All had gone suspiciously quiet down our little track on the village green, and we had begun to think we were being accepted by the neighbours.
We settled in. We continued to park our car in the public space outside our house, and after a week or so not too many people told us to sod off and die. We put in for the monstrously high council tax to be reviewed. We made a few friends. We were happy. And then the dreaded day came when we had to take our building materials down the side alley which goes across a neighbour’s back garden.
We knew it had been a sore point with the previous owner of the house, who admitted on the property information forms that the neighbours were ‘unhappy about the right of way’. So, treading carefully, we told the lady next door we would only use it once a week, for the bins, and to take building materials through while we renovate.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said. ‘Just let me know when you need to go through and I’ll give you the code to the gate.’
‘Well, in fact, if you could just give it to us now that would be great,’ the builder boyfriend replied.
‘Er no,’ she said, ‘it’s not convenient now. I’ll give it to you later.’
And she told us to be at her house at
6 p.m. to meet with her and receive the code, presumably in some sort of code handing over ceremony. We were on her doorstep at 6 p.m. but she wasn’t there.
We rang her and she told us that it was all very inconvenient. She was unavoidably detained at the gym. She kept us waiting an hour and a half and then she rolled up, went into her house and shut the door.
We knocked politely as she sat in the front room …and she drew the curtains.
Over the next few days, she sent a series of texts stating that she didn’t like the right of way, and neither did her friends, the owners of the house, who were renting it to her.
We tried to explain that it wasn’t a question of what she liked. The right of way was in the Land Registry. All the same, she said, we weren’t getting the code.
Our building materials for the new patio arrived and were piled up outside the gate. Of course, I had to ask my solicitor to write a letter. Minutes after reading it, the neighbour marched out of her house and banged our door.
‘You’ve crossed a line,’ she said. ‘Have you met the owner? Good luck with that!’
Having also sent the owner a letter, I reflected on the name on the envelope. It had been double-barrelled.
We Googled her, but all we could find out about the terrifying property magnate who was apparently coming round to do us in was that she and her mother owned an opticians and listed their qualifications as including a ‘Diploma of Contact Lens’.
A man with the same surname, possibly a husband, ex-husband, father or brother, was a member of the residents’ association and a borough councillor.
‘Let me get this straight,’ I said to the builder b. ‘The people who I am being given to understand will break my kneecaps if I don’t desist from trying to use the right of way to the back of my house are opticians?’
‘It looks that way,’ he said.
‘I’m being terrorised by a family of Surrey optometrists?’ ‘I’m afraid so.’
The next time we saw the tenant she told us the opticians were mad as hell. ‘You’ve had it now. They’re on the way.’
‘What is this, Reservoir Specs?’ I asked the BB, who shrugged.
Maybe the owner was going to tie me to a chair and, instead of slicing off my ear with a razor blade, click a switch so a projector displayed a Snellen chart on my living-room wall as she screamed: ‘What can you read, you snivelling right of way whinger!’ ‘Oh no! Please don’t do this! E D F C Z P?’ ‘And the next line!’ ‘No, please, not the bottom line! I promise to stop using the side alley. You can lock it day and night. We’ll crane the sand and cement over the roof. Only please don’t make me read the tiny letters!’
But in the end, she didn’t come. We are still waiting. The builder b is sleeping with the lights on just in case there really are kung-fu fighting contact-lens fitters in suburban Surrey. I’m ready too.
I’m going to tell her that if she can’t read the Land Registry entry stating that we have a right of way, then maybe she should have gone to Specsavers.