An English Block Paved Garden

Down our way another two gardens are being grubbed up for hard surfacing….

This is a modern trend. All over our green, middle-class, and, it must be said, tree-rich borough, there are gardens being paved over. The reasons are fairly obvious.

To start with, every household seems to have at least two cars. There are only two options. (Well, we’re not going to give them up, are we?) One is to leave them on the street if there isn’t enough room in the drive. The other is obviously to increase the paved area. A third option, to put one in the garage, is so often now not possible as modern cars are so big, and the 1970s/80s garages round here are too small. Besides which, we’ve got all those important things in the garage. Or it’s a home gym. Or it’s now converted into a spare room.

The second reason is that a lot of people just don’t like gardening. Once upon a time homeowners just accepted that they had a garden and they had to look after it. It was also a popular hobby. Now, perhaps with more affluence to afford it, back gardens are paved over as well as front gardens.

It’s probably obvious that I don’t approve of the trend. This is partly just personal aesthetic preference. I consider that just about any green space, however untidy, looks better than paving, especially some of the awful spaces I have seen recently. I do have more reasoned objections.

The first is the drainage issue. All over our country we have problems with ground water. I am sure that hard paved areas, however well they may be be drained in theory, are worse at dispersing heavy rainfall than grass and other plants. (Some areas I have seen recently make no attempt to drain water; they are simply tarmac. Isn’t there some legislation about this?) (There is. I just looked it up. It has to be permeable paving.)

Then there is the huge, insidious impact that paving over has on wildlife. Insects, birds, small mammals; all have their habitats reduced. Of course, there is also the loss of vegetation.

Oh dear, I don’t feel I’ve put my case particularly well here. Anyway, I don’t suppose that my little rant on my little blog (last post: 6 views) will make any difference. At least it goes a little way towards easing my conscience, although that won’t change the situation. “The decline of the British front garden” on the BBC website puts it better than I have. (According to the RHS, as quoted in the article, the number of paved gardens tripled from 2005 to 2015.)

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Quercus robur

There is an oak tree in our front garden. Once I would have said “we own an oak tree”, but I’m reconsidering.

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Our oak tree- there I go again- must be at least 100 years old. (You can calculate the age from the girth.) We know, thanks to ‘Aunty Grace’ (who would be about 110 if she were still alive) that the area was originally much more heavily wooded than now. One of its charms is how green it is; we worry about each incursion. (See Danger in the Suburbs )

The tree is host to many species. I have been told that there are literally hundreds in an oak. We have squirrels, who seem to be nesting at the top. We have seen pigeons, magpies, crows, blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows, robins, goldfinches, tree creepers and others in and around the tree. (The pigeons are the only ones I have spotted nesting. They are spectacularly messy nest builders. Goodness knows how they actually succeed in reproducing.) Favourites are small flocks of blue-tits, great tits and long-tailed tits, who work through the branches and on down the road. Our neighbour has seen Owls keep him awake and make a mess on the path.

We’ve seen spiders seeming to float in mid-air, suspended by a single thread form a branch. I am no expert, but I know there must be lots and lots of insects. There is lichen and moss; I have no idea what types. There used to be ladies’ tresses orchids underneath, as well as ink cap mushrooms. Sadly, something about our mowing regime has lost them. There are still snake’s head fritillaries, snowdrops and crocuses. On summer’s evenings we have bats zooming round, though I don’t think they are in ‘our’ tree.

Living with a tree makes you more aware of the seasons. In spring- rather late in spring- there will be the lovely flush of new leaves. In autumn of course, they colour and fall; and we are so aware of this as we clear the road again and again. The crop of acorns is very variable. Last year was a glut, or “mast”. The year before we really didn’t see one acorn.

I could go on about the benefits of trees. They clean the air. They improve drainage. They make us feel better. The oak in our garden does all these and much more, and we love it.

We do look after the tree. It has just been trimmed- very necessary for the health and safety of the tree and ourselves- by an expert, very professional team, who were almost respectful of the tree and the resident squirrels. It was dreadfully hacked about some time before we moved in, but has somehow survived.

We didn’t ask its permission for the trimming. We’re not that fanciful. I have never hugged it. I’m not that way inclined. But I do feel we are the guardians of the tree, rather than its owners, if that doesn’t sound too weird. Hopefully others to come will look after it, and its like, for the future.

(Sorry about the title. “An oak tree” sounds too boring.)

“I disapprove of what you say….”

Hands up who knows how this quotation, allegedly by Voltaire, finishes.

I disapprove of what you say.....

That’s right: “….but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It strikes me that this point of view needs repeating and repeating, needs re-examing and needs debating, especially in our modern times.

I read that a group of ‘antifascists, feminists, and people who participate in the class struggle’ felt it was appropriate to disrupt a speech by well-known right-wing M.P. Jacob Rees-Mogg.

I also read that well-known left-wing M.P. Diane Abbott has been receiving ‘sickeningly racist and sexist abuse’.

I have only picked two examples, which seem to me to typify some of the standards of poitical ‘debate’ which are seen as acceptable at the present. I would like to widen the argument to include more censorship issues, including art, film, theatre, music (yes, really) and no doubt others, but you, dear readers, are all intelligent and aware enough to provide your own. Just look up ‘modern examples of left-wing censorship’ or ‘modern examples of right-wing censorship’ on any search engine (more than one is available) if you want more. BEWARE if you have high blood pressure.

In principle, I feel that speech should be free. Something about the basic principles of censorship appals me. If you start to censor anything, where do you stop? Who does the censoring?

I hope you notice that in the course of this confused amble through my thoughts I have avoided expressing any political opinions; unless a basic objection to censorship is political.

I tentatively conclude that free speech is important and that censorship is wrong. Every case where it is advocated should be considered very carefully. (Personally I feel, for example, that nobody should be allowed to advocate violence; but you may well disagree.) It hugely worries me to see free speech of any sort being suppressed.

Footnote 1: The quotation of the title was used by one Evelyn Beatrice Hall to summarise Voltaire’s views; they are not his words.

Footnote 2: An alternative to Voltaire was expressed by Samuel Johnson: “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” The picture, sharp-eyed people, is of Dr Johnson.

Footnote 3: I also note that the BBC’s political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, needed a bodyguard at the Labour Party conference. Meanwhile, a local politician here in sunny Hampshire was telling me how anti-Conservative Ms Kuenssberg is. When the BBC gets flak from both sides of the political argument (sorry for the warlike metaphor) they must be doing something right.

Fashion Police Bulletin #4

You may have noticed that the Fashion Police have not published a bulletin for some time….

It was our intention to make this self-imposed exile permanent, chiefly because we felt we were fighting a losing battle, particularly on the vexatious subject of baseball caps worn back to front. However, recent developments have persuaded us to produce another bulletin. Chief issues are….

Gender Neutrality The Fashion Police are avowedly gender neutral. If you want to cross gender boundaries, or ignore them, that’s entirely your prerogative. As Beau Brummel once said, “Whatever floats your boat”. However, it is sometimes convenient to refer to traditional notions of gender in order to make guidance and advice clear. These references do not imply any value judgement on the part of the Fashion Police. (Be aware that certain members may inadvertently use terms which are no longer politically correct. For this, we apologise in advance. The FP are an equal opportunity employer: this includes a wide age profile.)

In general, we feel that fashion guidelines should be applicable to all, irrespective of gender. So, for example, pay attention, “gentlemen”: do not wear skirts so short you are constantly tugging them down.)

Fashion Police Bulletin #4.1Tartan trousers We have absolutely no prejudice against the Scots, either. They are a fine nation, entitled to exercise their right to self-determination whenever they collectively wish. The Fashion Police (predominantly English) even support their rugby team on appropriate occasions, while noting with sadness that the Scots do not support England on any occasion. However, tartan trousers, in general, just do not work, and really do not work if you are English. Yes, you sir, on the bike; they just don’t suit you. Three-piece tartan suits, even for Scots, don’t work at all, ever. This applies to all gender identifications.

BUT, in an uncharacteristic fence-sitting mode:

Hairy Legs Please see the above thoughts on gender. Some of the Fashion Police consider hairy legs to be worthy of censure, no matter what the gender. Others find this a reprehensible attitude. Still others mention kilts. Thus, despite frequent requests for guidance, we refrain from comment.

BUT, on an uncharacteristically positive note:

Grey berets Well, to be honest, one grey beret. A member of the Fashion Police, ever vigilant, noted a young lady wearing this in one of our big cities recently. Now the Fashion Police readily admit that the attitude of our bulletins can seem decidedly negative. This is because, strange as it might seem, our basic policy is laissez-faire; but we are duty bound to police the limits. On this occasion, we found the aforementioned grey beret to be a welcome stylish note in a sea of mediocrity. Well done, that woman. If that is, indeed, how you self- identify.

AND, continuing with the unfamiliar positivity:

Doc Martens Specifically, Persephone. Specifically, red. How can you go wrong? Worn with panache and style by one of the Cambridge Fashion Police.

Fashion Police Bulletin #4

This positive approach is giving us all a warm fuzzy feeling. Perhaps we should continue in this vein.