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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Where I Live

I love where I live, although it could give Stepford a run for its money.

Our neighbours have a coat and a broom and a gizmo for every eventuality, whether primly plucking at their window boxes or bent double over their passenger footwells in forensic search of a stray hair to snaffle through their disapproving dustbuster. A dustbuster which has its own rack nailed into the garage wall.
A sunny day such as today will bring the Seniors out in force to primp their pristine flower beds making the air dense with the thrum of lawnmowers. No Sunday morning is complete without the revving of leaf-blowers and the officious clipping of secateurs.
These are gardeners who wear gloves and have tartan kneelers. Tartan has been annexed by the elderly, and given a wipe-clean surface to boot.

The olds do an awful lot of laundry, endless sheets spin daily on the outdoor airers, interspersed with several hundred tea towels. What do they do which leads to so much washing? They have spent good time perusing the inserts in the Mail and Telegraph (the Post Office here only buys in 2 Guardians a day). They have filled in the forms and are now in grateful receipt of tool organisers and multi-pocketed aprons, trugs and trowel sets, different drawers for different nails. Therefore, they put things away properly, rather than hurling things in a corner, which means that they can safely leave their garage doors open to the cruellest of scrutinies. I know, I’ve peered, and it’s eye-opening how other people live. Not in a whirl of chaos, nor amid a riot of half-done jobs, in desperate pursuit of another five minutes. No, what is revealed in my neighbours’ garages is advert life (OAP version) and advert walls suggesting that a frenzied orgy of organisation took place one weekend resulting in A Place For Everything And Everything In Its Place. Not the squalor of badly piled belongings which would constitute our garage had we not turned it into a room. This they find hard to believe.
One actually said plaintively, “Don’t you want a garage?”
“Waste of space, Paul,” I replied heartily, and firmly.
Our parking near to the fence running between our gardens, a fence we paid for, annoys them.

I’m surprised, frankly, that we are allowed to live here.
Our neighbours did try.
While we were on holiday last year, they ganged up and wrote us a nasty letter lamenting our skip and our vans and all the gubbins that conspires to create an extension. I was so upset that I broke a nice glass when I read it. A nice glass that just slipped from my hand in shock.
Prior to that, they’d done their damnedest to ensure we wouldn’t get planning permission. The council read us all their letters.
Then we finished and they have been silenced.
Finally, our drive is nicer than their drives. Na-na-ni-na-na. Our windows are newer. Our lighting more groovy. Our front door solid and substantial. And the house is much bigger. It gleams with Lindab. Our lawn is a sward and a far cry from the Steptoe yard it was for so long. It’s still a dump inside, but they can’t see that and we shut the door quick, leaving them to be confronted with external Bigger and Better. My how they hate it, gnashing their teeth through the grimmest of Hello Theres and waving a trowelled fist at the sky.
God, schadenfruede’s good. Revenge is sweet and best eaten with the tinge of frost that 2 years of renovation involves.

Architecturally, our village is displeasing. A long ribbon road squashed in with all the brick’n’mortar nasties that the ‘60s and ‘70s could throw at it. But every shiny car tings sparkly twinkles in the sunshine, no weed is safe and everyone chirrups Good Morning when I crash past with the dog.

We have a good pub whose every landlord (9 in 14 years, I think) does their best to squander the opportunity afforded by an affluent North Cotswold village. The newest of these refers to the “local” locals as riff-raff. He has invested in barrels and chains and takes a keen interest in monitoring what he calls The Parking Situation.

There is a post office/café/shop presided over by another mad man, this one a glum Mancunian who eye rolls for England and traps you with tales of driving to Spain with 3 dogs, 2 parrots, and a duck. “The feathers!” he breathes, “You would NOT believe!”
The shop is cluttered with tartan shopping trolleys whose owners frown that tea is a penny more expensive here than at Tesco, or tut at children fisting flying saucers and white mice into the little counting trays; lying on the floor they hinder the elderly from roaming in free-fall disapproval. There are almost as many children in the village as oldsters so it’s a battle which can run and run. I got in frequently to make unnecessary purchases feeling it my duty to keep the place going. You have to factor in that buying a lemon can take 45 minutes.

And there is a most excellent primary school. A sad man tries to break in most weeks, and recently made a sorry, ham-fisted attempt to kidnap a child. The police were too busy handing out parking tickets to bother making it out here. The man waited politely for an hour or two to be arrested and then gave up and went home.

In the playing field, tucked behind the village hall, is a sub-standard play area for tinies, complete with plaque detailing the opening ceremony honours. I must have read it a thousand times and I still couldn’t tell you who cut the ribbon. Ditto the dedications on the benches.
There is a petanque square, and a cricket square and grimy nets, and a big field for footie and for general hanging around on. There are trees and a stream and other fields to run to. 2 tennis courts are in the far corner where I am often to be found playing a game of chat, while admirable elderlies on the other court huff and puff and sprint and dash and then say things like, “Fancy a cuppa, Jill?” at the end of it which always makes T11 guffaw if he’s lurking.

Our house is fairly horrid, and the first new house we have owned. It is, however, half hidden in a corner yet still in the middle of the village which suits my nosey needs perfectly, and ensures that I can keep up with what’s what.
We shifted the driveway around deciding that being able to park a dozen cars there was kind of irrelevant, but can do nothing about pulling the rug on the house’s spot in the plot. Maddeningly, we have a mere 20’ strip across the back but more out the front which is a waste. You wonder about the wisdom of builders sometimes, or we do, having had massive exposure to dubious decisions.
Built about 30 years ago, it was butchered by the ruination of lazy neglect when we bought it from a batty old trout who waved her broom at our removal men, wouldn’t get out and when she did, hours late, left behind a shedload of rubbish. This called for the first in a long line of skips.
Painfully, we have dragged the house into the twenty first century along with the usual uphill struggle that new ownership entails, replacing carpets and windows and doors and knocking down walls and building extensions and installing new bathrooms and kitchen and fireplace and flooring. Wires await a home cinema (we’re bad with cinema audiences: rustling, chatting, crunching, texting, slurping) but we ran out of money, as dangling cables in the ceiling attest, so it’s no films for us for a while.

Cash has haemorrhaged from our account. The numbers, in negative, are scary. I dare not tell the children that their inheritance has become walnut and granite.
But every day, when I walk into our gorgeous new kitchen and look out over the field at the back I could weep with gratitude. It’s not a proper, magaziney view, being a mere field, although knowledgeable people impress by being able to name the hills beyond, but I love it. And a big sky we get with such a view, domed as if to keep us in one of those snowstorm things, and Disney birds bouncing from feeder to feeder lark around outside. Plus, of course, it’s somewhere to sling the dog turds.


nuttycow said...

I can't decide whether your village sounds like living hell or an idllyic paradise.

Please clarify ;)

the mother of this lot said...

A glum Mancunian? What a cheek! We are NEVER glum.

softinthehead said...

From here in urban Canada I must say it does sound intriguing. Here they are spoiling a not very exciting landscape along the edge of Lake Ontario with the same formula of big box stores and strip malls. I have trouble knowing which city I am in, they are becoming identical.

Potty Mummy said...

I grew up in Winchcombe. Those hills you mentioned wouldn't be the Malverns, would they? (Though not sure you would qualify as North Cotswolds if they are...)

Expatmum said...

Funny, I too walk into my kitchen every morning and almost weep at the view. This would be because months of sub zero temperatures level Chicago gardens to brown, broken stumps. Although I've lived here for 17 years, it still beggars belief that anything could grow out of them, but there are some hardy perennials that have the will. At this rate, it won't be till about late may, but by late July it will be gorgeous! Ho hum.

Edward said...

Great blog as per, though I find it rather worrying that the first I find about our parlous cash situation is on a public blogsite. The hills are indeed the Malverns, as well as May Hill (which can probably be seen from the moon, since it can be seen from pretty much everywhere else, it seems)

Cee said...

Aah English village life! We lived 5 years opposite a guy whose garage was tidier than our house and he used to pressure wash his roof tiles. We too were a focus for our elderly neighbours' tut tutting - something to do with cricket balls, rugby balls, dog barking, children laughing ...

But now my view is across a shanty town and a motorway towards the distant Rio de la Plata ... and I kind of miss those tittle tattle neighbours!

Milla said...

comment from Blossom Cottage on p/c:
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 14:19

Thank you Milla that was brilliant, you should send it to one of the Sunday Mags, its better by miles than most of the articles they manage to print.

What is it with the "Wooly tops" of middle England that makes them want to hang everthing is rows on the garage ( pronounced Garidge!) wall and mow stripes into a 5inch by 5 inch lawn. Nothing wrong with a good skip, lots of goodies put in there over night by Mr Ivor Had a Tidy.

Keep looking at the view and all your hardwork, keep fliging dog turds and enjoy the fruits of your labour, and don't forget you could always make a man trap with scatter cushions.

Milla said...

comment from Miss Penelope, p/c:
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 14:44

Lovely honest piece of writing. Reminds me why I chose never to have neighbours.

Some Olds are amazing people and it is the habitat that is the problem

Milla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Milla said...

comment from elizabethm, p/c
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 16:28
Sounds very like where we used to live in Stockport, only without the Northern accents. I deeply envy you the walnut and granite though (and I remember that your kitchen is big enough for a sofa and bookshelves too). I agree - send it to the Observer or someone. What have you go to lose? It's just as good as anything they are printing already.

Milla said...

comment from InTheMud, p/c
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 17:28

That was great Milla!! Keep flinging them turds! So glad we don't have neighbours, even the neighbours we don't have complained about us, ( it's called a preservation society, and they don't want to preserve us I fear!) and they don't have to look into our garden and see Stan's cars unless they want to!! I know how you felt getting those letters about planning permission, been there too.
Agree with Blossom , you should be writing for Sunday paper!!

Milla said...

comment from Exmoorjane, p/c
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 19:19

Fab fab fab. But what is Lindab?
Your pub is also fabulous (at least certainly after a bottle and a half of wine) and the post office ditto......and your village absolutely NOT as horrible as you say (though I love the way you say it).
Quite agree with t'others, m'lady, you berludy well SHOULD be writing for the nationals....so (cough cough) get ON with it! Or I'll email Bill!!! (and yes, yes, yes, too many !!!!!s but have drank that bottle and a half so that's my excuse).

Milla said...

Me, clarifying:
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 19:32

Joined: 08 Jul 2007

Posts: 407
Lindab is groovy guttering. If you were fool enough to think that guttering just couldn't be groovy, well think again. It is also maintenance-free - see, am a pensioner in waiting. The village is Extremely Desirable as a place to live. Sought after is the glib phrase. But I like to deconstruct. And chocolate-box it aint since we can only rustle up maybe a dozen houses of architectural merit. What is great about it - and which possibly doesn't emerge in this, ahem, I got carried away on a tide of garage-tidy talk - is the fantastic community spirit and the way we all seem so happy and lucky and grateful to live here. Phew, quite overcome by unaccustomed Pollyanna speak.

Milla said...

comment from Mountainear, p/c
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 20:46

Well written Milla - an excellent picture of life outside the chocolate box. Incidently, I once worked with a man who described his suburb (proudly) as the sort of place where people walked by and noticed if you hadn't cut the grass properly. I imagine he was shelving out his garage even as a teenager. Made me a bit twitchy - but now as I age a little I do like to know where things are. Sigh.

Don't hear of Lindab often enough - certainly is groovy guttering. Our Lindab is the galvanised variety (that's galvanised as in old buckets). Our builder liked it so much that he's used it on all his subsequent builds. Good stuff.

Milla said...

comment from Withybrook
Posted: 01 Apr 2008 20:52

You really made me laugh, Milla - all that garage stuff - apart from 2 cars, the remaining space is so cluttered there isn't much chance of getting to our walls!

Milla said...

comment from Frances
Posted: 02 Apr 2008 01:19

Hello Milla,

Here I am late again, after the mystery of Lindab has been solved, and you have even arrived to deliver a sort of rebuttal to yourself.

I think you have a fine place, outside and quite inside, and think that you and all the rest of your family must have done some deep thinking before moving in.

But. But and but again, this piece of writing is grand, and I do agree that you should be sharing this way that you have with the words with more than the bunch of fans that you've gathered round about here.


Milla said...

comment from KittyB
Posted: 02 Apr 2008 07:09

Posts: 386
Just fabulous, dear girl, very funny, very illustrating text there. Glad you cleared up Lindab, was perplexed and feeling 'out of the loop' by not knowing. Phew. Home cinema - if you're as bad tempered as S is by wrigglers and rustlers then it will be a Good Thing once it comes, save all those furious glances from beneath deeply furrowed brows, muttering and seething. Can't be good for the digestion. Hope you manage to save up soon! If you get home cinema before I get the porch, greenhouse and skirting boards, however, I will weep copiously and noisily. Life is so unfair when you have negative funds.

Milla said...

comment from Pipany
Posted: 02 Apr 2008 09:35

Thought Lindab was someone's name - thought it was a bit odd! Great post as ever Milla xx

Milla said...

comment from Zoe
Posted: 02 Apr 2008 10:20

That made me laugh. I recognised the neighbours, do you suppose they are cloned?

I live in what is ostensibly a small hamlet a mile outside the nearest village. All my neighbours have scary garages, neat, orderly, everything in its place.

My garage which will be 19 next month has never had a car in it and resembles Bagdad after 'Shock and Awe', except I am still waiting for the looters to come and tidy it up!

Brilliant piece of writing Milla, think you should be thinking about using the pen as well as the trowel more?


Edward said...

Can only agree with the learned commenters here, and suggest in terms only marginally short of divorce proceedings that you lay down that trowel immediately and take up that pen. Oh alright, plant those laurels first. And that diarama (spelling?)

Sally's Chateau said...

It's the way you tell it, I've had a smile on my face from the first word ......

Maggie May said...

Well,We're getting on a bit but we don't sound a bit like your neighbours with tartan & masses of tea towels & sheets! Where ever do you live! Round here you have to keep up with students!

Cee said...

Thanks for stopping by Milla - nice to have some visitors!

KAREN said...

It sounds remarkably similar to where we live. Compared to everyone else round here, we're the family from hell. For a start we don't wash the car every Sunday morning. The lovely countryside makes up for a lot though :o)

LittleBrownDog said...

But, Milla - why have you not transferred my comment from p/c? Are we not friends any more? Sigh. S'pose I'll have to do it myself...

Excellent piece Milla - I'm on my way over (stopping off to pick up a shopping trolley at House of Tartan en route). Who are all these old people and did they buy everything in tartan when they were young, or did they just wake up one morning at the age of about 68 mysteriously clad in wall-to-wall Black Watch?

Our neighbours sound a bit similar (in the irritation stakes - although possibly not quite the extent of tartan), avidly attending planning meetings in the hope of being able to force someone to move their planned conservatory 4 milimetres to the right. I'm very tempted to rustle up a fake planning application notice for a helipad and small nuclear-waste storage unit to stick on our gate just to irritate them. Although I wouldn't want to be held responsible for the ensuing communal rise in blood pressure that would entail. We also have same pub situation - there was a baked potato lying sullenly in a corner for about three weeks under the previous landlord, and the new one has painted everything - yes, everything - you had to be careful if you weren't swift about finishing your pint quickly - in primrose yellow, and refused to serve my friend's 21-year-old son home from university on the grounds that he wasn't a local.

The Country Craft Angel said...

Wonderful piece of writing Milla!

And you know what I will say about sending it off to the papers, don't you...
(CCA raises eye brow, crosses arms and drums fingers...)

Her on the Hill said...

I have a dustbuster but it doesn't have it's own nail on the garage wall. Instead it hangs around untidily on one of the extraordinarily messy surfaces in the utility room. Bloody thing never works properly anyway - couldn't suck up dandelion clocks if it tried. Not that I have, of course. That would be an odd activity. However, could be rather well suited to your neighbours? I can just see them all out there on their lawns with their dustbusters trying to tidy the place up...

The most tragic thing about my dustbuster is the fact that my husband bought it for me as a Christmas present. Ah, yes, romance is truly dead.

Maggie May said...

There's an award waiting at my place, Milla!

Sara said...

Greetings, Milla....just want to send a big "thank you" for identifying that "heart" tree I found yesterday! I did not have any idea what it was until this morning when I say your comment, and also Vicki's, who called it a redbud tree.

I added an update to my post thanking both of you for the info.

I just read this post of yours....you paint vivid pictures with your words....I'll be back to read more later. It's a somewhat different view on village life than what I am used to reading (being a reader of Miss Read and others, I have of course glamorized and romanticized English village life, which seems idyllic from this side of the pond and this crowded, chaotic Los Angeles area!)


Sara said...

How interesting about your mom...well I do have a bit of English ancestry going back a ways (and German and French and Irish), perhaps there's a distant ancestor we both look like!

muddyboots said...

this is really brilliant, if I say so myself, next time l'm down there visiting friends and family l will see the area in a completely new light!

Milla said...

comment transferred from p/c:
Unpeuloufoque Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:49 am

Excellant writing as ever Milla and a stern reminder to me a, why I do not have neighbours, and b, why my house will never look like a room in an Ikea catalogue let alone something more up market. It is the stains from repetitive bank account heamoragging that leaves stains on the lino that no amount of liberal application of Euros will ever rinse clean I fear!!

Milla said...

Comment transferred from p/c:
Tattie Weasle Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:34 am

Quite Brilliant! The "run out of money and I've squandered your inheritance" problem...learning all about that one and have a few plots and plans in mind to alleviate teh problem. First I am now promoting The Boy and The Littlest as suitable charity projects towards their grandparents, who insist on SKIing in a variety of exotic and far flung places for months at a time. And second, I am also in the process of wooing my childless Uncle & Aunt with promises of a tartan like existence with me at their beck and call when they pass the age of retirement (actually that's not for the boys but so I can get the electrician in to tidy up all those dripping wires.....)

Milla said...

COmment transferred from p/c:
Withy Brook Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:44 pm

As Grandparents who don't ski but do travel in exotic places - you and the grandchildren will have to wait

Milla said...

Comment transferred from p/c:
Fennie Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 3:56 pm

Great piece of writing, Milla. Loved it and the - so well-observed - pictures of the oldies, of whom I am almost one myself, though I don't do tartan, nor hooks and in fact I think you would approve of my disorganisation, though I try to pretend otherwise. Part of my family decamped to Cirencester in the 1970s and I was exposed to Gloucestershire in its full fury. Ever since I have tried to avoid the place and wince slightly when I have to go back - the last time - I remember was for a wedding. Still, thanks for cheering me up and hope you will be a civilising influence on the natives or else move to a less respectable part of the world.

Milla said...

Comment transferred from p/c:

well written old fruit. always knew North Cotswold villages were not really as pretty as the magazines made out; think perhaps your specs should be handed out to all potential incomers with pots of money, shame when locals can't afford to buy, reading your posting could just put them off, did you hear about the man with the gun & dogs walking through the village a few years ago, that really did upset the mums at school!

Milla said...

comment transferred from p/c
Faith Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 5:37 pm

Brill Milla thanks and yes, the feathers, yes I would believe!!

Milla said...

comment transferred from p/c:
Snailbeachshepherdess Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 6:43 pm

Neighbours eh? Who'd have 'em? Can I trade you a really nasty piece of work for one of yours? S'pose I could start slinging dog turds...mmm have to think on that one....
Brilliant writing Milla hope CL pop in to read and see what they missed!

Milla said...

Comment transferred from p/c:
Bodran Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 8:05 pm

Great a turd slinging partner My dads lady friend as one of them garages with curtains and rolled up hoses , Very boring and bedding plants..Arghhhh.. oops but my best mate as to and shes only 44 as to wear blinkers when she comes here..xx

Milla said...

Comment transferred from p/c:
Westerwitch Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 8:09 pm

Oh Milla - lovely read and it does remind me again why I live so far out of our local village and as if the dog incidents hadn't already reinforced it for me why I don't want neighbours. Although Lixtrol and Humpty are a wonderful exception.

Admire your honesty, but also glad that you do like where you live. How do you survive such awful neighbours though. We went through the bit with locals when we lived down South trying to stop our planning permission . . .barstewards. They failed too . . . two fingers up. Smug.

Milla said...

Comment transferred from p/c:
Pondside Posted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 4:50 am

I want to walk along the streets in your village! This post is great, Milla! I think that Victoria is populated with people who came originally from your village - one of the reasons for our move to the woods. I find those neat garages very depressing- the only time I ever had one was when we were selling a house - as soon as the 'sold' sign went up the junk exploded all over the garage!

CAMILLA said...

Milla darling girl, loved it loved it, brilliant piece of writing.

Have a neighbour who soon as a single blade of grass sprouts up from the ground, there he is in full regalia complete with mower and industrial power clippers ready to get one out of their cosy bed at the crack of dawn.

Think you should combine your possible new career of Garden Designs with writing for The Times Milla, another amazing blog.


The Lehners in France said...

Your neighbours sound just like ours. Everytime we visit we feel like Tom and Barbara off "The Good Life. I also had a neighbour in the UK who asked my builder to move his van as it was in the way. When he said it couldn't be his, as his was in the field behind the house, she replied "yes I know it's spoiling my view." She also accused my plumber of blocking her toilet! How I ask? Dish Served Cold springs to mind. I@m glad I found your blog it's fun. I read this post coz coo (spelt cul in French) is arse. If you visit my blog and go to the label "bum" You'll see I too had a Purple Cul. Debs

The Lehners in France said...

Ok I'm removing the marbles from my gob as I speak, if Mancunians are glum, does that make me a gobby scouser? Ok back to purplecoo. If you say coo (spelt cul,but pronounced coo)to a French person you are saying arse. Example Cul de sac = arse of the bag. Tell that to anyone posh who lives in a cul de sac. So when I saw your heading purplecoo, I thought "purple arse, I must read this." Now do you get it. If you go to my blog and hit the lable "BUM" you will see why it caught my attention. Wow, this must be one of the longest comments I've posted. Debs

The Lehners in France said...

Definitely not me is P/C a real place name?

DevonLife said...

made me laugh out loud Milla, ha ha there i go again frightening the chldren

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