Never have I felt more blessed to be living in a big personal space. As Mark and I live this new life where we are keeping to our own little bubble* of two, there is no shortage of things to do. We breakfast together and then disappear into our own spaces, coming together for coffee at 10am – a pattern that we repeat all day.
I feel embarrassed by our privileged position. It was perhaps relief I felt when I read English designer and gardener Dan Pearson’s latest blog and he was working through exactly the same issues and thoughts that we are here, albeit from 20 000 km away.
New Zealand has been built on the idea that land is not in short supply, although that has changed in our largest urban areas now. With a land mass which is a similar size to the United Kingdom and a population still under five million, the norm until recently was to build suburbs with detached houses sitting on their own quarter acre (1000 square metres). Not without reason were we known as the quarter acre pavlova paradise (the pavlova – or meringue cake – having been first created here, not Australia). It is only recently that urban sections have reduced in size but there is still little appetite for semi detached housing, let alone terrace housing or even apartments.
Never has there been a more stark illustration of the need to retain public, green spaces in cities. Maybe not subsidised, private golf courses but every public space possible.
Big, country gardens used to be common. Back in the early days of our garden festival, we were just one of many. I dug out my old programmes to see what the ratio was of large to small gardens. My definition of a large garden is anything larger than an acre (0.4ha) but, reader, my dedication to accuracy soon waned. Best guess, without accurate analysis, is that it was probably 40% large gardens back in the early 1980s. Most have gone. We are great one generation gardeners in NZ.
We remain a historical relic here at Tikorangi – a legacy from different times when large, country gardens were not the preserve of the wealthy. But when I think of people locked down in tiny apartments, I feel a little as though my privilege is an affront.
I looked through some of my overseas photos to find examples of high density living and all I found were a few images that perhaps convey the difference of lifestyles where people spend much of their time living in the streets, which is all very charming and exotic to us when we travel. Not so great in lock down situations.
Seared into both Mark’s and my memories are the grim, ghetto-like apartment blocks that border the railway lines where the trains leave Gare du Nord in Paris. At the time, they struck us as the epitome of misery. Anyone who has travelled on the Eurostar will have seen them. So too, some of the old tower blocks in London. I can’t even imagine what lock down in India must be like.
From our bubble to your bubble, may you be in better personal situations than those. Humour, kindness, forbearance and vicarious pleasures are what may get us through this bizarre new world we all share at a distance.
*** About ‘bubbles’ for overseas readers: this is the approved NZ government term to describe the closed group of people living together in lock down. Some are in a bubble of just one. I had to adjust my old brain to accommodate the virtual ‘date’ to meet a real friend in his solitary bubble for a pre-dinner drink yesterday, where we chatted for an hour by Messenger video link while drinking gin. Usually I meet him in town for lunch. I laughed when I saw someone on Twitter asking if it was permissible to expel somebody from your bubble. Mind you, our bubble includes our two dogs but I was wondering about expelling Dudley from the bubble when he was inflicting the most appalling farts on us all the other day. He had clearly not been staying close to home and found something revolting to eat. He doesn’t understand bubbles.