How would you feel if you bought a house in a quiet, rural location and on moving in a year later found another house ‘under construction’ in the field next-door? What if you had bought the property for its ‘privacy’ and had been assured by the previous owners that the surrounding land, which they owned, would remain as farming land. Now imagine if that house had been built by the previous owners, who in the process had dug trench (large enough for a small army) in your back lawn, taking out a large portion of your mature boundary hedge, to tap into your water and your electricity supply! Better still, what if on moving in you found that they were still living in your house, as theirs -a shimmering, aluminium eyesore– wasn’t quite ready. Naturally, you would take pity on them and let them stay in your house indefinitely until they could make other arrangements? Probably not, but we did! Perhaps it was their kind offer of, ‘You can sleep upstairs in our bed (they forgot to mention the fleas), we’ll sleep downstairs on the fold-out sofa’ that did it. Then again, it might have been the farmer proposing that his wife cook for us, ‘it will be like a holiday for you!” that swung it. No. In reality, we were just exhausted from the journey, utterly relieved that we had arrived (we had broken down on the way and had to spend 2 days in a Tours waiting for a part for the van) and quite frankly, gobsmacked at what we had arrived to. Not wanting to ‘start off on the wrong foot’ with our new ‘surprise’ neighbours also had a part to play. If only they had thought the same!
So how had they been allowed to get away with this? When we bought our farm in 2001, part of the deal was that the previous owners could carry on living there until we moved in a year later. This seemed like a good idea at the time as we didn’t like the idea of the place being empty for such a long period and they weren’t quite ready to move out: their ‘barn conversion,’ which was supposedly 15km away, being ‘a long way off completion.’ As they had a 3-year-old son (Damien, as he later became known) and nowhere to go, it seemed like the right thing to do. Looking back, the funny thing is, we had been in contact with them on a regular basis prior to moving and had often enquired as to how their new house was coming along. They never once told us it was in the next field. Their response was always the same, a very jovial, ‘you will see’ – and didn’t we just!
When we arrived they were not in the least bit bothered that they were still there. It was as if we were just ‘coming to stay’ for a while. All our furniture, which had been out there for months, was still in the barns (some of it mouldy) and the house was very much theirs. I had a 5-month-old baby and not being able find an empty cupboard, remember setting up a temporary trestle table in the kitchen to put all the bottles and other baby paraphernalia on. After several days I managed to pluck-up the courage to ask the ‘lady of the house’ (for it was most definitely not me) for some storage space. She was not happy, but finally agreed to concede a cupboard – one down, six to go! Several hours later, after much huffing and puffing, the task was complete and I was the proud owner of two shelves and a door. I had finally managed to claim some territory and went to bed that night victorious – today a cupboard, tomorrow…the fridge?
By the third week, enough was enough. I had learnt a few words in French and was prepared to use them – primarily non, non et NON. The last one came in particularly handy when I caught little Damien thrusting a 7cm plastic tube down my little one’s throat. This was the turning point for me. I could just about put up with the fleas and the bad cooking but trying to kill my baby was not acceptable. I couldn’t turn my back for a second. Damien was driving us insane. He spent every waking minute running round the house like a wild animal, destroying everything in his wake. He spat and screamed and rarely slept through the night. He was very much a ‘disturbed’ child. To be honest, we did feel a bit sorry for the little lad. It was clear his parents loved him (there were lots of tender moments with hugs and kisses), but they had no idea how to discipline him: always pulling him around by the ear for not listening, or slapping him if he misbehaved or soiled himself. Once, when he was playing-up at the dinner table, they threw a glass of water in his face then laughed. It was a truly awful moment.
Unable to tolerate either party’s behaviour we had words – well, my ex did, as more than a firm ‘non’ was required on this occasion. He thanked them for their hospitality (we didn’t want to be too rude, as we were going to be neighbours after all) and told them in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t working and they would have to go. Remaining silent, I put on my best sympathy face and shrugged my shoulders a few times – i was livid, but it seemed the right thing to do under the circumstances. They put on their best hard-done-by faces, shrugged their shoulders a few times, had a little grumble, then did the right thing and left. Finally, the house was ours!
Even though we had forced them to move into an unfinished house, it was difficult to have any sympathy for them. They may not have had a finished bathroom but they did have plenty of water and electricity – ours! It was also very interesting to see how quickly their house progressed when they were no longer ‘tres comfortable, chez nous.’
*I later found out why she gave me this cupboard in particular, it was haunted. But that’s a another story for another day.