Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The kindness of strangers

Birthday time. This blog has been going for two years now, and there seems to be no let up in the steady flow of architectural encounters I want to share. But the architectural surprises and delights are only part of the pleasure that I’ve had from two years of blogging. A friend I see about once a year asked how the blog was going. ‘And the comments,’ she asked. ‘Do they come from people you know, or from others?’
‘Both,’ I replied. ‘But quite a few from people I don’t know.’
‘From strangers?’ she said.

Yes, from strangers. And I’ve been impressed and enlightened by the generosity of those who’ve bothered to comment, filling in the gaps in my knowledge or just sharing a joke. I’ve benefited from fascinating information about architects such as Montague Wheeler, designer of Rudolf Steiner house in London, about the background to some relief carvings by Frederick Schenk in Harley Street, about the story of the anarchist settlement of Whiteway in Gloucestershire. I’ve had interesting email exchanges too about topics ranging from the lovely illustrated book The Map That Came To Life to the recent history of the Oxfordshire village of Great Tew and locations used in the TV series Foyle’s War. And friends as well as strangers have supplied me with all kinds of anecdotes – historical, topical, and personal – about the buildings I’ve featured and related topics.

This kind of thing is important to a writer. All too often, you write some text, it’s edited and published, and, if you’re very lucky, you get the odd decent review. But very rarely feedback from a reader. They’re on to the next book long before they can write an email, let alone find the publisher’s address, write a letter, and get down to the post box. We all have a life, after all. But meanwhile, the writer might as well be stuck on top of a mountain in Greece.

Well, if you do live on a mountain in Greece, hospitality is likely to be one of your guiding values. As the great Patrick Leigh Fermor pointed out, this is partly based on ‘a genuine and deep-seated kindness, the feeling of pity and charity toward a stranger who is far from his home’. But, as he also says, there’s an intellectual reason for it too. Strangers bring news, and the eager questioning of travellers (‘Are you married? Are your mother and father alive? What country are you from? – do you live in the capital or outside? Did you come on foot? …Do you know an Englishman called David who was here a few years ago?’) comes from a real interest and a desire to connect with others.

The instant comment system of blogging may not be quite as intoxicating as a long chat into the Peloponnesian night over bottles of resiny wine, but I hope it is hospitable, at least, and that this whole enterprise helps to fuel people’s interest and satisfy their curiosity. As we feed back effortlessly, we all learn a bit more and, often as not, are entertained into the bargain. So, as they say in Parliament, ‘Hat’s off, strangers!’ for telling me more than I could have hoped. And hats off to the rest of you too.

13 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Happy Birthday English Buildings! Yours was the blog that got me blogging, and has informed, delighted and entertained me in equal measure. A constant in a rapidly changing world, we need you!

Neil said...

I think the sense of a shared community of enquiring minds, and the scattered presence of kindred spirits, is the thing that has surprised and delighted me the most in blogging - and I, too, was inspired to start my blog by reading yours. Now if only we can have the ugly word blog obliterated and replaced with something elegant...

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks to you both. I'm honoured to have inspired two such eye-opening and mind-expanding blogs.

martin said...

Many happy returns! Your consistently fascinating blog has given me a new appreciation of architecture in all its forms and continues to educate and enlighten. I've even started buying books on the subject.I think you might have started something quite large here.

Anne said...

Nicely put. Happy birthday to you!

Jon Dudley said...

Happy birthday and thanks for unseen kindnesses.

Jonathan said...

Happy Birthday!

Vinogirl said...

Happy birthday/anniversary...please keep sharing your architectural gems with us. This ex-pat for one needs your blog.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Many thanks to you all.

CarolineLD said...

... And another 'happy birthday'!

Thud said...

Always a pleasure to visit here.

timothy said...

Fourteenthed (ish)

Ron Combo said...

It is always a pleasure to drop by. Thank you.