Neil Wills: Surfer's Paradise

November 2001
whatshouldiputonthefence.com
Previous surfings



Comment on this column THERE ARE SOME web addresses that are purely informative – petfoodshop.com, for instance. There are others that say "Run!" – (mulletsgalore.com springs to mind). Then there are others that scream, "Love me!" I stumbled across just such a one the other day, for what webhead with even half a soul could possibly resist the siren call of whatshouldiputonthefence.com?

More often than not in such cases, the fun starts and ends with the domain name. Not so with whatshouldietc, where the surfer is flung head-first into a story so rich with biblical imagery that one fully expects to come across King James himself lurking under a gif file. It's David and Goliath, the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Ten Plagues of Egypt, all wrapped up in more paradigm shifts than you can shake a rod and staff at.


THE FENCE in question belongs to a snooty property in a mews in the West End of London, but there the glamour ends. Behind it there's a brick wall, to the side some rubbish bins. However, as any biblical scholar worth his pillar of salt will tell you, in God's scheme of things the mountains are laid low and the lowly places exalted. So it is that this unassuming section of railings has become the focus of a struggle between Good and Evil, the place wherein the underdog grapples with Leviathan – and where creativity breaks its fetters and flies.

In case you missed it, the fence rose to unexpected greatness on the 5th February this year, the seeds of renown having been sown the summer beforehand when an ordinary man in his thirties got fed up with his train journey to work and decided to commute à bicyclette. The fence, being close to his office, served very conveniently as a place to which to chain his trusty steed. The bike did not cause an obstruction, threaten the security of the mews dwellers, ruin a beauteous scene or imperil the smooth operation of global capitalism.

All went thrillingly until that winter day when the ordinary man in his thirties arrived to find that the owners of the fence, Howard de Walden Estates Ltd, had erected a sign bearing the legend, "Bicycles found parked against or chained to these railings will be removed without further notice."

Of course, being posh owners (the estate covers 90 of the costliest acres of London and can trace itself back to the Domesday Book, if it so wishes), the notice was no hastily handwritten screed but an engraved metal plaque backed by solid wood, the sort of thing that Moses might have expected the Ten Commandments to be written on if God had not shown a fondness for stone.

The diktat, rather than crushing this ordinary man, gave him that rare and much to be cherished thing: a glimpse into his soul, and with it the realisation that there lurked within him the potential to rise beyond the commonplace.


THE EPIPHANY found voice in simplicity: "I am not allowed to lock my bike to the fence, so I am locking other things to it instead." OK then, a mixture of simplicity and pedantry. Ever since, a succession of objects, connected only by their status as non-bicycles, have found themselves attached to the railings only to be removed days or sometimes mere minutes later.

Amongst other objets laissés there have featured a kettle, a pedal, an ironing board, a tricycle, some cutlery and a fridge door (a green one, naturally). Each one has been dutifully photographed, catalogued and uploaded onto the site, which itself has been crafted with so much care that it would make one wonder whether the struggle had not exacted too heavy a toll but for the humour with which the saga is related.

No doubt the landlords view the whole exercise as one of petty, vindictive small-mindedness, without pausing to consider for a moment whether this was not the attitude that led to the conflict in the first place. The notice is still up. The fence remains bicycle-free. But one ordinary man has found worth in his railings.

This column first appeared in Third Way magazine. Third Way 2001



Top | Columns | SOF Home