Porch Door Blues

My house, in a quiet nook of West London, is officially described as a Victorian workman’s cottage, and as it is one of a terrace of similar buildings protected by a conservation order, a Victorian workman would easily recognize it. True, before the order came into force, a few residents attempted to turn their houses into Regency “villas” by demolishing the bay windows and investing in fancy door furniture, but the total impression is that of solid, no-nonsense redbrick houses, with porches.

Until you’ve had a porch with a custom-made door (be warned, it costs a lot) you don’t realize how useful a thing it is. It puts an extra layer of defence between you and the road and saves some heat in winter;  it’s a fairly safe place to leave smallish parcels, dripping umbrellas and muddy boots and, fitted with an automatic sensor light that comes on after dark, it makes would-be burglars and other no-good boyos depart pretty fast.

The only snag with my porch door is that some callers don’t shut it when they leave, so that the prevailing easterly wind knocks it against the neighbour’s fence, damaging the paintwork and making an annoying noise.. So I started creating appealing notices, using the best colours and fonts my computer could produce, saying “Please shut this door – thank you”. I thought this would do the trick, but I was wrong: every day several callers, including those undeterred by my stern “NO JUNK MAIL” notice, come and go —and leave the door open.

Now there is more to this than damaged paint and noisy knocks. What it’s really about is the culprits’ total disregard of other people’s wishes, in this case mine, as the owner of the door. It’s the same disregard that makes people in crowded cafés pull out their chairs when they leave and not push them back, turning the place into a kind of obstacle race, or that lets women in public places concentrate on their smartphones while their infants scream, roar or sob (the smaller the child, the stronger its voice), making no attempt to calm them, while the rest of us suffer mutely and/or send forgiving thoughts to King Herod.

This social trend, to give it a polite name, reminds me of the teaching of the great  Austrian philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) who first formulated two modes of existence as the “I – Thou” and the “I – It” varieties. These refer to human relationships: in the case of “I – It” the “I”  regards the other person as a separate object which can be used or experienced; in the “I – Thou” variety there is a relationship between equals where the other is linked to, not separated from the “I”. Granted, Buber had in mind one-to-one relationships, but his idea can be stretched to cover the” Individual – Collective” juxtaposition as well. In everyday life, out in the world,  most of us manage in the “I – It” modality, but switch to the “I – Thou” version when disaster strikes and helping others, relating to their distress, becomes as natural as breathing.

Bang – there goes my porch door, being left open once more,  as usual, by our grim, humourless postman who may be suffering from “job fatigue” or permanent indigestion: no good trying to talk him into better ways. I’ll just let him go and then nip out to shut the door. Meanwhile, to let off steam, I draft the text of the notice I’d really like to display on the central glass panel of the door. Something like “Unless you can’t read, don’t understand English or are hopelessly stupid, please shut this door!”

But then of course the individuals I have in mind wouldn’t read my notice anyway.

There are times when the only correct attitude is to admit defeat. This is one of them.






3 thoughts on “Porch Door Blues

  1. We need to come up with a request that makes people smile! They are more likely to understand the need behind the request – most human beings do respond well when they can connect to this. I’ll put my thinking cap on – other than that lovely to read your posts Beata and Happy New Year – love from us all down under. x

  2. Good fun. I wish you liked babies better. But I guess the good news is that your hearing is excellent and very sensitive! Much love, Peggy

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Dear Peggy, it’s not that I dislike babies, I just resent their mothers paying more attention to their smartphones than to their infants! Also, listening to the crying of a distressed infant is painful,
    because I can’t do anything to help it.

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