Fwd: I had cause to look you up in the standard referance work . . .
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.


~ 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*:


>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
mental damage and pollution that they entail. The English simply will
not live in flats or share courtyards like urban dwellers in other
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
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
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[1]

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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