I first heard of the Southampton Common when I read H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds a few years ago. Oftentimes today when I walk through it, thoughts of aliens making their way over the grassy flats still pop into my head. However, over the past 3 years and especially during lockdown, the Common has come to mean a lot more to me than simply a random location in a book.
As a humanities student, most of my classes take place on Avenue campus, just a stone’s throw from the Common. The Common is a big part of student life in Southampton, especially during the summertime. Yes, it’s an excellent place to crunch autumn leaves beneath your feet and take a brisk winter’s walk before going for a pint in Cowherds, but when the warm weather rolls in, that’s when it really comes alive. In the summer term, it’s full of students either celebrating the end of exams or taking a break from revision, usually accompanied by a disposable BBQ, a frisbee and a big bag of cans. In these circumstances, the Common becomes much more than a big park in a city: it becomes a place that represents escape, celebration and friendship.
I am lucky enough to live very close to the Common, which has been a godsend during lockdown. Most of my government approved daily outdoor activities have taken place there, providing a much needed respite from staring at a screen while being subjected to my neighbour’s questionable taste in music. Spending most of your time inside means that it’s very easy to forget that there’s still an entire world out there. When I feel a bit lost or lonely, I usually like to walk around the busier parts of the Common to remind myself that life is still going on. Going for a walk around there (at an appropriate social distance of course) gives you the opportunity to see people walking their dogs, riding bikes, flying kites and having fun. It can act as a break from the isolation and madness, and can even help you pretend that things are normal.
Lockdown is a stressful and confusing time for us all, and there are many days where I don’t want to see or talk to anyone. On these days I prefer to go take my walk in the quieter areas of the Common, where I can walk hidden pathways and melt into the trees. Being alone in your own home is not a nice experience, but being alone in nature is calming. And the nature of the Common is beautiful; the pretty birds of Cemetery Lake, the lofty trees that overshadow the main footpath, the flora and fauna of the historic cemetery. There’s a myriad of places to find solace here.
The experiences I’m having on the Common right now, in the month of May, are very different to the experiences I thought I would be having at this time. However, in spite of this, I’m still thankful for it. Not only does it provide me with a much-needed break from the 4 walls of my house, but it’s a constant reminder that even though the world is terrifying right now, life goes on and there is still beauty to be found.