Yesterday I woke to the sound of my alarm having just moments ago fallen asleep, hands cupping the base of my skull, elbows spread out like wings, dreaming of cycling through an empty city. I hoped a tulip had bloomed on the balcony and it had, but it was nothing more than that.
What I mean to say is, like anyone with seasonal depression, the incantation and fact ‘spring will come’ has often been a comfort to me. I eagerly await the heralds of spring—snowdrops, daffodils, and primroses—beneath sturdy old trees and at the edges of the basketball court in my local park. I count down the days until British Summer Time. All winter I etiolate, grasping for sun, for spring, for summer. It’s part of why I’ve turned the walkway to our flat into a balcony garden. Planting in those cold winter days feels like a pact between me and spring, it draws those seasons towards me, makes their prospect more direct and more real and, as well as something beautiful and a few nice things to eat, the balcony also proffers small certainty against enormous uncertainty. This year though I find small solace in the promise of summer.
What I mean is it’s difficult to extrapolate hope from a tulip or the unfurling flowers of French lavender when I know what else this summer will bring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from ungrateful for my balcony, it’s just that I no longer find much comfort in the guarantee of spring held up as a shield against ‘whatever else happens’. Rather, I’m sceptical of and unsettled by such easy dismissal, curious about the ways submersion in a hobby can sometimes rhyme not with necessary distraction but instead with denial.
What I mean is I don’t doubt that a private Arcadia is a delight, but that it is a luxury most people living in crowded urban environments—for whom this pandemic will be most disastrous—lack and which the provision of public spaces like parks and commons functions to address. Like many, I’m disturbed by their closure. Any attack on the urban public realm—of the kind exhibited in nightly press briefings, in the PSAs peppering our timelines, in the new gross trend of covertly filming and publicly shaming those who aren’t outside in the right way, and in the closure of public parks—is an attack on the people who move through it. Exhausted flatmates, tired partners, energetic children insidiously made the locus of blame.
What I mean is my next door neighbour, Raoul, who is three and speaks to me at the interstice of Italian and English so that we only understand each other halfway, has been stuck in his flat since the beginning of Spring. So too have our neighbours below, all six of them cramped in one bedroom of a two bedroom flat, a wallpaper of mould behind the kids’ bunk beds. Most nights, after Klaus has finished working, we step onto the balcony with a beer or an ice cream and shortly Raoul usually appears at the window. He parts the clothes on the rail in his bedroom, hauls himself up onto the sill, opens the top guided window and urgently starts to talk. Yesterday we taught him the words ‘Daffodil’, ‘Tulip’, and ‘Lavender’ and he repeated them back to us. Afterwards, we asked him which one was his favourite and he surveyed the pots, said ‘green’, and pointed at my head, now dyed the colour of a tennis ball. Charmer. He knows he is welcome to use the balcony and does. Sometimes we see his fingers wiggling through the bristles of our letterbox. Before all this, we often encountered his dad leaning on the balcony railings enjoying a cigarette. These days I commonly hear Raoul scooting up and down the balcony. It is something, but it’s not nearly enough.
Header image: Burgess Park by Klaus