Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

chickensWednesday 27th June

I’m a city girl, I am, a life-long Brummie, but when I took early retirement from teaching, we decided to have a complete change and move to Devon (lots of Brummies do; it’s a strange phenomenon).   Ray works from home, so neither of us had a problem with leaving jobs.  We came down to Exeter for a few days to see what was what and thought that Topsham looked ideal.  By the sea, beautiful countryside, pretty town, no hills, excellent transport, friendly people, and handy for getting to anywhere else.

We found a nice old town cottage, got a really hefty surveyor’s report and moved in.  Topsham has indeed proved ideal – plenty going on and you really get to know everyone.  As long as you’re respectable, that’s fine, and we don’t do anything dodgy these days.

We were warned by our insurance man and our estate agent that the house was likely to be trouble.  Some of Topsham’s arrangements are weird.  We have a flying freehold, thin walls and are surrounded by two gardens that don’t belong to us, but through which we have access to our shed round the back.  If ever you fall out, yes there could be problems.

And fall out we did, immediately.  We didn’t mean to, but the Post Office, who own the garden with our shed in it, took exception to our cats and complained that they were ‘going’ in their garden.  They probably were, so I offered to go round with the scoop whenever it happened.  I suspect that a previous neighbour’s cats had also been a nuisance and when they saw that we’d brought some more …  Mr Post Office also objected to us leaving a bookcase outside on the first day we moved in which was blocking the entry (not very much, but I think he wanted us to know who was there first).  I apologised and said it was only there while we tried to rearrange Tutankhamun’s tomb indoors, but he wasn’t having any.

We provided litter trays, which the cats mostly use, and they put up a fence which keeps them out to some degree, and the trouble died down, but Mr Post Office was very shirty with us thereafter and it’s taken many years to get back on the right foot.  He’s retired now, his more liberal son has taken over and we are on better terms.

When the son and his family moved into the post office flat and brought their chickens with them, we wondered how noisy it would be and how the cats would take to them.  We needn’t have worried.  The chooks are under my office window with a soothing ‘chark, chark’, and the cats couldn’t care less.  They also have a couple of guinea pigs, which are a great recycling unit for broccoli and cabbage stalks.  (If I may name-drop, we were on very good terms with Dave Davies, of the Kinks, when he lived in Topsham and kept rabbits, which we used to save greens for.  Not many people can say that.)

I went round with some stalks this afternoon while they were cleaning the hens out, and they (hens, obviously … ) were loose in the garden, scratching about happily and carrying out some very comprehensive ground clearance.  It was good to see, I stayed for a chat and was given half a dozen eggs.  Neighbourly relations are finally established.

One of the many things I like about living in Topsham is this neighbourliness.  In suburbia, we hardly saw people in the same road, let alone neighbours.  You’d get home and go in behind your hedges and fences and never meet.  You might occasionally have a chat while gardening, but it was rare, and you never saw them at the shops or along the street because they went everywhere in cars.  Here I can do my little front garden while talking to my friend next door and people are constantly coming by and stopping.  Everyone knows who you are and most of what you’re up to.  You can make or break your reputation here, but so far I think we’re on the right side.

In suburbia, you didn’t get given things as you are here.  Someone has a surplus at the allotment and gives you some.  A friend lets us take our kitchen waste up to her compost heap, and lets us have fresh compost and as much chard as we want in return.  My neighbour does a lot of church do’s and often brings us croissants and cakes.  When we go away, there’s always someone willing to look after the cats.  It’s not all one-sided.  We do whatever we can in return, doing our bit for the ethos.  Topsham is officially a town, but really, it’s a village in disguise.

The house has certainly been trouble.  We got the worst of the problems – woodworm, death watch beetle, dry rot – fixed when we first moved in, but felt we could live with the rest.  Ten years later, we had to get the builders in big time, scaffolding and everything, to put right what we should have done then, before the place fell down.  This is par for the course here.  There is never a time when some building or other hasn’t got scaffolding and major repairs going on.

As for the flying freehold, we check with next door that she isn’t hearing us, and she does likewise, and we give due warning if there’s going to be any noise.  She and I share the front garden and it’s worked well.  We’ve had noisy neighbours before and don’t want to go through that again.