Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Blackberries and neighbours

When people ask me where we live I usually tell them "in the middle of a field". Of course it's not true but we are completely surrounded by agricultural fields and as a result we refer to anyone within three kilometres as a neighbour.

All our neighbours are extremely one. A widow of non-descript age - perhaps in her 70's - and her son live rather too close for comfort; perhaps 700 metres away. They are known by all around us as "trouble" and indeed, by the local gendarmes. They are both, in my opinion, unhinged and spend their time causing trouble for other people.

An example - our immediate neighbour, a farmer, was clearing his ditches last spring and as he had all the machinery out, cleared a ditch that was blocked but is technically the responsibility of the commune. This is a ditch that flows downhill towards the road and it was overflowing at the bottom, putting water over the road. Our neighbour did a good job and was extremely careful not to damage the sides of the ditch. Not good enough for Difficult Neighbour. Quick as a flash the son was outside and complaining that our neighbour had done it at all. He called a Huissier - a type of lawyer - who turned up and in turn called the Maire. The Maire thanked our neighbour very much for taking the trouble to sort out the ditch and that was pretty much the end of it. But it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Yesterday I went out to pick blackberries. Half way down our drive there is a turning to the left which runs down to the road. Although our drive is private (we share it with the farmer), the 200 metre stretch of linking track is public; and of course it has the best blackberries. I've been picking these blackberries for ten years and never has anyone suggested that I am doing anything wrong. And never in ten years have I seen anyone else blackberrying. In other words if I don't pick them the birds take them or they rot.

One of my favourite puddings is apple and blackberry crumble using apples from our tree and wild blackberries. Every year I collect as many as possible and freeze them in small quantities - there's usually only a small quantity left by the time I've finished picking/eating!

So there I was picking happily in the sunshine when Mrs Difficult Neighbour arrived on foot. How sad. She had walked 500 metres especially to tell me that I had no right to pick blackberries that were not on my own land. She insisted I had to ask permission but when I asked from whom she couldn't say. After five minutes of listening to her I'd had enough. I told her that I was going to carry on picking blackberries; that I would happily give her some if she wanted them (she didn't); and that if she wanted to she could lodge a formal complaint with the Mairie but as I wasn't trespassing or stealing I suggested she wouldn't get very far. That was the end of it but only because I walked away and carried on picking.

I was in the village this morning and decided that I might just as well relate the rather dull story to the Mairie secretary (who confirmed that I'd done nothing wrong). I know it's silly but the fact is Son of Difficult Neighbour is trouble in a big way and not someone I enjoy meeting at any time. He's not adverse to driving cyclists off the road if they don't move over far enough and unfortunately, he's not adverse to driving up to our house to complain about whatever injustice he thinks we are responsible for. So I thought it would do no harm to let the village authority know what had happened.

The good news: I have 500 grams of blackberries in the freezer and will be out later today to pick more - from a different area perhaps!