As newlyweds in our late twenties, my husband and I decided to move from a crime-ridden (if trendy) London postcode to a picture-postcard village within commuting distance of the capital. We bought a rather run-down cottage which we imagined would be the perfect canvas for our aspirations: island benches, plantation shutters and lashings of Farrow & Ball. We’d get the house done and have some babies. There would be country dog walks, veg patches and village fêtes. What bliss.
Before we moved in, we chatted to a friendly elderly man in the village. ‘Oh there’s been lots of change in the village lately,’ he told us. Like what? ‘People moving in, people moving out…’ How funny, we thought, that a few new residents counts as radical change. In retrospect, it should have been a warning sign.
Things started off well. We subjected our neighbours to a charm offensive: homemade cakes, wine, cards, invitations to dinner. We signed up to help with church activities, made food for local events, and donated a fancy bottle of champagne to the village raffle. ‘It’s so nice,’ I told my London friends piously. ‘Such a sense of community.’
But then came the fence. When we moved in, our garden was surrounded by a mostly dead, mostly brown hedge with a big hole in the middle. So down came the grotty conifers, and up went a smart new fence. A few days into the work, the man in charge of building it told us that he’d been harangued by some passing locals. We were a bit shocked by that, but he shrugged. ‘Pretty typical in places like this,’ he said.
At the church AGM, we found out what he meant. Everyone knew that we were ‘the people with the fence’.