Sunday, 13 April 2008

Country bling



I’m sick of moaning about myself so, for a change, I’ll have a moan about other people. You know what’s really getting my goat at the moment? Conspicuous consumption. Greed. Bling. Oh, the hell with it, sheer vulgarity. It started off with this house not that far off. Lovely Georgian job, small pile set in the nearest thing to parkland round here. Not too big, not too pretentious, just a drop-dead gorgeous peach of a country house. Two lodges guarded the approach, one to the north, one to the south. Nothing swanky, just honest pretty little cottages, presumably for the gamekeeper/gardener/whatever. The main entrance was low-key too – stone worn soft by the years and the weather.
A few years back it was bought by people from the South-East. Now I can’t talk – I’m a Surrey girl myself – but you just know what’s coming, don’t you? Over the years, it’s been Surreyfied. Gone is the bushy, scrubby, bit of everything native hedge and in comes neat uniform conifers and plastic thingummybobs with reflective strips on them so we don’t (heaven forfend) squeeze up on the verge if a tractor or bus comes by. Down came many trees – maybe necessary, who knows? Up came the wild patches of bramble – and is it just my imagination or is there less birdsong along that lane now? Just before Christmas there was a flurry of activity and huge monumental plinths were installed with the house name carved self-importantly either side. Smaller plinths to either side of those.
‘You watch,’ I said, as we drove (slowly, mouths open) past. ‘There will be huge wrought-iron gates with gold bits up there next.’
‘Noo,’ said Adrian. ‘Nobody could be that vulgar. Not round here.’
Really? He ate his hat a few weeks later as, verily, up went the gates, worthy of Buckingham Palace.
‘YUK,’ we chorused.
Maybe the owners thought, ‘yuk’ too because the next day they had vanished and a few weeks later were replaced by something marginally less bling. But still so pompous, so self-important, so loud. It reminds me of those suburban houses with vast eagles or overbearing pineapples tottering either side of the garage gates. Out of place. Plain wrong.

Poor house. I could imagine it wincing, all its years of quiet well-mannered breeding torn asunder in a flurry of monumental egotism. I lament that old entrance, I really do. It hinted at the gorgeousness beyond, rather than bragging loud and clear: ‘We’re stinking rich and look we live in a girt big house.’ They’ll have a tradesman’s entrance next. In fact, to my total horror, one of the gatehouses has now been demolished. If I’m kind, I’ll conjecture that it was unsound – though it looked right as rain to me. Now we wait, with all the horrified slack-jawed wide-eyed fascination of a car-crash to see what will rise in its place. ‘A folly,’ opined Adrian. ‘A Grecian temple maybe.’
Or maybe they just didn’t want neighbours and plan to leave it open-plan. A couple of Leylandii maybe?

Talking about vulgar and conspicuous consumption, I have bitten my lip over Liz Jones, I really have. I haven’t said a word about how she goes on about living in the middle of Exmoor when really she lives outside the park. Not a peep about how she would need a tower like the Chrysler building in order to be able to see the sea. Not a whisper about how it would be impossible to ride out ‘onto the moor’ from her house. But it does really hurt to hear her bang on about her ‘dilapidated’ farmhouse. I know that house – I’ve collapsed in front of the gorgeous old fireplace and chatted in the cavernous country kitchen. It is stunning, another fabulous old country house that is comfortable in its skin, doing what it has done for centuries, keeping farm folk dry and warm(ish). I just can’t help wincing at the idea of it being turned into a kind of London lookalike, having its heart ripped out for the latest fashion. But that’s it. I won’t say anymore. Not another word.

I suppose, at heart, this is a lament for Somerset as it was when I was a child. A bit down-at-heel, a bit dilapidated, a bit the worse for wear but all the better for it. As a child I loved the wild places, the falling-down barns, the empty houses with boarded-up windows that were surely the homes of mad witches or warlocks. The wildlife loved them too. The countryside was a working place, a ‘real’ place with integrity and purpose. Now it seems to be becoming a playground for the rich. The old barns are all brand-new gleaming homes now. The barn owls have been chucked out. The woodland is torn down for a new development, a new suburbia.
Having grown up in suburbia it hurts.
Am I being selfish? Am I wanting the countryside held in aspic, a romantic ruin for my own delectation? I don’t think so. I love a working countryside. I don’t mind smells and mud and cows meandering across the road or sheep holding me up for half an hour. I can cope with the ugliness of modern farm buildings (while lamenting the old ones that had to be sold off for housing). I totally see the need for new housing (affordable housing) so that as the local teenagers grow up they aren’t forced away. But the housing isn’t affordable, and instead of filling in the gaps, using the brownfield sites (of which they are plenty) it’s always swathes of farmland that are eaten up for the new projects.
It makes me laugh (bitterly). There is a new housing development in the small town not far from the Bling House, not that far from Liz Jones. We couldn’t believe how many houses they squashed into the site. I couldn’t help thinking of the song, ‘Little boxes on the hillside….and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky…and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.
They were all snapped up in a second – not by first-time buyers or locals, but by the people who love neat, perky conservatories and plastic gothic arches. I’m sure a fair few are South-Eastern refugees, running away from the suburban sprawl. How ironic.

32 comments:

Exmoorjane said...

Meant to say, the picture shows the next building site on Exmoor! Only joking - but you know what, I wouldn't even be surprised any more!

toady said...

I'm about to write my 'where I live' but you seem to have done it for me. I blame B & Q

Pipany said...

Yes, yes, yes Jane - I agree with it all!!! Why does everywhere have to be so bloody spick and span and un-countryish? Why do they move to the country if it clearly is not good enough for them? Arghhh!

Gosh that felt good! xxx

Inthemud said...

I know what you mean, and living in sussex close to surrey I see it all the time.

Our home is still very scruffy , with old hedges and no gates , just broken gate posts! So no likihood of us becoming like them here!!
BUT the house just down the road is going through that whole process, they must be spending a fortune, the builders have been there almost constantly for past 18 months! Hedges ripped out, new neat tall plants installed, new fences, new gates, and the whole inside of house ripped out and redone, for no need it was a fairly new house!

Ivy said...

Oh I am feeling bad enough already from that idiotic flue but this certainly did not lift my spirit. (wanders off in self pity)

Frances said...

Well done, Jane.
As I was reading about changes in your area, I was serenaded by the drilling, scraping, hammering, sawing sounds from the next door apartment that is undergoing renovation by the new corporate owners of this building.

My apartment will remain a testimony to the funky west side esthetic, but already I can see how the building owners' taste in decorating is very different. Tacky springs to mind as an adjective. Yes, money is being spent, but the results in the public areas of the building are ... not an improvement.

I won't go full rant right now. Just wanted to give praise to your point of view on your changing view.
xo

Iota said...

Why have we all got so TIDY? We have to have perfect homes and perfect gardens. Not only is it rather tasteless, actually, but it makes us all feel inadequate the whole time, as we can't keep it looking as we feel it ought. We can't even be comfortable in our own homes any more.

DJ Kirkby said...

Ah I enjoyed reading this though it made me feel a bit sad when you wrote about the lack of birdsong along that lane now. What happened to your link to your Walker blog?

lampworkbeader said...

I'm with you on this one Jane. It's the gates that are the worst. Huge great exotic wooden ones, half a rainforest on brick pillars. can't see the houses any more. Bludy great high fences all around! There goes that exclamation mark again.

Faith said...

Iota, come to mine, sweetheart, you'd feel perfectly at home - tidy it is not! I have to speak up for Surrey - I know what you mean Jane, of course I do, but its not ALL like that. Unfortunately some people don't understand how to bond with a house and make it a cosy home. It's all about keeping up with the Liz Jones's I suppose -lol. I hate it too. Me, I like slightly mossy, crumbly, weedy gardens and ash on the hearth and doggies in the armchair. Often, me and Em pass a place like you describe - two pillars outside on the gate with the most horrible evil-watership-down-cartoon rabbits perched on the top, and the eyes have been painted yellow.

Milla said...

It's funny, having read the Andrew Taylor Lydmouth stories (modern, but set, beautifully authentically it strikes me, as one who wasn't born then) in the 1950s, no way would I want old countryside and small town. Poky, suspicious, gut-wrenchingly poor. I like things moving on. But not the bling. I'll give you the bling, blimey, I can see it from here. Bet those gates are electrically operated too. And oh so controlled about Liz Jones. Love it.

Elizabethd said...

Well, I hesitate to tell you...but , gnomes have arrived in Brittany. And in French owned gardens too. What next?

Himalayan Blue said...

Know what you mean about the ticky tacky houses. My village has just got another new housing estate for more incomers (errr like me!) who work in Exeter and contribute nothing at all to the village ... sigh

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Ooooooo know just what you mean . . . well you won't find any of that where we live - we have lovingly - read lazy kept all the natural flora and fauna around here - loads of nettles and stuff and no bling in sight.

A house we lovingly and carefully did up
was bought from us by a couple who put in huge white steps onto the lawn with ghastly statues . . .and ripped out our country kitchen .eeeeek . . . couldn't go anywhere near it after that, or the house in Holmbury. We did everything we could to retain the charm of the house and new owners did everything they could to remove it.

Eeeekbut of course you said not a word about Liz Jones.

Expatmum said...

Having been in the States (land of bling) for far too long now, I am of the opinion that we have to pity these new owners for their total lack of "self esteem". Why else would they feel the need to shout out their wealth to all and sundry?

Mopsa said...

Lots of resonances with the debate that's been happening at at the mo - ref Robert Elms recent piece.

Mopsa said...

Damn - finger got stuck - link is correct but meant to say it's at Paula's blog!

KittyB said...

They'll put plastic windows in next, just you watch... and some block-paving for good measure.

Cowgirl said...

Ha! Can just see poor old Bling House ejecting its current tenants in the manner of Ally ejecting an oversized hairball...

Loved the bit about "keeping the countryside in aspic" !!!

xx

Queen Vixen said...

How sad. How true! It is atrocious. We have it round here too - in Derbyshire. A towny couple bought an old church and turned it into a garish monument to their own bad taste. The amount of old houses that are now renaimed 'farms' when they are about as near to a farm as a Macdonalds is to a restaurant. Great to hear a bit of goss about Liz. I shant say another word! And can someone tell me why the trees always get it? It leaves me speechless and gasping for breath at the ignorance of the chop it down and concrete over it brigade.

Ivy said...

Yea columns and 500m² "park-like" garden would be the German equivalent
shivvvvver

Pixie said...

How can people pull up tres it really upsets me. My next door neighbours moved in and chopped everything down in a 20 yr old garden. Not old obviously but established and now I get to see everyone else's homes instead
I don't want to, I want to live where I only see trees. So then I can feel I'm in the country even if I'm in the midle of a vile housing estate.
pxx

Her on the Hill said...

Jane, you've caught my mood exactly again. (see my comment on your previous blog!). I've been going through the exact same emotions round here. Too much to say on the subject for a comment box, so I will have to save it for an email, or I might blog about it one day too as I'd planned.
xx

elizabethm said...

I'm sitting here going "Yes" again. The too pretty or the too grand rather than the beauty that just grows out of function (whoops, sorry, went a bit pseuds' cornery there).
We are still pretty old country side here but who knows for how long.

DJ Kirkby said...

I too loved having the run of wild places as a child and lament the fact that my sons will never get to experience that glorious feeling.

Sally's Chateau said...

Crying shame isn't it when houses of quiet character are ruined by vulgar unnecessary titivations, when areas of outstanding natural beauty are turned into theme parks by 'golf course' landscaping. Usually by people with loadsamoney and zilch taste. YUK these people are getting everywhere.

LittleBrownDog said...

Oh, Jane - I know just what you mean. A new house has just gone up in our village (replacing a perfectly ok one, that was a bit small and a bit run down, perhaps) and it's got a portico with columns and a big door with a big brass knocer as if it were in bloody Belgravia or somewhere. I mean, you just don't see houses like that around here and I want to know how they got it past the planners who seem to be ready to pounce when we so much as think about painting our garage windows...

CAMILLA said...

Know what you mean Jane darling,
we came to the countryside and saw beautiful Georgian houses, not the over the top ones though, and a little down the road later a builder got the go ahead to buy some land and pack in as many gross houses as he possibly could each with plastic conservatories.

The worry for me is the eating up of the beautiful countryside to make way for housing, soon we will have no more countryside to see.

Camilla.xxx

60GoingOn16 said...

I think I know the house you mean . . . Aren't you tempted to scrawl a bit of graffiti on the monumental plinths?

Milla said...

Jane, shift your *rse, love, I know you're busy but I need a new blog.

IrishEyes said...

Loved every single word of this J, and very much close to my heart with the bling thing! Am always amazed by people going overboard!

Griffin said...

Totally agree Jane... but then again, that's also what the bleeding Victorians did when they made their cash.

Alas, vulgarity is always with us regardless of Nature's good taste.