or maybe several, at that.
Not the flood, naturally; that’s more or less what is expected in January, although it’s never welcome. There is a very minor river under all that water, I’ve posted many pictures of it over the years and periodically mentioned poor neighbours who regularly have to sweep mud and slime from their cottages. Today and yesterday we’ve been inundated with snow and ice on top of the floods and I’ve not wanted to risk going out.
Enough of the weather; I’ve learned a lesson on a totally unrelated matter, i.e., decision making is good for you. Very good. Coming to terms with, and accepting what one cannot change, is good too but I have already more or less learned that lesson in the past.
Let me tell you a story. I have new neighbours, well, newish neighbours; they moved in three years ago. Since then they have been renovating, knocking down and rebuilding, their very ancient cottage, parts of it dating back to the 14th century, and I am sure it’s quite beautiful inside. They aren’t very neighbourly in many ways, friendly enough when you meet them but not given to joining village life. That’s entirely up to them, of course.
Although our houses are a good distance away from each other we have a common boundary, consisting of partly fencing, hedging, an ancient stone wall and several red brick walls and the back of a falling down barn.
“We need to start on the barn now,” said they one afternoon. There they stood in my garden, looking at the back of the barn. I agreed, the barn is in very poor repair. They weren’t actually asking permission, just telling me that they would need access from my side. Well, naturally, I thought, a week or two of disruption, but one has to be agreeable to neighbours in need.
A letter from the planning office arrived, as required by law, giving a website with details of my neighbours’ plans. Quite idly, with absolutely no malice intended, I checked the website, and found that they are not only planning to repair the wall but rebuild the barn and create a bijou residence with workshop, storage space and parking area combined. A sizeable undertaking indeed, nothing like the plan they had informed me of.
I rang them, she answered the phone and I could tell she was quite taken aback that I had taken the trouble to access the project website and wasn’t altogether pleased with their plans. She instantly shouted down the phone at me.
“You must have a very selective memory then,” she said, “ we told you that we wanted to repair the barn." Nobody shouts at me without retaliation. I did, however, stay polite.
The next day he came over and rang the bell. “I am not going to argue with you”, he said, “we are awaiting planning permission for the project as it is detailed in the application. Oh yes, and our builder says he needs to erect scaffolding on your land.” I was floored. Suddenly, I felt very old and very alone and very helpless. They were going to bully me into giving permission to use my land for their purposes, God knows for how long. I needed to gain time to think. “I need to understand exactly what is involved, bring your builder over to explain it to me,” I said.
Several days later the builder arrived; I was a nervous wreck by now, literally feeling ill and dizzy and unable to sleep.
A jovial type of chap, the builder was calm and friendly. I am sure he told me more than my neighbour liked. He showed me exactly how much scaffolding there would be, the tarpaulin that would have to cover it, the plants that would have to ‘be bent over’ or removed and how long he foresaw the work would last. “Three months minimum”, he said, “depending on what we find when we get started.” Have you ever known any builder who kept to his timeline? I haven’t.
I was almost shaking with nerves but said nothing more while I watched them move off. Having finally rediscovered the pleasure gardening gives me, after many years of neglect, my heart was sore at the thought of losing yet another year. When I mentioned it to him, all he could say was :” with all due respect, if you like gardening so much, haven’t you got all this other space to do it?”, waving his arm in the general direction of the back of the house.
I hate it when somebody says “with all due respect”, it implies no respect at all; it’s what politicians say in interviews just before they become really rude. I was furious but still couldn’t find the courage to send neighbour packing.
For weeks I felt worse and worse, my blood pressure shot up, the dizzy spells accelerated, I dreamt horrible dreams every night, woke often, ever more tense. I am not exaggerating, I felt so awful I rang the surgery.
And then, one weekend, I had enough. After agonising for weeks I finally recovered my backbone. I wrote a letter, telling them that there will be no scaffolding erected on my land, that I will give permission for any work needed to be done to the backwall, and only the backwall, from my side, that I am willing to put up with a builder or two and their ladders for as long as this work takes, but, and it’s a big but, that the rest of their renovation and rebuilding project is absolutely not my concern. Several times during our negotiations neighbour and builder assured me that the wall would be repaired from inside the barn; from which I understand that surely it is the main body of work which requires scaffolding, not the backwall.
I haven’t heard a word since then. I am determined to stick to my guns. ‘With all due respect’ indeed.
Going back to decision making and how it’s good for you: from the moment I dropped that letter through their letterbox I’ve gradually felt better, my blood pressure is now back to normal, I sleep again, and the tense muscles in my back are relaxing.