26 years later, we became precisely that which they mocked.
Nothing is quite as quintessentially British as Blur’s ‘Parklife’, the brilliant song released in 1994. The second you hit play, you’re struck with the noises of stereotypical Britain: some classic hustle and bustle, a glass bottle shattering and the distinctive “oy!” of a sluggish Briton who’s likely been impolitely bumped into by an obnoxious pedestrian. All this accompanied by a guitar riff that is symbolically monotonous yet wholly pleasant. Parklife is a British staple – it is even played at Stamford Bridge before Chelsea’s home games.
Following this introduction, the song essentially consists of British actor Phil Daniels (who features in the song) narrating a typical British day in a ‘mockney’ accent. As guitarist Graham Coxon clarified in a 2012 interview, “it was actually very sarcastic” – far from the “celebration of Englishness” that many perceived it to be. Joggers, pigeon-feeders and lazy British tea-drinkers; the ‘park class’, who trudge along obliviously with their boring lives.
And yet, for a few months during the peak of the lockdown, we became precisely those Britons of whom Blur had been so incredibly critical.
Back when the shops, pubs and restaurants were shut, the entire country seemed to flock to the local parks like tourists outside Buckingham Palace. The highlight of the day would be an afternoon spent in a circle of six on a patch of grass under the shade of a large tree. Some may have tried jogging for the first time – I regrettably did – whilst others may have preferred a lighter stroll or stayed home altogether with a cup of tea at hand. Like the targets of Blur’s contagious chorus, we all “went hand-in-‘and, hand-in-‘and frough their par’loife”.
The difference, perhaps, is that we knew what we were missing, unlike the blissfully ignorant characters portrayed in the song. Though Blur and other pioneers of Britpop remain on my own quarantine playlist, when the rest of the economy slowly but surely opened up, the parks seemed to empty once more. The fields of my local park inevitably went from bursting to bare, accentuated by the return of the locals to schools, universities and workplaces. Evidently, once there was literally anything else to do, we chose not to waste our lives away staring at underwhelming greenery. Damon Albarn and co. would be proud.