COLUMN

As ye sow, so shall ye reap

In England, the urban ugliness is not allowed to ooze out onto the land

Allan Fotheringham August 10 1981
COLUMN

As ye sow, so shall ye reap

In England, the urban ugliness is not allowed to ooze out onto the land

Allan Fotheringham August 10 1981

As ye sow, so shall ye reap

COLUMN

In England, the urban ugliness is not allowed to ooze out onto the land

Allan Fotheringham

The Kentish downs roll and fold, light green disappearing into dark green and reappearing again only to dissolve into darker green rows of trees. The sheep do not speckle the landscape so much as meld into it, as if painted there. The thick hedges wind languidly like caterpillars, setting off the fields into casual rectangles—discreet but firm boundaries that do not jar the eyes as fences would do. All is natural, all is natural, all is pleasing to the glance, a countryside out of Constable’s brush, a view that calms the spirit and soothes the fevered brain.

Someone trying to escape the nonsense of the royal wedding by fleeing south from London is struck once again —as it strikes all visitors—how successful are the English in their strict separation of urban ugliness from rural beauty. A society that has built probably the ugliest large cities in history (even Tokyo and Moscow, for all they try, can not match the dreariness of Manchester or Liverpool or most of London)

has the most serene countryside in the world. England, once outside the yinyang of the cities, bathes the eyeballs. It strokes the soul. It makes the pulse ease and the blood pressure come down to a slow gallop. Gaze long enough at the downs and the sheep and the hedges and you can feel the needle of the tranquillizer going straight to the grey matter.

The English, while very sloppy about central heating, bathing and a telephone system that works, are extremely strict about the demarcation line between that which is urban and that which is rural. Not for them the depressing eyescape of used cars, junkfood emporiums, garish neon and noted motels that dribble off the edge of North American cities like a mangy dog’s tail. Canadian and American municipal authorities have backbones made of jelly roll as they respond to the greed of a populace where commerce rules and visual vulgarity is tolerated.

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

In England, it is not as if vulgarity does not exist. It does—in gallons, barrels and hectares. But it is confined. The English draw lines around their cities. All the ugliness (and they are masters of it) is contained therein. It’s not allowed to ooze out into this green and pleasant land, this jewel in a shining sea. Villages start abruptly and finish abruptly. You know when you’re in one and when you’re out. Not only are the boundaries enforced, so is anything that might intrude on the skyline.

A lumpish chap I know who has a middling wine cellar and atrocious tennis strokes attempted to have built in front of his home, in the minuscule village of Westwell which is about an ego’s throw from Canterbury Cathedral, a fancy brick wall since his taste in decorations runs in the direction of Louis of Versailles. It was three inches over the permissible height of three feet and the cement mixer sat for three months in front of his house while the authorities wrangled over the dilemma. If one has standards one must stick to them. The prospect and perspectives of a Queen Anne house can not be defiled just because a chap was born without taste.

I was standing on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral last week (one doesn’t attend a royal wedding without a little church-dropping) watching all the classy broads with picture hats and all the men without chins waiting for their chauffeured limos to be driven up after the wedding. Harold Macmillan and Ed-

ward Heath were there, Harold Wilson, Grace Kelly, the King of Tonga—all the usual gang—and I watched the Daimlers and the Rolls-Royces purr off through the police-controlled intersection and speed through the deserted street (everyone else before the telly) on their way out of the endless brick drabness of London row housing to the country homes and estates where the upper class shields itself from the unattractive cities.

The England they escape to is tended

as carefully as a garden. A magazine called Country Landowner (“to promote and safeguard the interests of owners of rural land”) argues that the abolition of field sports would have a far more devastating effect on the landscape than any single event in the past 100 years including Dutch elm disease. Take away hunting and shooting, says the magazine, “and you immediately remove the only reason for keeping and looking after thousands of acres of spinneys, shelter belts, fox coverts and hedges, which are so much >a part of the typical English landscape.” A forester

for National Trust—which is charged with preserving the woods in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation—was in deep danger from local residents when he had to fell 80 large oaks that were diseased in the precious lake district. Only a public meeting calmed the air.

The England they escape from is one of unremitting dreariness. Some 20 years ago when I first wound down from the Yorkshire Moors into the centre of Sheffield, famous for all that gleaming classic cutlery, it was just five o’clock and the population of the city, streaming from the factories and mills, had complexions as grey as their clothes and the streets and the buildings. It struck me that the surprise was not that the country had voted socialist in 1945 but why it hadn’t voted communist in 1935.

Now the English, in 1981, are getting their urban riots. They feel the anger of the population inside the cities—while preserving the countryside. It’s a tradeoff. You reap what you sow.