Wednesday, 13 February 2013

From Muck Flick to Bad Sir Brian Botany: an ironical salute to posh neighbour disputes In today’s Observer, Catherine Bennett picks up on a piece in the Telegraph about a planning dispute between super-rich neighbours in west London. The story is almost worthy of a Carry On movie, the villain being Jonny Foreigner (with a distasteful lineage) Gert-Rudolph "Muck" Flick. Herr Flick and his partner have a desperate need for extra space – swimming pool, gym, cinema, that sort of thing – requiring some disruptive excavations which the council has approved: ‘Kensington & Chelsea has ruled that the digging out of their planned, two-storey basement, forecast to cause two years of disruption in the Onslow Square area, along with the pointless destruction of the house's 1884 Red Room gallery, should have its blessing, since it would only end in "visually discreet additions" to his existing £30m house.’ Julian Lloyd Webber, president of the Onslow Neighbourhood Association, has said previously that ‘If we can’t preserve this area, nothing is safe’ - and for all I know he could be right. Nothing may now be safe, there’s a thought. Bennett’s article reviews other posh people’s tiffs and suggests that culturally we expect neighbourhood disputes to be ‘almost exclusively the province of the disadvantaged, strongly linked to poverty and poor education, limited social skills and a propensity to spit.’ It’s reasonable to suppose that people who live in dense proximity, who have fewer opportunities either to escape or to protect their own territory, would be more likely to experience tension in relationships with neighbours. But where there’s a chance for the muscles of power and egotism to be rippled, the wealthy often like to express themselves to excess. The pointless epic tangle between Boythorn and Dedlock over rights of way to a trivial stretch of land in Bleak House comes to mind. My favourite example is probably still the reported problem faced by King Abdullah of Jordan a few years ago (Smell thy neighbour). But while it makes good entertainment when the Haves are subject to disruption in their protected enclaves, I wonder how far it really is from historic examples of dynastic rulers, religious zealots, and megalomaniac industrialists, who can turn disputes with the neighbourhood equivalent of national, ethnic or faith groups into devastating wars if they don’t happen to get on very well, or if their egos need something. Disputes between the powerful and the oppressed, manifested at neighbourhood level, are different, and rather more common than publicised spats among the Haves. Sometimes these get mediated by a little neighbourhood vigilantism. So let’s take the chance to celebrate the poetic come-uppance of Bad Sir Brian Botany: Sir Brian had a pair of boots with great big spurs on, A fighting pair of which he was particularly fond. On Tuesday and Friday, just to make the street look tidy, He’d collect the passing villagers and kick them in the pond. “I am Sir Brian!” (sper-lash!) “I am Sir Brian!” (sper-losh!) “I am Sir Brian, as bold as a lion - Is anyone else for a wash?” Sir...

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