Neither here nor there

by Steve

Aerial view of housing

The town I have moved to does not exist. Well, not officially, anyway. I mean, you can find road signs directing you there and if you stopped someone in the street to ask them where exactly you were they could tell you, but it isn’t a real place. You see, the post office does not recognise the town, instead allocating two different postcodes to the town, attached to two neighbouring towns. So, at least in the eyes of the post office, it isn’t an official place.

If my town does exist, it is an invention, a bit of an artificial construct. Way back when, they built the railway station, but at that point there was no town, just fields. And so, they made up a name for the station, and that name stuck when they eventually started building houses around the station. It was named before it was.

My town is in London, but it isn’t. Back to the post office again, who don’t list it in London, as historically it wasn’t part of the capital. However, now it sits within the administrative boundaries of London, in a London borough, just without a London address.

Man and woman checking water tankI guess you could define it as suburbia. That would be a pretty safe definition. I found an old book on Google Books that labelled it a subtopia. I thought this made it sound far more science-fiction-y and modern than it is. Then I read the dictionary definition for subtopia and realised I was well off. It means:

“suburban development that encroaches on rural areas yet appears to offer the attractions of country life to suburban dwellers”

This isn’t that far off the mark, although I hesitate to accept the term in the derogatory way it is often used. It does feel a little bit town-y and a little bit country, but isn’t fully either. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to get used to, get my head around. The place is hard to pin down.

There is something rather appealing about classifying things, and classifying yourself. Sometimes we define ourselves according to ideas, objects, or places. Sometimes we define ourselves against them. I guess this is the root of a lot of our social behaviour, be it our political allegiance or sporting allegiance,  the way we present ourselves, the activities we do or don’t take part in. Who we think we are, and who we definitely think we are not.

So, it is a little disorientating moving somewhere that is so hard to pin down. You can’t find it in my address. It is either in London, or not, depending on who you talk to. It has the benefits and drawbacks of being sort-of town and sort-of country and sort-of something else entirely. It feels a little bit unknowable, so makes me want to know it even more. I can’t wait to explore it a bit more, classify it, define it, and perhaps then get an understanding of my place within it, or indeed without it.

It is not only unknowable, but I suspect to many passing through, not worth knowing. It doesn’t have great landmarks or places you just have to visit. And I like it that way. I like it that the charms aren’t immediately obvious, that you have to search them out.

I like that every house on first glance appears the same, but when you look closer every house has been adorned, personalised, in some way. Not always for the better. But then I can see that what you lose in aesthetics from uPVC or whatever else you gain in convenience in that it makes life a little easier. A porch, or a window frame that doesn’t leak or crack, can be a wonderful thing. Not everywhere can be a conservation area. The suburbs are a home, a refuge from the working world. They are not model villages to be preserved in aspic. Each home has its own small history, and you can see it in those little changes. And like any history there is good and there is bad.

Top image from the Library of Virginia, via Flickr

Second image from the Reanimation Library