But it shimmers, it does not stop

alice zoo

2020 - Ongoing

London, England, United Kingdom

A summer of birthdays in the park, the park being the only moral option in a summer of plague. I attended four group events before the rule of six came in, all birthdays. They seemed to me like little bright spots: still reasonable to celebrate, justifiable to gather, unarguable.

On a walk back from my old flat by Hackney Downs, I see a big group celebrating under a tree. They’ve hung colourful paper streamers, rich reds and purples and blues in thick ribbons that the sun glows through in the last light of the day. A table set up with drinks and cake, people milling around. I don’t have a camera, but it’s so beautiful I stand and watch for a bit, people drifting about like fish in a tank as the streamers sway.

Later, shooting, I meet Nazmi, who is sitting in a deckchair while her daughter plays rounders with a big group of friends. It’s her daughter’s 26th birthday. Nazmi’s husband, an engineer, died of the virus in April. Her mother died of it too. But here she is in August, offering me samosas, offering me cake, balloons tied to the trees above her head, white, green, and lilac.

Friends tie bunting from tree to tree, or foil lettering that crinkles in silver and bronze. There are gazebos, paper pinwheels, more families who offer me slices of birthday cake. There is a group of 30 or so on Clapham Common, every one of them wearing a colourful paper cone on their head, who don’t want to be photographed, but they look so merry.

The cold comes in, the smell of the air changes. I take a screenshot of a news article setting out the new ‘rules on mingling’, hoping it will feel like a strange thing to me, later. My birthday is three months away, and the days will be short and icy.

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