Look out of your office window. If you’re pretty much anywhere in the UK at the moment, you will see blue skies dotted here and there with cotton wool clouds and the promise of an actual summer’s weekend looming large.
Petrol station and DIY store managers alike are rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of the inevitable rush on charcoal briquettes and firelighters on the drive home from work.
It’s not yet reached the balmy “hotter-than-Ibiza” temperatures promised for the weekend, but nevertheless I’ve taken the opportunity to sit in the park on my lunch break to soak up some rays – even if it is in my jeans and boots, because I’d been so convinced we’d never have a summer I didn’t invest in a decent pair of sandals…
As I sit on one of maybe 20 park benches, gazing across a freshly mown grass bank towards a gently flowing river, it strikes me just how lucky I am. How lucky we all are.
I spend a large proportion of my day whinging. Moaning about work, about housework, about how little sleep I got last night, about how I haven’t had time to watch any of the crap I’ve recorded from the telly and that my library is hovering dangerously at 94% full with several hour long programmes left to record this evening. The list is endless.
And yet. I have a job. A job that I can take a lunch break from. A park right next door to that job, where I can sit and feel fed up about all of these things and more; knowing that my only real worry in that blissful half an hour of escape is whether the bench I have chosen to sit on has any bird poo on it.
At home we have the choice of 3 parks – admittedly not with rivers, but all within walking distance and all offering green spaces and a breath of fresh air. My children can play, run, ride their bikes and kick balls to each other – their only concern will be dodging the occasional dog turd in the sand pit or being cross that they are too big for the swings now.
All of our everyday stresses and woes are valid. Every car breakdown or lost wallet or mug of coffee spilled onto your keyboard is just another brick, building up that wall of doom and gloom – held together with the mortar of demanding bosses and unarranged overdraft fees. There are countless things going on in our lives that affect us more than we’d like to admit, but sometimes, just sometimes you have to take a moment and acknowledge how privileged we really are to live in a place where the worst thing that happened to us today is running out of fucking milk halfway through the afternoon drinks round.
I cannot for one minute imagine how life must be for those families, sat under the same sun as me, but living in squalor, caked in mud when it rains, and dust when it doesn’t. How must they feel, squeezed into the refugee camps across the world, endlessly waiting, hoping for someone to help them.
How do they escape their “everyday”? How do they find the positive in their lives, when they have no idea where their children will end up in a few months’ time – let alone whether they will ever feel the wind rushing through their hair as they push themselves joyfully back and forth on a swing?
It seems utterly preposterous, obscene even, that we live in a world where we are so blind to the incredible good fortune we have, that we would rather those families stayed in that hell, when we have budget enough for gardeners and benches and bandstands and trelliswork?
We have millions of pounds available to print and distribute propaganda, explaining why we are stronger as a collaborative group of nations or arguing about how we want to “take our country back”, whilst simultaneously denying these children the right to a safe – even happy – childhood, simply because we have no room?
Well I can see lots of spaces for blankets in this park. Room for balls to be kicked and minnows to be spotted and sand to be squished between toes.
Maybe if our MPs had to spend a week or two in the refugee camps over their summer break in order to earn the right to their salaries and cars and expensed flats in Zone 1, they would start to feel differently about denying other people’s children the luxury of freedom they afford their own offspring.
Maybe if they had been made to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – not to get their next FitBit badge, but to get clean water, or a scrap of food for their families, they would have voted differently.
But maybe if we weren’t all so greedy, so consumed with our own individual, selfish needs, we would have voted differently too.
So enjoy your parks. Don’t moan about the sweary teenagers, or litter that ruins your view. Just be grateful that your children have the freedom to run and play and nag you for an ice cream.
Be grateful for the clean water they have to drink and bathe in and the bed to sleep in when they are tired out from their day’s fun. Because for some other human beings, that is literally all they want for their children this summer.