The donation bins at the entrance to the park are heavy with clothes. When no more black plastic bags of cast-offs can be stuffed through the metal mouth, they are stacked neatly around the outside. This is a high-traffic corner, cars and feet and bikes, and the stacks are never un-pawed for long. I never see anyone rifling through the bags, so they must come early morning or dusk, or night, and I don’t know what they’re looking for: clothes for their families, or high quality discards to sell online. There’s a bin for electronics, too, and it’s all old toasters and a thousand wires and plugs for appliances that are nowhere to be seen. I’ve never seen such rampant heaps of donations before, but I get the impulse. Clean, purge, strip. There are many layers to a life that are easy to peel away, and cast aside.
The result of the generosity (or compulsion to clean, or whatever motivates the many donors) is mess. The bags are torn apart and the contents scattered, and then soaked. What remains on the ground, strewn and stepped on, you wouldn’t consider a generous gift, or anything other than trash. But the bags keep coming, because once you’ve bagged your shit, and walked it the 500 metres to the charity bin, and found the bin full, and disgusting, you can’t walk it back home. The symbolism of reabsorbing your trash is too rich. And so you add your own old, ripped finery to the sodden piles, walk away.
Inside the park, something small changes every day. The owners of the bowling green have given up and given their space over to the geese and ducks, who strut inside the fence like fancy residents of a gated Chelsea garden. There is a small group skating on the netball courts; a pair doing burpees underneath the basketball hoops. There are three outdoor gyms in Finsbury Park and they are now fenced off with green metal sheets, at least 8 feet eyes, with no gaps, and no handholds. Up until now, attempts to keep fitness junkies off the silver bars have failed, the chain link fences all too easily scaled or parted by people who heft weights for fun. There’s no fun for them in Finsbury Park now, this is an Iron Curtain, this is the Berlin Wall, this is Trump’s wet dream. A real wall, not a symbol.
The ponds have melted again now that the below freezing week has given way, quickly, to double digits. The cracks in the pavement are no longer solid with ice. Finsbury Park is less treacherous, and it is the only park where two-meter-distancing is really possible, with the wide road right round the perimeter. It has never been pretty, but now I appreciate its practicality.
Northern Ireland announced today that lockdown has been extended until April, and with the news I feel the division between my heart and head more than ever. My head knows we should follow suit – must follow suit, really, to have any hope of continuing the beautiful downward death-graph trend – but my heart is already in a pub, or under a strange roof, or sat awkwardly in the driest part of the park with a friend.