My parent’s house has a gate to the front driveway. It isn’t the sort of gate that comes with matching gatehouse or which opens on to a long driveway that winds around the corner to lead to some unseen mansion, it’s the sort of gate that the postman or dustman never bother to close after them. In days long past when the post office managed to get a delivery in before dawn I could roughly gauge when it was time to get up by the whine of the battery driven milk float straining up the hill, accompanied by the rattlling of milk bottles. By the time I heard the rattling cough and wheeze of postman wheeling his bike up the road and dragging the open gate, I knew it was time to be making a move.
For some reason late night revellers took a fancy to our gate. Even though it was dark, they must have been attracted and offended in equal measure by the light blue paint that decorated the metalwork. On several occasions I would get up, look out the window and notice the gate was missing. I would point out its absence to my Dad who would then walk up towards the top of the hill to look for it. It would always be found more than halfway up rather than halfway down because the comedians would be heading out of town after a night’s bender when their highly original and witty prank first occurred to them; no one nicks a gate when they are going to the pub. And no one carries a ‘hot’ gate very far, it’s too heavy, so it would never be further than a few houses up the road.
I’m sure Buckingham Palace never have this problem. For one thing the gates are too heavy to lift off the hinges without mechanical assistance, and then there is the whole Grenadier Guards with loaded guns thing, not to mention all the bloody tourists. Someone would be sure to get their fingers caught. But outside of Buckingham Palace and surrounding area, I think the most majestic gates in the UK are to be found in the stately homes in Norfolk. Even the gate keepers live in accommodation that is bigger than my house now and watch over gates with fuck off huge spikes on the top to discourage any one from considering a vertical route to avoid the entrance fee.
For me it’s the run down gates that have the most character. I’m not just talking about the Mandalay type gates in Rebecca, all ivy covered and crumbly gate posts, but gates to factories long since closed can also hint of a former glory. Sometimes the gates are all that are left and you are left wondering what they were hoping to protect.
In China we are still big on gates. Government agencies and corporate entitities that aspire to greater things fancy these automatic accordian style gates that slowly slide back and forth along rails to block or facilitate passage accordingly. The pricier model come with little LED displays mounted in the motorized end of the gate but are generally only large enough to display a single character. This is usually set to ‘STOP’ which seems fairly redundant to all but someone who is less than a halfwit, given there is a large metaliic obstacle hindering further progress. They also have mirrors installed on the gate, these might be for checking your appearance, or simply to heighten the appearance of the gate. I can’t help thinking that, if Apple made an iGate, this is the sort of thing they would come up with. Slick, pointless functionality and a little bit soulless.
But in the countryside I’ve noticed people go for the traditional gates. It probably has something to do with electricity being scarce in many places and so, unlike the city dwellers, they aren’t going to squander precious resources automating something that can be done equally well with a bit of leg work. The automatic gates are also pretty ineffective against someone on foot since they are rarely more than 5ft (i was talking about the gates, although upon reflections it’s also true for a significant proportion of the population in the countryside).
As there few street lights in the villages, it’s pretty straightforward to hop over undetected at night. I’m guessing this is why everyone erects smooth walls that are at least 10ft high and which have tops decorated with shards of broken glass and entrance is only possible through a pair of even larger gates which a thorny crown of barbed wire.
The first place I lived in Wuhan was decorated in this manner. There was an shortsighted old guy who would sit on a rickety chair by the entrance and doze away the day. At 10pm he would lock up and at midnight he would toddle off to sleep in his little shack.
We once arrived back from the UK at 1.30 in the morning to find said gates padlocked shut. I had procured a key from him a few weeks earlier but it was in our apartment on the wrong side of the wall. The only option was for me to scale the 12 foot gates as quietly as possible to get to the apartment so we could get unlock the gate and bring in the luggage. Well, the other option was for my girlfriend to scale the gate while I watched over the luggage, which she would have happily done since she is also a keen climber. The thing that decided it was the violent streak i had witnessed in the old geezer a few weeks before and had clarified why he had been assigned the role of gate keeper; if he was awakened by the rattle of the gates he would be far more likely to recognize the sole foreigner living in his enclave before he went to his business with his fencepost customized by a couple of nails hammered through the end.
I’m pretty sure these village enclaves are similarly protected by heavily armed but more youthful nutters, I haven’t tried peeking in to test my theory. I settle instead for an outside view, wooden gates mounted slightly askew with a small side door for pedestrian access, and find myself pondering the words of the country singer Charlie Rich
“Hey, did you happen to see, the most beautiful girl in the world?”.
No,no. Not that one, the other one.