A Tale of Two Houses

by Amanda Harding


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1859)

Juxtaposed the two houses couldn’t have been more different. One, a mid-19th century farmhouse built for the workers of the local chateau and today betraying its humble origins. The front of the house is covered with a mix of climbing roses, bedraggled ivy, a wild vine where the grapes are just beginning to ripen plus extraneous multi-coloured electrical wires draped over the chipped stone cladding. The garden, front –back- and-sides, is littered with what appears to be junk and, when at my most generous, I assume are the owners' preciously kept mementos. Rusting oil cans, loosely rolled chicken wire, a leaking tractor engine, a stove tipped on its side oven door long gone, paint pots, multiple unidentifiable metal pieces … all half-hidden by patches of knee-high grasses, delphiniums and the brambles that have crossed over from the public footpath that boarders one edge of the property. In return, more junk has spilled onto the said path – an unused tractor piece, a couple of tyres, an old carriage axel. If someone had intended to create this disorder, chaos and anarchy they would have had a hard time achieving this eclectic accumulation that disturbs the eye, deranges the senses and hints at some sort of underlying violence. 

Next door: not down the road, across the street or even up the hill, but smack next door with no other houses close by, lies a mirror copy of the first house. Or at least, identical twin houses at birth that have matured very differently. When on the market not so long ago it was hard to imagine who would buy it - given the state of the neighbours' house, the grumpy stance of Monsieur, the snappy noisy dogs, in short the pervasive unsettling vibes coming from "next door". And then a couple moved in, built up their tech business on the property, starting renovating the house, cleaning the garden, building an extension, and creating what must be the most orderly, spick-and-span house in a 10 km radius. And they stayed.

Five years on and the latest addition to the spick-and-span house has been completed - the house has doubled in size, the automatic gate is in place and latest high-tech bird feeder hooked expertly to the tree. The neighbours' snappy dogs are no longer anywhere to be seen and the junk on the public footpath has diminished. However, each house has remained true to its personality. One, filled with objects that fight for space, point to a disregard for an outsiders' judgement and suggest a social isolation that breeds a violence of your picking. The other, as it grows and the garden starts to mature, hints at a future where the hard corners of today become a little more rounded, the blackberry brambles welcomed and no longer hacked back, the local deer seen squeezing through a gap in the fence.

What once seemed impossible has become possible. Opposing cultures, generations and life-perspectives have together navigated a common pathway to achieve a form of cohabitation that will always be fragile, whose vulnerabilities will always need tending to but whose resilience strengthens from season to season.

"A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” The Twits, Roald Dahl, 1979

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Jan Tschichold, Typographer "The New Typography"