‘In this sense, & in lots of others, the UK outdoors has been moved relentlessly indoors over the last two and half decades.’ Indeed. And in a related shift, so the indoors has been moved relentlessly outdoors.
We now carpet outdoor space with special fibres so that little Jane won’t dirty her knees or her frock and exhausted Mummy won’t have to spend so much time bent over the washing-machine and the tumble-dryer, known as the teletumble-dryer in a household near you. Up my street, at least one set of parents has turned their small London back garden (which might once have been referred to as a yard since it’s no larger than about 18ft x15ft) into a teletubbies play-pen. I want to say a real-life teletubbies play-pen but I resist since teletubbies aren’t really real-life, are they. Are they? Where most might once have laid a lawn, today’s parents lay astro-turf. These parents have also built their kids a sort of tele-castle. Made from medium-density fibreboard, it’s about five feet high and includes an arch that a small child could walk through as if entering a castle. The garden also has a small mound a little like (but not that like) the ‘real’ teletubbies garden. You are left in no doubt as to where the inspiration came from. And that thought always makes me picture these parents spending hours watching the real teletubbies – for their fully mature inspiration.
I recoiled with a deep and instinctive revulsion when I first saw this local garden, and have sought support for my feelings with other adults nearby. Why would anyone build that for their kids? Don’t the parents want to enjoy the garden too? Do parents really want their kids to grow up thinking that real life is teletubby life? I might have added (but it only strikes me as I write now), Do parents today want their kids to grow up? What has shocked me most have been the responses from other grown-ups, people in the main I’ve always thought, until recently, are perfectly down-to-earth and rational beings. Almost without fail, they have said things like: It’s a great idea! The kids must love it! If I’d had the idea when my lot had been younger, I’d have done the same. So I’ve begun quizzing people I meet and friends I know with children of tele-age what they make of the notion of a real-life teletubby back garden. And I have discovered that there are hundreds of people out there who are planning on treading the same path – or turf. Even a scientist I know (someone who understands string theory so well they write papers deconstructing it and then reconstructing it and then presenting it to teenagers and others who haven’t a clue) is investing in, well ok not quite a teletubby garden but an astro-turf play space for the child.
Perhaps, though, there is little difference between a garden that is laid in astro-turf for the sprog to a garden laid in decking for the lazy adult who can’t get its head around mowing a lawn the same size as the lounge. It’s so much easier to hoover it, don’t you see?
Now why didn’t I think of that?
The turf is about control of space and nature and whatever we still might imagine (if we have any imagination left, beyond that inspired by Laa-Laa, Tinky Winky, Dipsy & Po) the wild might be. The teletubby garden is surely about control of human personality with parental thinking following some set of ideas about what makes a child happy and what will stop my child (a) joining a gang, (b) taking drugs, (c) hating me when it’s a teenager, (d) still hating me when it’s an adult. The fear of what the world is, what life is, and the inevitable gaze into that void is reducing ever larger numbers of adults, especially those of us living in what’s dubbed The Western World, into some sort of terrified (or even telefied) blot of blubber in which we seek to fend off the growing number of crises by retreating into astroturf tele-world. In fact, what upsets me most of all about my local teletubbers is the way in which their children’s play-pen emerges seamlessly out of their very grown-up, modern kitchen worth (a word I use lightly here) several tens of thousands of pounds. There is no divide between teleturf land and the Italian marbled balsamic world of dinner parties and dreary discussions about the state we’re in. The very adult kitchen is at once babyish back garden. Which, when you come to think about our lives, is about right.