The thought that opened the gate

What is common does not necessarily make sense. But the more common something is, the less inclined we are to question its good sense. We are programmed to wonder about the extraordinary, whilst blindly accepting the ordinary.

Yet, sometimes, you suddenly stop to wonder about something that until then had been too ordinary to incite a thought. Next, you wonder how on earth you never wondered about it before. At this point it is already too late: you will not be able to put the thought to rest again, and its subject will never return to the zone of your mind where things too common to think about live.

This happened to me last Sunday, when I was out leafleting in my local area. Street, pavement, gate, steps, door, letterbox, steps, gate, pavement, gate… Gate. Gate? So wonder struck. No longer was my focus on the ‘how’ – how do I open this gate without losing my momentum and without causing inconvenience to residents – it was suddenly firmly on the ‘why’ – why is this gate here?

In London, virtually every house that doesn’t open directly to the street has a gate at the bottom of its entry path, usually integrated into a wall or fence that makes up the property boundary. They tend to be made of metal or timber, open inwards, and have a simple closing mechanism.

Garden gate in PeckhamDespite their commonness, there is great variety to be found. Gates that creak (most of them) and gates that don’t. Gates that run aground halfway in. Gates one needs to lift in order for the closing mechanism to work. Gates with a polite note that says ‘Please close the gate’. Gates with a polite note that says ‘Don’t slam the gate’. Gates with a polite note that says ‘Wet paint’. Gates at the bottom of a long and winding garden path. Gates that are no further than three feet from the front door.

So let’s spend a moment thinking about the practical use of the gate. True, the sound of it opening, if it’s one of those creaky ones, can alert the resident to the imminent arrival of a visitor, delivery person or intruder. And the sound of it slamming shut may signal the departure of said individual. Furthermore, we could take into account gates’ significance to employment, not only for the fencing and gating industry, but also for the Royal Mail, who in the absence of gates would not be able to justify their current numbers of delivery staff.

Beyond that, I am at a loss for pro-gate arguments. They are not terribly effective at preventing anything from entering or leaving, nor do they often represent a distinct embellishment to the property. I’m not aware of them being a haven for wildlife in any way, shape or form, or of their contribution to pedestrian traffic regulation.

Would it be unthinkable to do away with them? De-gate London? Reuse and recycle all the metal and timber currently occupied to maintain a practice that is common but makes no sense? Not only could it save everyone a little bit of time (all the time), who knows it could also reset our minds as to how ordinary ‘closed, fenced and gated’ are in our living environment.

Just a thought.

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