Since moving to my dream home in the country a month ago, I’ve only had to fight a parking dispute, a right of way dispute, a council tax dispute and a dispute over my neighbour’s loft room being several feet inside my house.
‘It’s going well, isn’t it?’ I said to the builder boyfriend, as we sat slumped on the dusty sofas in our front room overlooking the idyllic village green at the end of another hard day’s country living.
‘What is that lump sticking out of the plaster up there?’ he said, looking beyond me to the right-hand corner of the ceiling.
‘I don’t want to know,’ I said. ‘All things considered, if it’s not a part of their house coming into our house, or an improvised explosive device planted there by militant villagers in protest at the space our car is taking up outside our house, I’m going to ignore it.’
‘Hang on a minute, that’s not right,’ he said, clambering up on to a table to reach the ceiling. And, as he always does when in doubt, he grabbed the wallpaper and ripped it off, then started bashing the plaster out with his bare fist.
‘There’s something in this wall, some kind of steel that’s been plastered over. But there can’t be a steel resting on this wall. It’s a single skin between us and next door.’
‘Single skin? Is the wall made of body parts?’ Nothing would surprise me.
‘Single skin means the wall is only one brick thick. You can’t just put a steel in it. If they removed a supporting wall from their house they should have put a padstone in the basement and…’ Blah-de-blah-de-blah. All I can hear is white noise when he starts talking like this.
I’m leaving him to it. I’m all booked up with disputes, so much so that I have to keep a diary of them, with notes about where and when each dispute needs attending to. And you thought there would be less aggro now I’ve fled London.
A lot of hard work and research goes into surviving village life.
Today, I have been mostly trying to work out why everyone in the village is a member of the parish council. This cannot be right, surely. Also, everyone in the village appears to be a Liberal Democrat. That cannot be right either. The population of the village is 2,000, and I don’t think there are that many Liberal Democrats.
And yet almost everyone you meet seems to be one. It is especially odd because the constituency as a whole is a Tory stronghold. ‘Yes, but we all vote Lib Dem locally,’ explained one friend, who is a hunting, shooting, fishing sort. ‘The Libs are the best ones to help us block house building. They’re brilliant at stopping development round here.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘So how does that work then?’
Nationally, the Lib Dems ‘make the positive case for immigration’ and locally they block all house building. You’ve got to hand it to them. It’s a genius business plan. Create the problem on a national scale, then promise to solve it on a local level.
It’s a bit like the drug baron who invests in treatment centres.
Anyway, it turns out that when I refused to have my right of way down the side of my house blocked, I took on not only Surrey’s leading optometrists, but also a family who are ‘big’ on the parish council.
Oh, please. It’s just too tedious. I find that as I get older I’m less inclined to worry about people who aspire to throw their weight around at a relatively low level.
I used to take the view that one must stroke and humour small-time messers and not belittle those who succeed in being a big bossy fish in a small pond, or even an overweight sprat in a puddle. That’s localism.
But when the fish are blocking development while nodding through their own extensions it is time to be a little less tolerant.
There’s a councillor, for example, who has done a loft conversion, conservatory and side extension all without planning, who objected to an identical house a few doors down from him having any kind of improvements.
So the councillor has a build with nothing up to safety standards, while the law-abiding householder who wanted to do it properly was prevented from doing anything and had to sell up and move. It’s enough to make you want to join a Day
On the other hand, I took the train to Clapham Junction the other day and sat next to a ‘Day of Rage’ protestor with chest-length beard, shaved head and John Lennon specs and it occurred to me that it’s not so bad in the village after all.