“The secret of a happy life is the removal of all minor irritations”
Peter Gresswell, my mother’s younger brother, who died today aged 88, understood the Slow Life better than anyone else. He kept his work/life balance in perfect equilibrium. In 1971 he wrote a pioneering book entitled “Environment”, at the same time keeping a golfing diary, which was later published as “Weekend Golfer”, the story, as it said on the dust jacket, of ” the average golfer, ever hopeful, ever hopeless”. 40 years on, both books are available today through Amazon and Abebooks.
In those days “environment” meant the way things looked. Here’s just one of the many things which were important in 1971- the enormous damage done to the landscape by electricity pylons. The book makes a cogent argument for the carrying of electricity on underground cables rather than pylons. It’s ironic that nowadays wind farms are being erected on “environmental” grounds even though they, and the pylons which serve them, are destroying the landscape.
“Environment” was written with a wit and good sense which is missing from modern books on the subject. This extract, headed ” Vulgarity” is a good example:
‘I like vulgarity. Good taste is death’ Mary Quant.
‘I’d rather be vulgar than a bore.’ Clough Williams-Ellis.
So say two people who are eminent in their quite different fields of design. And so would many people if similarly quoted out of context. There is such a thing as a surfeit of good design, of a deadening application of polite uniformity. At present the built environment is such that it is unlikely to suffer from it, and would only be improved by more of it. But the quotations are a caution to everyone who is interested in their environment: places cannot be made by stifling entirely the personalities of the people who live in them. The fish and chip shop should not be made to look dignified. Street Improvement Schemes can emasculate streets if too many signs are removed or redesigned. Some clutter, for instance around the old-fashioned newsagent or tobacconist, can be friendly. And there are whole neighbourhoods of towns, including some sea-side resorts, where a robust vulgarity is part of the scene- and it should be protected against too much ‘good design’.