As I run around the village these days I find that almost every other house is clad in scaffolding. The whole place looks like a series of giant Meccano sets, constructed and curated by a strutting illustrated man clad in denim overalls talking like he’s permanently attached to an invisible megaphone, somehow managing to laugh and snarl at the same time. Half the world is extending whilst the other half is winter frog-like – in a state of stasis, like a jelly fish in the freezer. Unmodified homes are betrayed by their lack of gunmetal grey windows and buff-coloured rendering; naked housebrick standing out like the uncouth uncle at a family gathering: the man in the green checked shirt, blue striped suit and purple nylon wig. It can only be a matter of time until the children are warned to keep away.
I am a creature of habit and my running routes seldom vary, so I see these changes taking place. I witness the houses evolve in my own cataractal time-lapse eye and although it is very rare to lope past a finished job thinking that it shouldn’t have been done at all, I could obviously point you at one or two that look like they’ve had a shed velcroed onto the side of the kitchen. I never dreamt that this volume of builders even existed – the breaker’s yards by now must be completely devoid of all decrepit white vans. Where will they all go when the lockdown finishes and people no longer want to re-sculpt the homes in which they have been trapped? Does Brigadoon require knocking through? Most of the houses – presumably no longer homes – are put up for sale the moment the work stops. There must be a psychological explanation for this, but I’m buggered if I can find it – unless people find that they just cannot live without dust and noise, Absolute 90’s on the radio, a Portaloo on the front lawn and tea stains on every conceivable surface. The houses, when finished, look great – except that they all have the forlorn appearance of ‘property for sale’ hanging, shroud-like over them. I picture a kind of merry-go-round of upsizing and downsizing in progress with the clockwise half of the local population constantly tripping over the anti-clockwise balance.
Such homes that are not having internal walls removed and external walls skimmed are having the gardens done. Landscape gardeners have proliferated like Cane Toads in the Australian Outback. No garden is finished until it has been designed on a computer. ‘Hard Landscaping’ is the horticultural mode: remove as much green as possible and cover it with shingle, bricks and the kind of wooden structures that, around here, will succumb to woodworm before the autumn. Monty Don must be spinning in his cold-frame. The garden has become an ersatz house extension and the flowers have paid the price. My lawns are not great, but they are two of very few left in the village. Most of the green oases that pepper the streets now are of the ‘astro’ variety – lawns that are swept rather than cut – but do at least add a varied palette of green shades to the surroundings that would never be seen in nature.
I am no gardener, but I know that gardens are important, both for nature and for human well-being. Each spring I watch the green shoots begin to forge their way through my own small patch of winter-wizened soil and debate long and hard over which to leave and which to dig up, in the certain knowledge that I will get it wrong. Each summer I spend one of the two balmy evenings we are apt to get per year, sitting out amongst the flowers, cradling something warming in a glass. Each autumn I chop it all down and ram it into the compost bin, whence it forms a foul-smelling brown slime that I have to sluice away in the summer. This is the circle of life and I am sad to see it broken by grey slate and plastic lawns. My run is becoming more monochrome by the day as the town is moved into the country – a vista of white van and black Range Rover – and my glimpses of nature (outside of strategically placed dog-turds in bio-degradable bags) rarer.
Oh well, I’m sure that when the summer comes it will all look better. Who knows, I might just have an extension built to watch it from…
In England we can now have up to six people, or two households, meeting in the garden. Guests can even use the toilet! (I must tell next-door’s cats.) Accordingly, this week’s running diary is brought to you courtesy of a very elderly gazebo and a newly purchased patio heater.