Saturday, December 10, 2005


The film Pleasantville is about two teenagers who leave their sitting room and enter the 1950s sitcom on their television. If you're thinking of moving from the UK to the US, be prepared to step out of real-life, through your TV screen, into the world of film and television. There are the post boxes with the little red flags outside each house; the sort of fire hydrants that dogs relieve themselves against; people who say "Y'all"; and the long, straight roads with double yellow lines down the middle where you can bang your car into cruise control and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Our Street
Our Street
We have taken this step and entered a world that looks not so much like a 1950s sitcom, but more like Wisteria Lane. I'm talking about the look of the place. I don't yet know the inhabitants well enough to know whether the neighbourhood contains a Gabrielle, a Lynette, a Susan or any other Desperate Houswives equivalents. For evidence, compare the picture of Wisteria Lane with our street.

There is also an element of Stepford about it. I don't mean that all the wives on the estate are perfect and I suspect that they're really robots. But, we have moved into an area with an H.O.A. (Home Owner's Association).

There are similar areas in the UK (e.g. Bournville Village Trust in Birmingham), but I think that they are less common in the UK than they are here. This is the first time we've lived in such an area. One pays monthly fees that go towards general upkeep of the common areas and common facilities (our common facility is a swimming pool). They also have regular meetings and various committees that one can be on. There are also lots of rules and politics which I caught glimpses of when I attended a meeting.

The H.O.A. obviously also has some sort of Lawn Patrol Special Forces to police the upkeep of lawns because last week we received a letter giving us 14 days to aerate and seed our lawn. I'm not sure what would happen if we were not to do this.

In our defence, because Mark has had to hit the ground running with his job, the unpacking of boxes has been more of an uphill struggle than it otherwise might have been. We have been so concerned with the inside of the house -- finding places for things, buying and assembling furniture, trying to get ready for Christmas etc.; that we had neglected the exterior. (Bear in mind, also, that the house had been empty for a while before we moved in and that we have had a drought and local water restrictions.) As a result, the front lawn has become rather brown and covered in autumn leaves.

We have had lawns in every house we've ever lived in and we've never had to re-seed or aerate a lawn. Normally, grass just grows and we just mow it, but I suppose that England is not as hot and dry as here. Although it needs doing and it's good to have the slight push, I'm more used to our lawns being our business rather than someone else's.

However, I don't want to be too hard on the H.O.A. Perhaps the slight draconian edge is needed to keep the area looking nice (and possibly thus keeping property values higher than they might otherwise be) and to provide a sense of community.

So, if you're thinking of moving to the US, be prepared to leave the real world behind and step into TV-land.


crystal said...

There's an X-File episode - Arcadia - in which the head of a HOA conjures up a monster that eats the homeowners who don't keep their yards up to snuff :-)

Viola said...

Oh yeah -- I think I remember that one!

Anonymous said...

As one who in retirement moved into such a housing area (usually called a "covenanted community" as everyone in the area in buying a house signs a covenant by which one joins the mandatory home-owners association and accepts its rules and governance, almost like being in an incorporated municipality), I have been most pleased with the experience but I do not think that it is anywhere typical these days of "being in the U.S." but then I have no idea what percentage of us live in such communities - among my own circle of family and friends I know of only one other family who enjoys this pattern, which is why I do not think that this is "typically American" ... but it may well be "the coming thing" ... mayhap.