Damned Designs

The husband and I have bought a house. It’s very pretty. I wish I could get a bit more excited about this new step towards Becoming A Proper Adult but there’s one big sticking point to it all.

When we bought the house, we rather rashly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem to renovate and extend it quite a bit.

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Our new domicile had already been extended by the previous owners without any problems; there was no neighbours to speak off, except a few octogenarian bowlers; it wasn’t overlooked at all. We were planning on replacing the strange blue conservatory. Basically, our Kevin McCloud extension wouldn’t hurt anyone.

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Unfortunately the council don’t share this view.

It all boils down to an over-zealous planning officer called Laura Hogg who has left no stone unturned in her quest to quash our plans and basically ruin our lives.

After rummaging through the planning archives in a dark council basement somewhere, she triumphantly claimed that our house is in a previously undistinguishable ‘green belt’ area of suburbia, and, as it has already been extended by the national law of 30 per cent volume since 1948, we are not to extend it by a single brick more.

This means: no two-storey side extension, no double garage, no all-glass kitchen diner at the back, no master bedroom overlooking the garden, and certainly no indulgent (but entirely necessary in the husband’s eyes) basement ‘media room’.

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This news came as a very heavy hit.

Our future abode currently stands empty and dejected, a bit like its owners. Once a fortnight, I drive past it – simply to check it’s still there.

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Occasionally, we wander wistfully around the garden and sometimes have a picnic. We have a new hedgehog friend too. He only has three legs.

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Sometimes, I wonder if the husband and I will end up like my parents’ friends Pete and Enid, who bought a new house up the road from them and despite happily decorating it and pottering in the garden every weekend, have NEVER MOVED IN. This might not be quite so alarming, if they hadn’t bought the house 25 years ago.

My mother cycled past and spotted Enid in the garden the other week. ‘Will you be moving in soon?’ she cautiously enquired.

‘Moving in?!’ shrieked Enid, wild-eyed and terrified. ‘It’s nowhere near ready!’

The news from the council has left us with three options:

1. Find out where our nemesis Laura Hogg lives and knock on the door with a brown envelope stuffed full of grubby bank notes. If she refuses to accept this bribe, let down her car tyres in the dead of night.

2. Carry on living happily in our apartment, aka The Holiday Home, and do a ‘Pete and Enid’.

3. As Laura Hogg has now moved department, pretend the whole saga never happened and resubmit a scaled down version of the plans – with the insane notion that a different sympathetic councillor may give them the rubber stamp.

We decided to go for the resubmit plans/ bury-head-in-sand approach. According to our architect, crazier things have happened.

Last week, were given a new case officer: Peter Grant. I spoke to him on the phone. He has a very dry sense of humour and seemed quite positive.

‘Peter Grant has a humorous, ‘can-do’ attitude,’ I thought. ‘I’m all about ‘can-do’ attitudes. Maybe Peter Grant will be our saviour?’

I arranged to meet him at his office. I woke early that morning with all the anticipation of a first date. I needed to woo Peter Grant.

‘Whatever you do, don’t go for the brassy barmaid look,’ said the husband.

‘Have you ever know me dress like a brassy barmaid?’ I said.

‘Good point,’ said the husband.

Still, I couldn’t decide what to wear. I wanted to channel a mixture of innocent school teacher/ naive housewife/ simpering girl-next-door. It wasn’t an easy look to pull off.

In the end, I plumped for black leggings and a bright orange jacket, (avoiding the colour green at all costs).

Peter Grant finally appeared in the lobby.

He was younger than I’d imagined, casually dressed, with intense dark eyes and a brisk manner.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said, gesturing to the seat opposite him. ‘I’ve been embroiled in a series of office-based escapades.

Embroiled? Escapades?! I loved this man.

I wanted to yell, ‘I’m a WORDSMITH too!’

But instead I concentrated on the task in hand: hypnotising Peter into granting us full planning permission.

‘So what was the problem with the original plans?’ asked Peter, spreading the drawings on the table in front of him.

‘I think it was just the sheer size of it,’ I said, adopting an innocent tone and taking care not to mention the words ‘green belt’, ’30 per cent’, or ‘Laura-bloody-Hogg’.

‘Well, I can’t see any problem with this rear extension,’ said Peter.

‘We’re all about enhancement here and l like to impart good news on a sunny Friday morning,’ he added.

I did an inward whoop.

‘Great,’ I squeaked, thinking, ‘just kept smiling, maintain eye contact, and whatever you do SAY NO MORE’.

‘I’ll get the architect to re-submit the revised plans next week.’ I added.

One of two things is now going to happen: Peter Grant grants us full planning permission and gives our case no further thought. Peter Grant bumps into Laura Hogg at the water cooler, happens to mention the name of our house, and gets the full lowdown from Miss Planning Enforcer herself.

In which case, my only option would then be to start an affair with Peter Grant.

I updated the husband over dinner that evening.

‘It’s gone well up to now but just how far do you want me to take this? I said.

‘I might even have to SLEEP WITH PETER GRANT!’

‘You will have to do what’s necessary,’ said the husband.

‘But let’s face it, you’re no Demi Moore.’

Dick Gets Nicked

Two blogs about our nutty neighbours in a month? It seems a little excessive. But when the story’s this good, I just have to share.

For those of you not in the loop, Susan and Dick, aka SuDick, are a pair of curtain-twitching, moaning retirees, who keep tabs on the movements of all other residents in our apartment block in the most busybody way imaginable.

Last month, a pair of new residents moved in and had a rather raucous party, which disturbed many other neighbours into the early hours. Inevitably, SuDick sprung into action the following morning; emails were flying around from as early as 8am to gather support for their nuisance tenants campaign.

Belligerent Bill (another curmudgeonly retiree of Post-It Note Parking fame) also waded in on the action – complaining direct to the council’s noise nuisance squad.

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Dick followed up the complaints with a strongly-worded letter, which he half-slipped under their door the following evening. Before the party-loving tenants arrived home, I managed to sneak a peak at the note itself (who’s the nosy neighbour now? I hear you cry).

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Here’s a snippet:

‘I think you’d do well to start apologising to your neighbours and show more consideration in the future…’

‘I’m telling you this in your own interests… Don’t get off on the wrong foot.’

It was a little heavy-handed perhaps but nothing too serious.

That’s not what the new neighbours thought.

At approximately 4pm on Monday, a police car pulled up outside the apartment block and two police officers got out, handcuffs jangling at their hips. Entering the premises, they headed straight for SuDick’s apartment, where they invited themselves in ‘for a chat’.

A complaint of harassment had been filed against poor Dick. The new tenants, it seemed, had decided to go nuclear on him, complaining that he was intimidating them.

Sparrow-hawk Susan sent out an email to us all, recounting Dick’s police encounter. ‘Dick wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ she cried.

She added: ‘Dick’s note was not threatening; it was just convenient to construe it in that way. He simply pointed out that such behaviour had not set them off on the right foot here and suggested an apology to those kept awake might be appreciated. None has come, of course.’

Under no circumstances are we to contact the new tenants directly about noise again. I’ve got to hand it to them.

But I do feel a bit sorry for deflated Dick, now the long arm of the law has put a stop to his over-zealous neighbourhood watch.

Susan ended her email saying that the police seemed to know a lot of information about them.

‘Are our emails being hacked?’ she pondered.

Complaints, conspiracy theories and late-night confrontations… I fear it’s only a matter of time before Dick gets an ASBO – and Susan ends up in the slammer.