If everybody needs good neighbours, why can’t I live on Ramsey Street??
It’s been an interesting few weeks; my fiancé and I spent a few days south of the border visiting some family and soaking the sun but before we went I had the dubious honour of meeting 2 of my neighbours who, despite having lived in close proximity for over over 20 years, I had never spoken to, and it was quite an experience, it began with a knock at the door…
Now when I knock the door (I hope) it gets the attention of the people on the other side of the door with minimal intrusion, and I think this is how most of us announce ourselves, and there is the way a policeman would knock your door if they wanted your attention NOW!!! I was greeted with the second type of knock, now to put you in the picture I was home alone contemplating which room of the house should be decorated next. With the urgency of the knock I decided whoever was at the door needed my attention pretty urgently so I answered expecting a policeman or perhaps a delivery guy in a hurry, and was greeted with… an old lady.
Not knowing what to expect now I waited for the person on my doorstep to tell me why she was calling, and her opening line caught me a little off guard:
Right then… who owns this fucking house anyway, you or your father?!?
To which I replied
That’ll be me.
As the lady drew a deep breath so she could continue her…tirade(?) I felt the need to ask a question of my own, now I should explain that as she had opened our first conversation with foul language it seemed obvious to me that schoolyard rules applied and I could respond in kind:
So… Who the fuck are you?
Having lost none of her stride despite my interruption she ‘explained’ in very strong terms that she lived in the first house in the row behind mine and that she and her friend (who happens to live next door to her) had some serious issues with a tree in my back garden: a large Scott’s Pine that was apparently shedding pine needles and pine-cones all over the path, and that if it wasn’t dealt with…
There will be consequences!!!
Now the above statement on it’s own, or the diminishing stature (she was about my height but standing on the pavement below my doorstep giving me a good 5 inches on her) of the person making it that bothered me, I should probably explain that while I did not feel threatened by her behaviour, the fact the conversation took place with her pointing her right index finger at my face, very rude on it’s own, but that she did so with a bunch of keys in the same hand and what I assume to be her front door key running the length of her extended finger.
Taking everything I’d experienced in that period of 90 seconds into account I abandoned the veneer of civility I’d been trying and failing to maintain I asked if she was threatening me, she confirmed she was, so I did the only thing I could: I slammed the door in her face but not before uttering the two most satisfying words in the English language-
I allowed myself a few minutes to cool off, I Never walk on the path between our houses so wanted to know how bad the problem was so decided to cool off for a minute then walk round and check it out. I got about four steps from my front door before I realised the old dear was a little slower on her feet than me and hadn’t gotten too far, while I don’t remember exactly what was said the conversation became a little heated, voices were raised and I’m pretty sure I told her to go and fornicate with herself. In the midst of all this my next-door neighbour came out to run some errands and heard some of the argument, and I can only imagine how bad the whole situation looked.
The second part of the delightful conversation over I made it to the lane between the houses and she was right, there were indeed a number of pine-cones on the ground, lots of needles and standing amongst the mess was another lady in the winter years of her existence, she was promptly addressed by her loud friend
Here he is, Madge, he’s worse than his father!
While I can’t really quote the rest of the conversation ver batum, I’ll try paraphrase what was said quoting pertinent points as they arise. In a nutshell it was Madge who was concerned about the tree, she didn’t like the pine needles falling into her porch area (understandable) and was concerned that in winter she might stand on a pine-cone, slip and be injured (also understandable). She also explained that the consequences alluded to above by her loudmouthed friend meant complaining to the council, and not much else.
I explained to Madge that I understood what her concerns were, and admitted that as a hay fever sufferer I was rarely in the garden, I had no feeling either way about the tree and that I genuinely couldn’t remember the last time I’d walked the path between our houses, so hadn’t seen the mess in the street. As my conversation with Madge was staying in the realm of civility her as yet unnamed friend decided to bring that to an end by constantly interrupting and even standing between myself and Madge making it impossible for us to speak, and I ended up asking her to be quiet several times, not knowing her name I had little choice but to address her as ‘madam’ which she didn’t like,
I’m not a ‘madam’!
I wanted to say “then stop acting like one” but I resisted that particular urge and replied
So tell me your name and I’ll address you by it.
she responded with
This exchange was repeated couple of times, more or less ver batum, then she saw the light and identified herself as Mrs Mangle. Since we were keeping it formal I informed her she could address me as Mr Gallacher, she was not impressed. The conversation continued pretty much as it had before leading to me using the phrase
Jesus Christ on a bike, woman, will you shut the fuck up?!?!
I asked Madge what she wanted me to do, and she politely told me she would only be happy if the tree was removed from my garden. I pointed out with a mix of seriousness and levity that I had neither the tools or skills to remove the tree, and that I hadn’t attended Hogwarts so coudn’t make the thing disappear. As a compromise I offered to check the pavement every other day with her checking on the days I wasn’t and, if it needed swept, whichever one of us was checking it that day could sweep it up. Not good enough, she said
I’m 70 years old, I don’t see why I should have to sweep a council path
I pointed out that we lived very close to a wooded area and I also had leaves and other detritous blowing ito my doorway and the solution was to grab a brush and give it a sweep. When i made this suggestion it was revealed that Madge had spoken to my father and had been told pretty much the same thing and had been no help. I later checked this with my father who says Madge did indeed speak to him, but instead of the polite exchange she implied she’d had, it seems she hit him with a torrent of abuse, leaving me with the thought she should have told Mrs Mangle that such an approach wouldn’t work.
Back to the conversation at hand, despite my offer to help keep the path clear being refused I offered to grab a brush right there and then and sweep up, but was told not to because
we have a man from the council coming to see it this afternoon.
About now my exasperation became a bit more obvious, I pointed out that I had bigger worries than a tree that had been planted years before my family moved to the area (Mrs Mangle disagreed stating the tree was planted after we moved in… ‘cos she’d know), and that I was a neurology patient in constant pain, this was a mistake cos the gobby cow jumped on this admission of weakness and declared that I was “mad”.
It was about now that I chose to end the conversation telling Mrs Mangle that I did not want her on or near my property again, and if she approached my home the police would be called, she then stated that she felt I had been threatening and she wanted to call the police now, so I offered her my mobile phone with permission to use it… she declined. I told Madge that when the “man from the council” appeared to send him round to talk to me. No man from the council turned up that day.
The conversation ended with Mrs Mangle taking Madge into her house to “talk”. As you can imagine I was pretty wound up so decided that I should investigate the legal situation, so the following day I visited or spoke to the following places:
- Cumbernauld’s ‘One Stop Shop’
- Strathclyde Police
- Environmental Health (by telephone)
The housing officer at the one stop shop told me that since both houses were private they would not become involved in the dispute, and their records did not show any complaint having been made.
CAB advised that the council may become involved if the tree or any detritus from it became any kind of environmental hazard, but I shouldn’t take any action until either I was approached by the council, or unless I wanted to.
As for Mrs Magle’s aggressive behaviour, I should report it to the police, even though I wasn’t particularly concerned for my safety, in any argument involving a 30 something male and a 60 something female, any witness would probably view me as the aggressor, so having some sort of official record of the incident from my perspective was sensible.
I called in to the police station as suggested but was told the community officer was engaged with other duties and would call me.
When I got home I called Environmental Health who also had no record of any complaint and said all the action the ladies could take would be to cut the tree back to the edge of their property if it was overhanging, but nothing more.
So lots of raised tempers and voices, some apparently empty threats, and not a lot else… for around 10 days. On a particularly hot day my fiance an I were in our spare room, it’s the coolest room in the house on a warm day, and there was a knock at the door, a polite one. The chap at the door claimed he was from North Lanarkshire council, and was wearing the appropriate hi-viz vest, but didn’t identify himself or show me any ID. He spoke with a Falkirk accent, not exactly local, and went on to tell me there had been a number of complaints about my tree, and that I was obligated under some legislation passed in 1982 to keep the adjacent pavement clear. I asked him to define the number of complaints they’d received, but the answer wasn’t particularly enlightening
eh… we don’t get told… eh.. it just comes aff the computer like..eh
I decided to probe a little further and ask what help and advice the council could offer as I lacked the appropriate skills to deal with the tree, and was also not working due to poor health so couldn’t afford to pay any specialist to deal with it for me. The answer was uninspiring; despite being responsible for all the wooded areas in the local area, as the tree was on private property he wasn’t able arrange it’s removal, so I should use the local phone directory and get quotes from companies who specialised in these things. When I pressed the point about paying for it he shrugged and stated that he was just telling me what my responsibilities were.
He also commented that the tree’s overhang caused problems when driving street cleaning vehicles up and down, but didn’t mention whether or not he’d be having similar conversations with other home owners in the area who have trees and plants in their gardens that protrude over the property line and onto the public path.
While I wasn’t happy about the lack of any practical advice offered by a representative of my local authority, I decided not to sit on my hands and try and get an idea of what this might cost. Ms Smith, my long suffering other half, had retrieved the Thomson Local Directory and had it opened at the correct page, so I started making phone calls.
The first was answered by a male who didn’t seem to know the name of his company or what service they offered
The second would call me back ‘cos she was at the bank
The third, Lorimer Tree Surgeons, was a very helpful, and the owner actually drove out (no obligation) to look at the tree and give me a verbal quote within a couple of hours. I will point out that Mr Lorimer is an awfully nice chap and had the quote been more affordable I’d have happily given him the job because I have no doubt he’d have done it very well, sadly £350 + VAT was little rich for my blood.
So on the following Monday my future father-in-law and I set about the tree having borrowed some of the appropriate tools and got the bugger down! during the process Mrs Mangle made an appearance but was was oddly quiet… Madge also appeared on her way out somewhere, but only graced me with a polite “…morning” before disappearing.
To end this boring tale, the tree has been down a week, today it was chopped in to logs to be taken away. The garden actually looks a lot more roomy now and we’ve taken the opportunity to get rid of some other plants we don’t want and generally tidy it up a bit, but I suppose my main gripe is that a vicious, unpleasant person came to my door, was rude and threatening, and despite manners, decency, morality and in the case of the threats, laws that oppose such behaviour, she still managed to get what she wanted. Some times being a nice guy kinda sucks.