Every Monday, Wednesday & Friday, I wake up at 6.30am. I pee, put in my contacts and moisturise the little patch of dry skin that always appears around my nose. I can’t really see properly until I have a cigarette, so the world is just blurry until I mentally unlock myself. I roll this first cigarette extra skinny. I change into 3 stripe leggings. I have worn little holes along the seam, where my thighs touch. I stretch my glutes on the cold white tiles of the kitchen, and it always makes me wince when my kneecap crunches against the grout. I always wear my big headphones, always wear lip balm, and I always, ALWAYS chew gum.
By the time I get to the gates of the park, it is 7.15. The park is long; shaped like a falling tear drop, rolling down North to South. There’s a viaduct running along the side, like a spine. Its arches are these enormous half moons in red brick, and the tube track runs over the top. In Winter, at 7.15 the sun will still be rising over the rooftops and trees. When it’s cold, mist rolls in low and grey across the grass. The skylights on roof slopes flash bronze, shimmering scales; I always think they look beautiful.
I start running as soon as I pass the gates. Downhill slowly, long strides. I run with my mouth closed, breathing heavy only through my nose, because one time a gnat catapulted itself against the back of my throat as I was sprinting, and it made me wheeze all weekend. The baby trees give way to a field that sits low, a bowl dipping against its boundary. This park is little shapes. Long grass whispers at the edges, the fences back on to suburban gardens and blocks of flats.
I have never really enjoyed running before now. When I started going to the gym, I was there to get absolutely fucking shredded. I wanted little biceps that popped out like a surprise, peachy bum - the works. I would avoid cardio and schedule it into little bursts that I could neatly manage. I was there to batter my body into submission. I was there to terraform it; from wild landscape in to something I could exert direct influence over. Pain was a sign of my body’s malleability, a signal that I could open a door within myself and enter into internal space. It was about contained movements, interior, repetition and control. It wasn’t until this continued lockdown that I saw the value of movement for its own sake. Body hurtling through wide open space, exterior, expansive.
I don’t care about art or the world any more. The only thing that has energy or weight or value at the moment is myself. My energy, my weight, my body as a value. Reviewing little objects spaced out in a room feels intellectually dishonest, because my body is the only object, the central object of my concern. At the moment, my body is not coherent as an object, but rather as a substance that fills space. So fuck it, TWP review of the park.
In Autumn, Winter, and early Spring, there’s frost on the pavements and the path. At 7.30 on Wednesdays, a Labrador Club meets up on the main field. If I time it right, which I usually do, on Wednesday mornings I run through a sea of labradors; fat, young, long haired, golden blonde, chocolate, black, grey around the whiskers. They sniff up at me, follow me up the hill and round the fields. Their ears flap as they gallop alongside me, bodies lurching in time with the slap of my feet hitting the tarmac.
Cutting through, winding round the arches of the viaduct, there’s a thin brook. When it rains, the water swells up over its paved sides. In the summer, the water hangs low and still. Wide pipes feed into it, and sometimes this dense chemical foam floats out, stinking of shit and rubbish. It floats along in clumps downstream, getting stuck on a patch of reeds or a clump of tall grass. In spring, pink and white blossom falls into the still water like confetti. The blossom simmers there until it rots into nothing. Down the south end, the viaduct peels off, and weeping willows pop up. Their fringey leaves hang down over the path, and I hold my hand out to slap them as I run past.
I think parks are emotional. These little chunks of nature in this stupid city, a point where buildings just stop and you can see the sky. Parks are what’s left of the commons: publicly held land that exists for communal enjoyment and benefit. Here in my silly little suburb, the park is what’s left of an old Tudor estate. It got sold on from Lord to Lord, banker to industrialist, until the council bought a chunk of it in the late 1920s. The rest was sold to property developers. This part of London used to be countryside, and the parks are the only bits that got saved away from the city as it spilled out in urban sprawl.
When it rains overnight, the field gets waterlogged. It holds on to puddles the size of little ponds. As I run past on wet mornings, I slow down to look at these wide planes of water. Smooth, glassy and still. Little birds dip their beaks, grass pokes up in sparse chunks. My body has built muscle again without me realising it, and it is nice to feel like my body is circumstantial. Now: solid lags behind action, movement and space. Body is silenced by rhythm, body belongs to space, body is subsumed by movement and turns itself outwards. Passive, falling, a kind of endurance test. Pollen floats around in the Summer, clouds of gnats shimmer, my chest is slick with sweat. A van with an orange siren rolls diagonally across the grass at 10mph. An Alsatian sits up on top of a wide log, its owner crouches to get the most dramatic camera angle.
I think cities are emotional. I think London is a silly place; if I hadn’t been born here, I’d find the idea of dying here absolutely horrifying and Victorian. But I cannot help but love it. Fountain in a square, sun dipping over the straight lines of a building, ghastly puddles nestled into the indent of pavement squares; it is all europe, the West, and civilisation. And I am terrified by the size and scale of it all. I am scared of America, and the way it’s conceptualised as a country defined by its wide open space. The idea that you can drive for days and still be in the same state, just rolling your wheels into the expanse. I want something to shrink it all, to flip a switch and then maybe I am bigger because of it. Yes, yes, maybe the world is smaller and I am bigger. Maybe I am the size of a city or a country, a coastline too. I am the mouth of a river, I am enormous and vast also. I am proportioned and I tower over the City of London, it’s famous skyline, my back to the stars as I cast my monstrous shadow over southbank and shard. God I want to go limp; close my eyes, lean back and crush it all, fall back into its tender embrace. I want this city to move and shrink to the size of my body so I can fold it up like a napkin, a flip phone, a beach towel as I lie stretched across it, baking in the sun. I want to handle this city like it is a contained object, reduce it. Because right now I can only laugh at how vain it all is. A Capital City, so important, so impossible and untrue. I want this city to be mine only. I want to make it smaller by measuring my body against it. I want this city to be a promise, a wound.
I have been witness to seasons. They feel intimate and close now; like time has been allowed to come into sharp relief, because I have taken on the role of stable constant. The clouds are gold and orange in Autumn. The morning sun hangs low and heavy, facing up, projecting pink across the underbellies of those useless clouds. In Spring, the mornings are blue. You know it’s Summer by the sharp white angle of shadows across the grass. I see the same old man at the same time every morning I go out. He does the same route around the field: 3 full laps, anticlockwise. He walks slow while shadow boxing. I want to know his name, I want to ask about his life.
I think bodies are emotional. They are these fallible vessels, the only containers we have for our Self. I have pushed and pushed at the outer limit of mine, like it’s a bubble I am trying to burst. I think I could run forever if I went slow and steady enough. My mind would go blank and my legs would take over. Oh, my beautiful city, spread open before me like an anonymous feast. Oh, my sun, hanging heavy and wet against the clouds. Beyond, hospitals and dual carriageways. I would press my lips together tightly and taste sweet birthday cake leaking in over spearmint.