|Fwd: I had cause to look you up in the standard referance work . . .||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Ken Winter (kensunward.org)|
|Date: Thu, 24 Nov 2016 17:39:55 -0800 (PST)|
Here's a little gem from an English friend who lived briefly in our community: a puckish treatise on the social-architectural rules of British *un*intentional communities, juxtaposed with a familiar passage from the cohousing architectural canon. Enjoy! ~ Ken Winter, Sunward Cohousing ---------- Forwarded message ---------- From: Bob <bob.phillips [at] blueyonder.co.uk> Date: Thu, Nov 24, 2016 at 6:41 AM Subject: Re: I had cause to look you up in the standard refer ence work . . . To: ken [at] sunward.org I read in the Sunward Wikipedia entry : “The community layout and homes were designed with the concept of a privacy gradient, where privacy increases as one goes toward the back of the house. For example, sitting on one's front porch is an invitation to socialize, while sitting on the back porch does not. Kitchen windows are in the front of every house.” I am moved to send you an English comparison, from the greatest book ever written about English cultural rules, by the anthropologist Kate Fox, *Watching the English*: *GARDEN RULES * >From our helicopter at the beginning of this chapter we saw that the English all want to live in their own private box with their own private green bit. Indeed, it is our insistence on the private green bit that is, ironically, largely responsible for the desecration of the English country- side, with the construction of 'relentless green suburbs' and all the environ- mental damage and pollution that they entail. The English simply will not live in flats or share courtyards like urban dwellers in other countries: we must have our private boxes and green bits. However small, the green bit is at least as important as the box. Tiny scraps of land, which almost anywhere else in the world would be regarded as too insignificant to bother with, are treated as though they were grand country estates. Our moats and drawbridges may be imag- inary, but every Englishman's castle has its miniature 'grounds'. Take a typical, undistinguished suburban or 'residental-area' street, with the usual two rows of smallish, nondescript semi-detached or terraced houses - the kind of street in which the vast majority of English people live. Each house will usually have a minuscule patch of garden at the front, and a larger green bit at the back. In slightly more affluent areas, the patch at the front will be a little bigger, and the house set a few feet further back from the road. In less well-off areas, the front patch will shrink to a token tiny strip, although there may still be a front gate, a path to take you the one or two steps to the front door, and a plant or smidgen of greenery of some sort on either side of the path to prove that it still qualifies as a 'front garden'. (The front garden with its path can also be seen as a kind of symbolic moat and drawbridge.) *'Your Own Front Garden, You May Not Enjoy' * In all typical streets of this kind, all of the little patches of garden, front and back, will have walls or fences around them. The wall around the front garden will be low, so that everyone can see into the garden, while the one enclosing the back garden will be high, so they can't. The front garden is likely to be more carefully arranged, designed and tended than the back garden. This is not because the English spend more time enjoying their front gardens. Quite the opposite: the English spend no time at all in their front gardens, except the time necessary to weed, water, tend and keep them looking 'nice'. This is one of the most important garden-rules: we never, ever *sit *in our front gardens. Even when there is plenty of room in a front garden for a garden seat of some sort, you will never see one. Not only would it be unthinkable to sit in your front garden, you will be considered odd if you even stand there for very long without squatting to pull up a weed or stooping to trim the hedge. If you are not squatting, stooping, bending or otherwise looking busy and industrious, you will be suspected of a peculiar and forbidden form of loitering. Front gardens, however pretty and pleasant they might be to relax in, are for display only; they are for others to enjoy and admire, not their owners. This rule always reminds me of the laws of tribal societies with complicated gift-exchange systems, in which people are not allowed to consume the fruits of their own labour: 'Your own pigs, you may not eat ... ' is the most famous and frequently quoted tribal example; the English equivalent would be 'Your own front garden, you may not enjoy'. *The Front-garden Social-availability Rule (and 'Sponge' Methodology) * If you do spend time squatting, bending and pruning in your front garden, you may find that this is one of the very few occasions on which your neighbours will speak to you. A person busy in his or her front garden is regarded as socially 'available', and neighbours who would never dream of knocking on your front door may stop for a chat (almost invariably beginning with a comment on the weather or a polite remark about your garden). In fact, I know of many streets in which people who have an important matter to discuss with a neighbour (such as an application for planning permission) or a message to convey, will wait patiently - sometimes for days or weeks - until they spot the neigh- bour in question working in his front garden, rather than committing the 'intrusion' of actually ringing his doorbell. This social availability of front-gardeners proved very helpful during my research, as I could approach them with an innocuous request for directions, follow this with a weather-speak ice-breaker and a comment on their garden, and gradually get them talking about their gardening habits, their home improvements, their children, their pets and so on. Sometimes, I would pretend that I (or my mother or sister or cousin) was thinking of moving to the area, which gave me an excuse to ask more nosey questions about the neighbours, the local pubs, schools, shops, clubs, societies and events - and find out a lot about their unwritten social rules. In front-garden interviews, although I might sometimes focus on a specific current obsession, such as, say, the estate- agent question, I would often just soak up a whole lot of random data on a variety of subjects, and hope to make sense of it all at some later stage. This is not such a daft research method as it might sound - in fact, I think there may even be an official scientific name for it, but I can never remember the correct term, so I call it the 'sponge' method. *The Counter-culture Garden-sofa Exception * There is just one minority exception to the 'your own front garden, you may not enjoy' principle, and as usual, it is one that proves the rule. The front gardens of left-over hippies, New Agers and various other 'counter-culture' types may sometimes boast an old, sagging sofa, on which the inhabitants will sit, self-consciously defying convention and actually enjoying their front garden (which, also in defiance of conven- tion, will be unkempt and overgrown). This 'exception' to the no-sitting-in-front-gardens rule is clearly an act of deliberate disobedience: the seat is always a sofa, never a wooden bench or plastic chair or any other piece of furniture that might possibly be regarded as suitable for outdoor use. This flaccid, often damp and even- tually rotting sofa is a statement, and one that tends to be found in conjunc- tion with other statements such as drinking herbal tea, eating organic vegan food, smoking ganja, wearing the latest eco-warrior fashions, deco- rating the windows with 'Say No to GMO' posters ... the themes and fashions vary, but you know what I mean: the usual counter-culture cluster. The garden-sofa sitters may be the subject of much tutting and puffing among their more conservative neighbours, but in accordance with the traditional English rules of moaning, the curtain twitchers will usually just air their grievances to each other, rather than actually confronting the offenders. In fact, as long as the sofa-sitters abide by their own clearly defined set of counter-culture rules and conventions, and do not do anything original or startling - such as joining the local Women's Institute or taking up golf - they will generally be tolerated, with that sort of grudging, apathetic forbearance for which the English seem to have a peculiar talent. *The Back-garden Formula * The back garden, the one we are all allowed to enjoy, is often relatively scruffy, or at least utterly bland, and only very rarely the pretty, colourful, cottagey profusion of roses, hollyhocks, pansies, trellises little gates and whatnot that everyone thinks of as a typical English garden. It is verging on blasphemous to say this, but I have to point out that the truly typical English back garden is actually a fairly dull rectangle of grass, with some sort of paved 'patio' at one end and a shed of no particular aesthetic or architectural merit at the other, a path down one side and perhaps a bed of rather unimaginatively arranged shrubs and flowers along the other side. There are variations on this theme, of course. The path may run along- side the flower-bed, or down the middle of the grass rectangle, with flower-beds along both walls. There may be a tree or two. Or some bushes or pots, or maybe climbing-plants on the walls. The edges of the flower- beds may be curved rather than straight. But the basic pattern of the conventional English garden - the 'high-walls, paved-bit, grass-bit, path, flower-bed, shed' formula - is reassuringly unmistakeable, instantly iden- tifiable, comfortingly familiar. This pattern must be somehow imprinted on the English soul, as it is reproduced faithfully, with only minor twists and variations, behind almost every house in every street in the country Tourists are unlikely ever to see an ordinary, typical English back garden. These very private places are hidden from the street behind our houses, and even hidden from our neighbours by high walls, hedges or fences. They never feature in glossy picture-books about 'The English Garden', and are never mentioned in tourist brochures or indeed in any other publications about England, all of which invariably parrot the received wisdom that the English are a nation of green-fingered creative geniuses. That is because the authors of these books do not do their research by spending time in ordinary people's homes, or climbing onto roofs and walls at the back of standard suburban semis and peering through binoculars at the rows and rows of normal, undistinguished English gardens. (Now you know: that person you thought was a burglar or a peeping tom was me.) Aesthetically, it must be said, the duped tourists, anglophiles and garden enthusiasts who read this English Garden stuff are perhaps not missing much. But I am being unfair. The average English garden, however unorig- inal and humdrum, is actually, on a mild sunny day, a rather pleasant place to sit and drink a cup of tea and chuck bits of bread about for the birds and grumble quietly about slugs, the weather forecast, the government and the neighbours' cat. (The rules of garden-talk require that such moans be balanced by more cheerful noticing of how well the irises or columbines are doing this year.) And it must also be said that even the average, bog-standard English garden represents considerably more effort than most other nations typically invest in their green bits. The average American garden, for example, does not even deserve the name, and is rightly called a 'yard', and most ordinary European gardens are also just patches of turf." Only the Japanese - our fellow crowded-small-island-dwellers - can be said to make a comparable effort, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the more trendy, design-conscious English gardeners are often influ- enced by Japanese styles (witness the current fashion for wooden decking, pebbles and water-features). But these avant-gardeners are a tiny minority, and it seems to me that our reputation as a 'nation of gardeners' must derive from our obsession with our small patches of turf, our love of gardens, rather than any remarkable artistic flair in garden design. ------------------------------  If you don't believe me, try looking out of the window of a train next time you are travelling anywhere in England: I can guarantee that almost all of the back gardens you see will be variations on this 'formula'. An anglophile American friend was reluctantly converted to my theory when she tried this experiment.
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