Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly fight any more battles, a pink planning notice is pinned to the lamp post in front of my house. The upstairs neighbours are planning a loft conversion. Not just any old loft conversion. All I can see as I scan the notice, my eyes glazing over in a panic-stricken blur, are the words ‘dormer windows’.
It has been said that ‘cellar door’ are the most beautiful words in the English language. Surely, the words ‘dormer windows’ are the most terrifying. The worst part about finding the words ‘dormer windows’ pinned to the lamp post outside my flat is that they have been there for goodness knows how long.
I have been in the country writing a book, blissfully unaware that the words ‘dormer windows’ had been pinned like a plague notice outside my hitherto very marketable garden apartment in sunny Bal-ham.
I returned to collect the mail the other evening, arriving in the dark so I did not, at first, see the notice of doom. The next morning I came out of my front door and screeched: ‘Oh, for the love of God!’ I’m sorry but I did. I apologise to those of you of a religious disposition. I could lie to you and put a gloss on my reaction. But I feel it is better to tell you the truth. Seeing the words ‘dormer windows’ had such a bad effect on me that it drove me to blaspheme like a heathen. Maybe the planning officers should take that into account.
I should have known something like this was coming because days earlier I had proclaimed to a friend in the country that I was going to be pleased to finish my book so I could return to the safe haven of London and get away from all the intrigue and gossip of the den of iniquity that is the countryside. I find village life quite exhausting. In particular, I am worn out by the controversy surrounding a massive development planned for the Surrey green belt right next to where I keep my horses, and where I have been staying in a little barn conversion writing my book.
Hardly a day goes by without some agonising new twist in the saga of the proposed building of a new town on the former Wisley airfield, a lovely stretch of farmland, now earmarked for complete ruination under the Coalition’s new planning laws.
I have tried to be a good Nimby and campaign to stop it but the stress engendered by attempting to fight big development is so bad that my blood cell count has been plummeting. This is made worse by the fact that I’m also trying to help my parents sell and move from their home in the Warwickshire countryside, now blighted by being 300 yards from the proposed HS2 rail line.
‘I can’t fight anything else,’ I told the gamekeeper, who is my life coach in all matters. He agreed. We drew up a plan whereby I would limit my battles to one major outrage at a time and leave the rest to someone else.
‘Thank goodness I am going back to the city soon,’ I said, ‘I can’t wait to get back to a busy south London street. After all, there is nothing they can do to me in south London, is there? They can’t ruin south London with a new town, or a rail link!’
And as I laughed the laugh of the damned, the gamekeeper gave me one of his looks: the look that said I should never have said something so obviously hostage to fortune.
The pink planning notice pinned to the lamp post gives me only one more week to register my objections. I texted the upstairs neighbours, two seemingly very nice brothers who moved in six months ago and are obviously trying to get maximum return on their investment.
When I say texted, it would be more accurate to say I had a comprehensive mental breakdown via phone message. One of the brothers texted back to say there was nothing to worry about. They were just submitting the biggest possible development to see how much they could, in theory, get away with. Once they had got planning permission in place, he said, they were always going to consult me before beginning the work.
Do they think I was born yesterday? More to the point, do they think I am the sort of person who can calmly deal with the threat of the loft conversion from hell — six months of noise and scaffolding, and the appearance of two dormer windows above my back garden, wiping a chunk of money off the value of my home — without having a total meltdown?
Those boys need to fasten their seatbelts.