Saturday, February 28, 2009

My last blog gave you one side of du bon voisinage (good neighbourliness) but living with people is not always so easy and pleasant. Our largest field is bordered by a hedge, which belongs to the neighbours. It’s a good, honest country hedge, full of blackthorn, hawthorn, dog rose, elder and plenty of brambles. Our side hasn’t been trimmed since we moved here over three years ago, apart from the top section which I cut back last year to install new stock fencing for our pig paddock. Riding round on the lawnmower, the sneakily advancing thorns and spikes pushed me ever wider and when we finally hacked back this tangle to the original fence line, we’d gained up to 3 metres (yards, plus a bit) of extra field. (The photo shows the "after", I'm sorry I didn't take a before pic to compare.)

In comparison to the jungle, what was left was shockingly nude and when the son of the neighbour (who owns that bit of land) came by the following weekend, there was plenty of walking up and down with his sister and mother, looking and muttering. Eventually the moment arrived when he felt obliged to get it off his chest and he came round for a “chat”. I was knocking chestnut fence posts in with a Drivall—a noisy activity, which requires a pair of ear-defenders—so it was a surprise, to say the least when I stopped thumping and turned around to find him on my shoulder. The bonjours were exchanged in unusually perfunctory manner before he launched himself into his tirade.

Apparently, what I had done was a catastrophe. I’m supposedly “ecological”, what did I think I was doing? The hedge works as a barrier to the wind, now his buildings were at risk. When I gently suggested that I had only cut back to the fence line and that, if he wanted a windbreak, he could let it grow thick on his own side of the fence (which was trimmed neatly to the line of the trunks) he brushed aside this persuasive logic and started ranting about surrounding farmers who cut down hedges. Now I could sympathise with that point of view but it’s not my fault. And then he had a go at me about cutting some large pine trees down on our land: these are the other side of our property from his hedge line and, frankly, non of his business. When he started on about the fact that the “wood” I’d cut down belonged to him, I started to fray at the edges and, in impressively calm manner, if a touch sarcastic, I gathered up some blackthorn and bramble offcuts and offered them to him. Another couple of laps around this pointless circular argument, and he left. There was no point in me getting too annoyed, as it was, as both the English and French say, a “fait accompli”. Which is to say, the hedge had already been trimmed back and the brash burnt, i.e., past arguing about or changing.

I continued about my fence post business and he continued simmering. His sister, who actually lives there along with her mother, began noisily planting as if to prove a point and a laurel appeared in one of the gaps. Its leaves, when it bushes out and penetrates the stock fencing, would be poisonous to our livestock. Was this nasty bloody-mindedness or an unknowing mistake? I told her the problem and was referred again to her brother, as it was his land and his hedge. Now the roles were reversed in that I was the aggrieved but as I went to go to speak to him, I walked past our willow plantation: Ding, Ding, An Idea Arrives! Does he realise that the laurel will upset our sheep? No! Will he ask his sister to remove it please? Yes! Would he like a load of willow cuttings, of several varieties to plant in the gaps? Yes. An accord. A handshake. Steps back, rueful smiles and the business is complete.

So, peace is once more restored to our happy hamlet. When the willow grows through the fence, our sheep will happily graze it. In fact, I will never have to concern myself again with this hedge, as the sheep will keep it trimmed. When I finally let our ewes into this new paddock yesterday, it was only five minutes before a heavily pregnant ewe was ignoring the luxuriant grass and balancing on her hind legs to nibbly-nibble at an overhanging morsel of hedge.