• Messages from the front 03 July 2017 | View comments

  • We deliver newsletters to 2,000 homes around our park to tell families about what we are doing in the park and what they can look forward to.

    This week I was hurrying round my set of houses ahead of an event for Dogs and Dog owners: Dogs’ Delight. One house carried a notice.

    ‘This house is maintained entirely for the cat who is resident’.

    It seemed unlikely they would be coming to Dogs’ Delight.

    Quite a lot of houses have notices declaring they will not welcome ‘cold callers’, which seems reasonable.

    A few declare ‘No free newspapers or junk mail’. This raises the question whether our carefully prepared and focussed newsletter might be construed as a newspaper or junk. One man, who lives at the top of a steep drive, has made it clear in the past that, though he has not looked at it let alone read it, he does not want it. Discretion leads me not to post a newsletter to any house with such a notice. It is unlikely this will result in complaint. There is also one corner house, which sometimes sports loose Alsatians, where I walk on by.

    Most letter boxes are at a reasonable height. Those set at the bottom of the door put me and the regular postman to the test of stooping but maintaining balance and dignity whilst carrying a bag of good news. Boxes which have a metal flap and a spring which bites your fingers are few, but firm brushes set behind the flap have become de rigueur. They must be good to exclude drafts but surely the idea of a letter box is to let the letters in! Some houses use external metal letter boxes. These are quite welcome on the round as they are easy to access once you have noticed them and save walking up long drives. It must mean that the householder has to go to more trouble to retrieve their post.

    Traditional terraced street houses are sublime territory: delivering a hundred letters takes less than half an hour. Expensive houses with long drives take much longer.

    Most interesting is the delivery to an estate which was built in the second and third decades of the twentieth century. Designed to provide good housing for working people, the houses have worn well and are now a mix of private ownership and council or housing association tenancies. Every house has a front and back garden. Some are situated on the hillside and the trek up and down the ‘drive’ sets almost any exercise a gym might offer in the shade. ‘Drive’ in inverted commas because these houses were not built with an expectation of car ownership, though most households now have one or more vehicles. The layout of each garden is unique and has been modified progressively by residents during the hundred years of their existence. Many have had gateways and paths widened to allow passage of the car(s). Some are on such steep inclines that a series of steps has been included, two or three are spiralled. On a wet morning descent is hazardous.

    The horticultural ambitions of residents range from negative – disorganised, overgrown and littered with shoes, bikes, abandoned lawnmowers etc, via a standard patch of turf with flower border surround, to something special with collections of interesting shrubs and plants which are clearly well-tended.

    It is hard not to think that these front gardens say a lot about the personalities and attitudes of each household. There is no need for a printed notice – all is written large. What a privilege it is to get to know the neighbours and the neighbourhood by such a simple technique as systematic delivery of news.

    We enjoy organising activities on our park – Dogs’ Delight was a dream of happy people, dogs and all sorts – Ice-cream to hand. Tea or coffee if you prefer. Was your dog judged the prettiest bitch? Or were you judged to be the human most like their dog? How near were you in your guess for the weight of the water melon? Maybe you were better in estimating the number of dog biscuits in the jar. Could you agree the name of the soft toy which they say is Gromit’s cousin?

    Wouldn’t it be even better to set up an appreciation of front gardens? Not a competition as such – but people could be awarded standards – bronze, silver and gold – with help and support if they would like to do more. 

    Nearer to God in the garden.

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