Best books on parklife: Author Patricia Nicol recommends tomes about green spaces

An unexpected theme tune of recent months has been Blur’s hit Parklife. It jangles around my head, my own lyrics replacing Phil Daniels’ Cockney narration.

‘Kids, come off your tech for another bleak plod — Parklife.’ ‘Can’t go to the gym, so I’m off for a run — Parklife.’ ‘A friend’s alone with her dog. Can we have a distanced chat? Parklife.’ ‘All the people, so many people . . .’

For decades of my life, urban parks have offered little interest. Acquire a child or a dog, or both, and suddenly these green spaces become paramount. In lockdown, they have become city-dwellers’ most important shared space. Though even they are now being billed as a potential danger zone.

Inevitably, tensions have arisen. Yes, there are selfish sprinters and paranoid pedestrians stink-eyeing strangers, but the folk I find most bewildering are those who go to the park, then go on social media to troll others for doing just that.

Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat Of The Day

Beth Morrey's Saving Missy

Author Patricia Nicol recommends tomes about green spaces including Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat Of The Day (left) and Beth Morrey’s Saving Missy (right)

Last spring, my family stayed at home, alarmed by apocalyptic scenes of parks overrun by yobs. But, in truth, the greatest threat to everyone’s peace of mind remained Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra) road-testing new lockdown bikes.

As a confluence of classes and cultures, and a space for social observation, parks have a special place in fiction. Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat Of The Day begins in London’s Regent’s Park during an evening concert in September 1942.

Espionage is a theme of that novel, as it is in Martin Cruz Smith’s Cold war thriller Gorky Park, which begins with homicide investigator Arkady Renko arriving to examine three corpses discovered in the snow of Moscow’s central park.

The elderly, lonely protagonist of Beth Morrey’s Saving Missy stumbles upon friendship among a community of dog-walkers. To avoid crowds, choose your time and place carefully. Some exercise outdoors does feel important in these cold, uncertain, isolating times. It is in the park that you will find trees, open sky, the beginnings of spring. And, even at a distance, community.

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