2020 has been a year like no other. A year of lockdowns, cancellations, closures, changes of plans, restrictions, curfews, working from home. A year of upheaval, of changing routines and circumstances, none of this asked for, lived out unrelentingly in the same space day in, day out. A year of entrapment underpinned by the inescapable desire to escape. Flights of fancy to the extent that journeys by car and bus feel bold, and aeroplanes passing above take on talismanic qualities. The world has shrunk, and yet, as our frames of reference have diminished, they have revealed focal points hitherto overlooked.
I’ve lived in this house for nearly a decade now. And yet, prior to March 2020, I’d set foot in the playing fields on Warren Avenue—barely two minutes’ walk from home—on two or three occasions at the most. The fields encompass an area roughly the size of four or five football pitches. On three sides they are bordered by a mix of back gardens and garages, on the fourth by a buffer of wilderness that adjoins the training grounds of Millwall Football Club.
At any other time these playing fields are the reserve of dogwalkers in the morning and football players and spectators on Saturdays. Now they are used by everyone, including us, as a space in which we can let the sun fall on our faces, gulp deep breaths of fresh air, recalibrate our senses, take note of the changing seasons, pause to reflect on where we’ve found ourselves, and fantasise about being elsewhere.
There have been spells this year when my four-year-old daughter and I have visited the Warren Avenue Playing Fields on a daily basis. In late March we shivered against a brisk breeze, running along the white painted lines of the football pitches. In April we played tag, hide and seek, and danced. In May we clambered about on the fallen branch of a tree which, in my daughter’s imagination, was a pirate ship, rocking and rolling on the high seas. In June, at the height of summer, we marvelled at how a vast expanse of the fields, formerly close-cropped for playing football, had transformed into a lush meadow full of dandelions and buttercups, grass as soft as pillows, amongst which butterflies and bees skittered. In the August drought we traced the strange lines and shapes that had emerged in the parched and yellow grass, the ghosts of past activities that will remain an enigma to us. In September and October we kicked piles of dry leaves into the air, and watched as sycamore seeds softly gyrated the ground.
Through the year we had a bench more or less to ourselves, where we’d sit and eat our snacks—hot-cross buns, apples, chocolates, bags of crisps—while looking for shapes in the clouds above us, as I tried to ignore the scores of discarded nitrous oxide canisters that lay scattered about our feet. And I remember now, as I write, how the bench sat in the shade in spring and autumn, and basked in the sunshine during high summer.
On many of those early spring days the sky was wide and clear, bright blue and empty, with none of the planes that usually arc over our heads as they join the queue into Heathrow. On those rare moments when a plane did pass overhead, I pulled out my phone, checking my Flight Scanner app to find out from which city it had flown from, their names—Amsterdam, Doha, Naples, Zurich, Chicago, New York—taking on a heightened sense of the fantastical.
And now that winter has arrived, I can say that I have seen all four seasons play out across the Warren Avenue Playing Fields. How time has passed, now that my daughter has started school, and a year since the start of the pandemic beckons. Everything, it seems, has changed, and yet so much remains the same.
All photographs by the author.