‘Get Off My Land!’

In our road, there is parking restriction to try and prevent those commuting into London from parking in our road rather than in the overpriced car parking at the station itself. I probably should explain that we live a couple of streets away from the trains station that would take us on a twenty to thirty-minute ride into the centre of London, yet neither of us do or have ever worked in central London, which sometimes perplexes people; in the end, we are here because of family and we were lucky to find a house we liked and even more blessed to find it at time when we could actually afford it; now we would have no chance. Anyway, we have this restriction so if we want to park the car in the street it must be moved elsewhere in the morning. When we bring it back, ideally we would like to park it outside our house, which I think most people would appreciate. But quite often we have to put it wherever we can, as parking is a at a premium, often some distance away.

Now, we have no right to the bit of pavement outside our house, or a right to park there. But it is hard not to feel that in some way it should be ours and to feel a little grumpy when it is occupied by a strange car (i.e., one not recognised as a fellow resident in the road, similarly afflicted). It made me think about how territorial we are as a species. It is entirely understandable, as we are a social species that live, mostly, in communities. We have, at least in our own heads, the idea of what is ‘our’ space, and wo betide anyone that might encroach on that (without our permission). To give a personal example, our house is largely surrounded now by people with young families. A year or so ago one of them had guests with their own little offspring, and it was not long before a football came over our back wall. I was in the process of coming out of the house when a small boy – encouraged by his Dad – climbed over our back wall to retrieve his ball. A short, cold – but polite – conversation ensued with the adult concerned and all was resolved amicably, but thinking about it I had two main issues. First, the back wall is off dubious quality and I would rather not be responsible for a child coming to harm, and that was the practical reason. But the other was simply that they had invaded my territory without asking. Contrastingly, our new next door neighbours, whose two boys regularly punt balls over our fence did ask once, and thus we happily throw the balls back for them when we notice they have made an appearance.

This whole territorial thing was thrown into stark perspective this weekend when we attended a couple of large scale music events in London, both with crowds of over 40,000. The events concerned allowed folding chairs and picnic blankets. Now, even though the event space was large, that is a lot of people to fit in and with the chairs etc. each person takes up a lot more space than a human being on their own would. What resulted on both days was effectively a seabird breeding colony, with each group or pair – including us – staking out its territory as best it could and trying to stop other groups encroaching on that. Unlike a seabird colony I did not see many actual squabbles break out – thankfully most territories were established before too much alcohol was consumed, but there was certainly the odd glare and the occasional muttering. We like living in community, indeed we need to, but community is at its most welcome when it keeps a reasonable distance.