with nature, find headspace and heal.
Katrina Navickas, a historian and contributor to HORRID Covid! 4, traces the emergence of public parks to the outbreaks of cholera in the 1830s and 40s. Conceived as a public health intervention to help tackle what was then thought to be an airborne disease, they provided urban lungs for fast-accumulating industrial populations. But with the legal reclassification of common lands came new rules, wardens and locked gates, and the opportunity to morally code outdoor space.
We’ve been stretching our legs in the park all the way through this pandemic. The right to roam outside has been a liberal assertion of our individual freedom and British "common sense," and we’ve made full use of it. Three months ago this involved lots of stripey tape. Since we’ve started to gather, parks have become political and moral playgrounds with increasingly confusing rules. "Good" citizens practice yoga, tai-chi, and glare at large groups of picnickers. "Bad" citizens claw over the fence for a game of 5 a-side, use a water fountain or sunbathe on Ruislip Lido. Other people wait in the windows for a sign that it is safe to come outside. The homeless, elderly and sick are absent until further notice.
This week many of us came together at Hyde Park and Parliament Square to protest against the death of George Floyd and the racial injustices that are endemic in the UK and across the world. These kinds of public gatherings are a historic rite of the park. While we wait for the UK government to publish an unredacted copy of the report that describes why black people are dying from coronavirus at almost double the rate of their white neighbours, many choose to to gather as a public body, whatever the risk.
We plan in the park. We pick weeds and mix tinctures, build dens, find devient friends in the bushes... and next week you can escape on a minibreak with Holidays on Wheels, departing from Burgess Park at 5pm on Sat 13 June. See you there!
I am a serial procrastinator and have become aware that I historically fill my time with work or errands to avoid spending deep time alone, avoiding exploring traumatic or sad issues. The reality of this is that I have rarely allowed myself to openly grieve, as it has always been easier to attend to emails or watch endless videos of otters. Spending time outside is usually therapeutic in a basic sense, it allows me to forget my anxiety-du-jour and pick some wild foods, but I always have my phone as a distraction. On this particular occasion, I turned it off, and went out with my dictaphone, some diluted elderflower cordial, and a thumbed copy of Richard Sennett's Together. I took one great recording of wading through the river Ravensbourne in my fake crocs and talking to a Swiss lady about how I was making ambient soundtracks to help me sleep, and another of scavenging three-corner leek and mahonia grapes. This recording, though, is nuanced because I hardly ever sit still or in silence, yet somehow in this man-made 'nature', about as far from wildness as I could walk in a day, I created a time and space to think - slowly and truthfully - about violence around me and around the world. The usefulness of the parks and greenspaces is not physical but temporal, not capital but corporeal. Being outside where, if you collude, time is suggested only by light, is the most safe space you can be to explore radical feelings without a deadline.
Rosa Johan Uddoh
Matt Hancock as the ancient, self-shading, Classical monster, the Monopod
There was no love, simply bodies enjoying themselves:
cruising as a site of contradictions, or can we suck dick with a face mask on?
Historian Katrina Navickas talks to curator Helen Kaplinsky
about the history of parks in the UK, their privatisation and protest during the pandemic
"Invaluable anti-inflammatory, healing and soothing properties".
Wish You Were Here Postcard
Every year, at this time, I think about visiting Derbyshire to see their well dressings and get closer to how these jubilant flower petal covered clay wooden structures are made.
This year whilst the festival has been postponed, I am going to write to various associations there to say "I wish I was there" to learn a tip or trick from their experiences of well dressing to expand my knowledge from online guidelines and wikipedia hearsay. (The tradition of well dressing - adornment of Derbyshire natural water sources with fresh flowers - stems from Pagan festivals celebrating water, birth, fertility and Spring: these reconfigured post black plague as a tribute to fresh water sources and the villagers survival because of them). Click here to see the postcard correspondence.
Whilst still enjoying the view of your local park, do you have somewhere you wish you were? Use this moment as a chance to connect with that place by sending this postcard. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for postcard sales (£2.50 each plus postage / £10 for 5).
Some Day Soon...
we pick up pastries, on the way home from church, at the Sunday market in the park
we collect our leaver’s exam results and celebrate with all our classmates in the park
we decide to meet again, after all these months, and you take my hand in the park
we are still out at three, and I get the location of a rave in the forest in the park
we drink two hot chocolates each after our weekly swim at the lido in the park
we regroup between sets to refill water our bottles at the fountain in the park
we all cuddle up together on the grass at the open-air cinema in the park
we meet our granddaughter and we all link arms as we walk in the park
we have a huge reunion picnic with all our college friends in the park
we near the finish line and see friends cheering us on in the park
we sweat in front of a summertime sound system in the park
we lie down, side by side, to watch the stars in the park
we throw a birthday party for our twins in the park
we spin and spin on the roundabout in the park
we rent a Pedalo to tour the lake in the park
we swing high on the swings in the park
we pet all the friendly dogs in the park
we share an ice cream in the park
we meet with a hug in the park
we forget our cares in the park
The Great Outdoors: just how important is urban green space for our mental health?
HORRID Covid speaks to Des Fitzgerald
"I still worry that there is too much of a tendency to see urban green space as a psychological panacea for what are, in fact, deep-rooted structural problems of insecurity, poverty, state violence and so on."
Click the litter to read the interview.
Regents Park May 11th 2020
The Blissful Ignorance of a One-legged Pigeon
We can agree on several things and fearing over this virus is one of them. The constant hypothesis of catching it or seeing a loved one get infected is terrifying. I don't fit a high-risk group but as an asthmatic immigrant living in this weird Brexit nation - the possibility of becoming ill and having to rely on an overwhelmed NHS invades my mind once in a while.
It was indeed more frequent at the beginning of lockdown, now I catch myself denying it sometimes and I feel jealous of not being able to visit parks daily/ going out without a mask. The ordinary and irrelevant moments of three months ago are now sorely missed. In other words, I am paranoid and also blaming myself for being worried enough to not take advantage of what's at my reach. Shit. Sometimes I just wish I had the blissful ignorance of a one-legged pigeon. One that lost an important part of its regular life and now is at constant risk but roams around like anything ever happened.
I have drawn and carved this woodcut a week before lockdown - I am convinced that it might never be printed :(
Love in the Time of Corona
Part 2: Hi BB
'Love in the Time of Corona' is a series of reflections on queer (non)-monogamy in lockdown.
Medical herbalist Rasheeqa Ahmad shares her knowledge of
healing plants that can be found in park hedges.
Click each plant to find out how to use it.
"Useful for giving a holding quality in life, if you're feeling a bit loose or scattered".
"Commonly used to help the emotional heart, in situations where there is grief or loss causing heartache".
↑ Click for interview and photos
This week we spoke to a service manager at St. Mungo's homeless charity who is currently managing a repurposed Travelodge in Bristol as a homeless hostel (and who also happens to be doing a photography project on the park right next door!)
Welcome to the Best Park Ever
Illustration by Bridget Meyne
You Can Be Whoever You Want To Be
‘You Can Be Whoever You Want To Be’ is a serial that tells the story of Sal who, upon moving into Kit’s empty bedroom, takes on her friend’s identity.
"Yarrow brings great joy and is a revered plant all around the world. The legend goes that Achilles used it as wound-healer and indeed it has been majorly used in this way as it has haemostatic activity, stopping bleeding on the skin."
"A grand and beautiful tree of our city avenues and parks, and a perfect summer remedy for overheating, insomnia, irritability and anxiety."