Damn braces Posted on October 16, 2015

Relaxed. It’s the one thing that everyone wants to, and thinks they should, be; a zero-sum positive: your face, your clothes, your body-language, your vocabulary, your house, garden and writing-style must be, or aim to be, or appear to be, relaxed.

Every magazine and paper says so, and reports admiringly on anyone who carries it off. Why is it the thing to be? Is it because modern life leaves so little time and space for relaxation?

‘Relaxed’ seems to have the field to itself. What is an admirable, acceptable, fashionable, alternative? No one is admired for being tense, or formal, or uptight. Correct? It sounds as though you’re trying too hard. Of clothes, ‘chic’ perhaps gets away from it, with ‘shabby’ as a possible qualifier.

The sub-text of ‘relaxed’ is that you’re in charge – if only of yourself. You have mastered the situation. You know the rules well enough to ignore them. Rules? Sports have them, but does the rest of life? There are laws and being relaxed about them can get you three points on your licence. But for most of us, white wine before red is as far as etiquette goes. Cheese before pud? We should be relaxed about that; though oddly it is one thing that gets serious society, dining-out society, uptight.

All this is prelude to a gardening question. What is the admiring epithet to use about a gardener whose garden is, shall we say, relaxed? Perhaps in his day ‘Capability’ Brown was considered relaxed. Surely doing away with straight lines, ‘jumping the fence’ and so forth, was relaxing. ‘Damn braces, bless relaxes”, wrote William Blake. Did he never edge his lawns?

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