Appearances: Hiding our shabby underwear

back-wallOn our walking tour of Bath, England, our tour guide took us first to the back alleys of the ancient city.

He pointed out the squat walls, the irregular bricks, and the ordinary doorway the servants would have used to come and go. We noted the patchwork stonework and the unremarkable nature of the architecture.

Then we walked around to the spectacular front of “The Circus.”

Here three curved terraces surround a circular centre park. Here the architecture is not irregular, ordinary or patchwork. The ornate façades have carefully ordered and beautifully maintained design.


It was all about appearances, you know.

The people of the Georgian period cared little about the comfort or welfare of their servants, but they cared very much about appearances and protocol. If their homes, their clothing and their activities met societal expectations of the time, they spared little thought for what happened in the back alleys.

We know now that their habit of hiding misery behind ornate façades is as productive as plastering over a mildewed bathroom wall and as unsatisfactory as wearing your favourite outfit over uncomfortable underwear. Why do you think our parents always told us to wear clean underwear in case we end up in hospital? We never know when at turn of events might reveal our hidden secrets.  

But who am I to point fingers? When I work in my gardens, I take care of the ones in front of my house first—the ones that people see. My back gardens have been sadly neglected for years. “Who sees them?” I ask myself.

I do. And it has always bothered me that those poor backyard gardens get short shrift. “Oh, what lovely gardens you have,” people say when they pass my house. They don’t see the shabbier, neglected ones out back, but, like a pair of uncomfortable underwear, their presence niggles at me.

The high society 18th Century residents of The Circus, Bath probably never dreamed that several hundred years later a group of tourists would tramp through their back alleys and judge their shabby “underwear.”

You never know when a turn of events might reveal your hidden secrets, do you? 

It’s a sunny day. Maybe I’ll head out and work in my back garden . . .






About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on October 10, 2014, in Arlene Smith, Arlene Somerton Smith, Art, How do you define success?, Inspiration, Living life to the fullest, metaphor and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Well said Arlene. Thanks.
    I love to putter in the garden, but it is for me just as much as for passers by. When I set my own standards high and live up to them – that provides a great sense of accomplishment. It matters not that standards of others may be higher than mine. Our back garden, which is quite private, gives us so much joy.

  2. Talk about a guilt trip. My shabby underwear is my second floor. My main floor receives much more attention because, as you said, people see it. This week I must give my second floor a long overdue new pair of knickers, maybe nice lace ones.

  3. Ah, that’s a good one. And I’m pretty sure you aren’t alone in that. When I clean my house, I start at the front door – the place people see first – and work way way through. Sometimes I don’t make it all the way, so . . .

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