A while ago I wrote a blog about a family – Mom, Dad, two kids and grandparents – who all addressed each other by their first names.  It was an enlightening situation to observe that I thought might have had something to do with them all living around the same South London square.

Recently, while working at a house on that same square, I found myself in a back garden that did not have a fence separating it from the neighbour’s.  Indeed two houses occupied by two separate families shared, in essence, a common area.  They each had their individual outdoor dining areas but practically co-owned an entire six hundred square foot cloister with contiguous interlocking patio stones.  They even shared a sizable plane tree.

I thought I’d gone back in time.  How could it even be possible in this age of insular, middle-class elitism?  I thought the whole idea behind buying a house was so that we could stop living with people we barely knew.  We pride ourselves on what is ours, especially our space.  This is my land, on which is built my house and it’s surrounded by my fence (garden wall, privet hedge, etc.) so that everyone else will know, at the very least, that it does not belong to them. 

It’s one thing to say good morning to a neighbour as you both rush out to the car on the way to work; it’s quite another to step out the back door on a Sunday morning to see Big Phil sitting in his lounger with a coffee in his hand, both of you resplendent in your boxers and mismatched socks.

The last time I lived in a home without a fence following the property line was 1976.  But when our neighbours at the time saw that my friends and I were using their half of the grass for an extended game of lawn darts, an attractive green, nipple-high, chain-link fence was erected to halve the rear expanse.  It did little for privacy but it kept me out.  I could still see the neighbour’s yard, longing to cavort twice as far than I suddenly could, but was no longer allowed to enter.

This began a long history of backyard isolation and the aching need to venture further than I was entitled.  That’s right, I blame the fence for my neuroses.

So this traditional looking square with uniform three-story houses built from London brick must be responsible for some of this New Age behaviour.  Perhaps the square is geographically situated under stars that condition sharing.  (If anyone follows astrology I’d be interested to know what constellations float above Elephant and Castle.)  Or maybe it’s built on top of an ancient druid burial ground whose spirits nurture co-operative living.

One thing I know for sure:  I wouldn’t mind living there.

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