APRIL FOOL 1996
The Esther Show broadcast was scheduled for 5.30pm. Friday March 29th: as good a time as any, to prepare the nation for what was to come; or perhaps six million of it. As I went out of the door of the mediation room the frustrated words of the gentleman who had done his utmost were,
You might have come up with that upfront; (that is the price of a Stanton agreement was £46,000). I smiled at some employees with quizzical looks; it was obvious they were aware of the drama. The Bournville Garden Centre was but a couple of minutes away from the Village Trust Offices and the genial proprietor was at his welcoming best and was thrilled at me taking up his offer to cut the hedge for free.
You are welcome to put your board up outside for the worlds media but dont expect to display outside the Stantons. He looked a little oddly at me; I explained all my efforts, told him about the Esther show and that my press release and invitations to scores of VIPs; the name Bournville would have a special resonance. I left his garden centre with,
See you at 11 am 1st April for the grand cut better come early we start smack on time.
I wrote to PTS to tell him the time, contractors and a height of twelve feet.
A couple of days later a letter from his solicitor, Abe Lincoln dropped through the letter box. I hadnt had one of those for years as he had been corresponding and chatting with Ray, my solicitor. His wrote that his client was very upset at my refusal to have any further discussions with him; but here was his bully boy tactic; he was very concerned that I had accused him (Abe) of paying a witness to lie for him in court; unless I responded by close of business etc. etc. he would proceed with the appropriate legal proceedings. I immediately made a copy and with a covering letter to the Trust I pointed out that the rules of the mediation procedure were absolute confidentiality; I asked if by any chance my mediator recalled me saying those defamatory words; his response was by return post and enabled me to reply to Abe by his given deadline; he had no recollection of me saying those words. Of course I had no intention of telling Abe that; it re-assured me because I have always thought the thoughts. Obviously contemplation of defending myself in court for the next two or three years was terrifying. However, the only witness was on my side. Nevertheless, I replied in my own hand; my printer was nlq (near letter quality) and produced an acceptable letter; modern printers were only just coming into mass use. My machine gobbled up printer ribbons bought by the half dozen with the amount of usage I gave it; its product was better than a carbon copy but not as good as a good typewriter. Abe Lincoln, like his ilk, bullied me, deliberately to cause stress; the Stantons his top clients led him to believe I was ordinary working class, (this despite Stalinist views or because of them) from the lower echelons of society (local residents are from the higher echelons of society), non secretarial sort of guy. Any in the Stanton camp was always going to get what was expected of a prole like me and never get the privilege of a business letter. Abe would correspond with my solicitor who in turn would charge me a heavy fee; it is a quid pro quo arrangement between solicitors. I had told both sides solicitors - I was representing myself except on the recovery of costs. Of course, nowadays the ordinary guy, school kid and student have a printer and PC that corrects punctuation, spelling and grammar and pours out professional copy. So I reverted to style adopted four years ago and wrote four sides of A4 closely written tiny script with no white spaces explaining my arboricultural endeavours. These were the range of the judgements and court orders particularly as they affected his expert witness; it only took me an hour as I knew things off by heart. Abe would take nearly as long studying with a magnifying glass if his sight was not excellent - it if he proposed taking any action or further bullying threat. I never admitted or denied his accusations throughout by four sides of eye straining accusations. I photocopied them before posting.
Next day big brother arrived; this was a truly massive man, tall broad and beefy; he was trembling and shaking with fear; he had encountered Paul Terry Stanton; he was the younger sibling of the garden centre boss, controller of its arboricultural wing. He had been direly threatened,
If you cut my fathers trees and he will die; I shall sue you and make sure you lose your business.
I did not plead with this colossal creature,
Your brother pleaded for the job, nor
I was promised only days ago it is grossly inconvenient, merely,
You must do as you think best thank you for telling me in person
It was necessary to phone the most tree people in the yellow pages and eventually struck lucky; the guy came out to see me. I immediately told him the problem and my rejection by Bournville Garden Centre; this gave him enthusiasm to do the job. I informed Paul Terry about the new fella. I do not know if threats or bribery was used but I had to try again.
This time Barry came from West Side Forestry his own business. He was very good at his job and took pride in it I told him everything I wanted it properly booked and invoiced with VAT. If the Stantons wanted the debris returned - and it was their property - it was to be taken round the block and carefully placed on their front lawn, I did not want the stuff thrown back over my side. He was most understanding. I kept to my obligation and informed Stanton the trees were to be cut to twelve feet; it was this figure that Abe took to the district judge. I had actually arranged with Barry to cut it at fourteen feet and even more, above ground level where it sloped. PTS rang and rang and threatened and threatened; then he went out to his farm in Belbroughton the day before. According to Barry, PTS told him.
No, I have promised Mr Jones and I always keep my word.
I had only just the time to complete my press release, get a couple of hundred photocopies, envelopes, and stamps and post them off.
One copy went to the local police with the reminder of my last hedge maintenance endeavours; there was the scaffold tower incident in 1989 and in 1990 PTS was convicted of actual bodily harm; I also enclosed a copy of the conviction and the order of the court last December. An officer phoned call me back that they would be keeping a close eye on the proceedings but would not show a visible police presence.
Councillors I knew personally, BVT and of course all those who had joined my campaign nationwide and the local media people by name. Nationally - David Crabtree of Sky, Eric Macinnes of ITV all the national papers and Press Association, TV and radio news desks. They all gave extra coverage to Esther who was a news item in herself. We had a couple of free distribution, local newspapers who revelled in this sort of stuff.
On Friday my mind was taken off proceedings by in coming calls; Maureen had a medical meeting and to overcome tenseness I set the video up with a new tape timed for BBC2 at 5.30pm checked and rechecked it, went out walking, with the intention being back to watch it as well; and did not get back till after five. I had tweaked this programme into position the makers really wanted it to be topical and taken tremendous trouble to get the cutting done on the Monday of all days April the first. Seven years later a partner of Ray when I first asked the firm to represent me described me as sophisticated and manipulative; he was not trying to be nice, I fact he went on to call me a liar and fraudster of course he was a bully, like his ilk, carefully weighing up the odds before he libelled me to his co-professionals in restricted circumstances; he was desperately trying to disengage himself from responsibility in cheating me out of thousands of pounds. However to the sophisticated and manipulative part I plead guilty; this was the method by which I guided myself through the Scylla and Charybdis in the uncharted seas ahead. My reader will find me justified.
Maureen had just returned home and was confused and mad. Abes representative on Earth with his inevitable heavy to impose the great mans will for the eternal Stanton. According to our neighbours they had been waiting outside in their car; evidently they wished to hand me an ultimatum to me in person, then realising their missive had run out of time and seeing Maureen return rang the bell and handed it to her. I wished so much it was me I would have refused to take it from them as it was Maureen was at a loss. I took it from her, it said,
Unless you give us in writing, an undertaking that by the close of business today 29th March, we shall apply to the District Judge for an injunction on Monday the 1st April. As a matter of courtesy we have sent a copy of this letter to your solicitor.
Courtesy my foot it was just part of the bullying. They came prepared to take a signed statement back to their almighty. Now it was too late; close of business had happened.
I switched on the telly just as the timer operated on the video and saw the show. Maureen has never seen it; she was far too stressed to cope. We shopped for plenty of coffee, tea, milk, sugar and soft drinks.
We were lucky April the first was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day, the best of the year. Radio WM came before seven for the customary outside broadcast and didnt go away; others followed and the road began to fill up and it was necessary to keep space for the contractors lorry and shredder and as promised they came early which was a worry because without them everybody may just as well go home. I was able to give individual interviews but by nine with still two hours to go things became hectic; I would start an interview and be called away. In total we had six camera crews and thirty journalists and though Maureen was always the energetic, willing and generous hostess as she has always been but it was good to see willing helpers muck in, wash up, fill the kettle, boil the water, make the tea and coffee and keep the sustenance going. The good humour and the camaraderie was too wonderful to behold. I was conscious that I had started talking to the Guardian reporter; I felt rude because there were multiple demands then found out it was Maggie OKeane, journalist of the year. Maureen was an avid Guardian reader and loved her articles good she was in close conversation able to put the womans point of view on nasty neighbours. I had to oversee the contractors they were getting their ladders in place where and at what height and position was the first cut to be? Had to get that absolutely spot on then there was the beech hedge, well, they were trees now the injunction was equally upon them they had not been cut for five years. Denis Harris had been using his home video since the beginning he let me have what he thought was a copy; the sound was OK but the visual was a blank white screen; the original will be valuable one day. Cameramen, photographers and reporters were walking round the block to the Stantons but as the eleven oclock deadline approached there was maximum attendance. I walked to the front into an impromptu, informal press conference with TV cameras rolling and continual flashes. The occasion was a news item in itself in that the press pack was taking itself. Eric Macinnes was outlining the whole process,
This is the culmination even the talks about talks have broken down, he then swung his microphone before me and asked a barrage of questions and others joined in; the glancing at my watch I said,
Lets make our way to the scene of action. Barry, in yellow fluorescent jacket, helmet and visor had lodged himself in the trees and a series of flashes indicated he would be on the front pages of every newspaper, The hubbub stopped when my phone rang out it was a cordless land line the voice said,
This is Ray; the Stantons have just been before the District Judge and he has refused their application for an injunction.
I turned towards Barry, put both thumbs up; the loud zip of his saw rang out; it stopped whilst he tugged out the cut branch which crashed to the ground. I looked round and saw Councillor Mike Nangle who grinned and waved to me. There was a general exodus; there was tittle-tattle about a coffin on Stantons front lawn. It was to be on the one oclock news but most would see it on the evening news. Neither the old man nor his son appeared. The new wife and step mother made the news by speaking through the flap of the letter box; it was a vertical one on the wooden frame that mounted the glass panel. This might present a problem for the editor. The Guardian carried the photograph as a large narrow strip on the left hand side of the page. The conversation went thus
Reporter: Are you aware of what is going on?
The 2nd Mrs Stanton: Yes; they are cutting the trees.
Now we come to the coffin; it carried a plaque with the inscription; Farewell dear trees
That shieldeth us
From the evil presence beyond.
It is interesting that this contraption must have been prepared in the expectation that the injunction would be refused. The coffin was a realistically made albeit in cardboard. What had their lawyers advised?
I was mad at Ray; I had not sent him the press release or informed him about my intentions; he was no longer representing me, except to recover costs; of course Abe had written to him about the application for the injunction even though I had informed him that he was only my solicitor in respect of costs recovery. It would have been acutely embarrassing if the injunction had been granted. The hearing was ex-parte I had done everything correctly. Of course my mind was stewing with possible scenarios the worst of which was finishing the hearing and Abe making a mad dash with the writ to serve it on me before 11am. The next was Ray telephoning me with bad news when I wanted to start the job without knowing and not being accused of ignoring. However the sheer drama of that strident telephone call before the silent, expectant assembly; that put me at great peace and relief but also looked brilliantly well and deliberately planned. I cannot take any credos for my future perception as sophisticated and manipulative. I dont know if Ray charged me a fee because he never gave me an account but went on asking for money and got it.
Two strong, young workmen gathered the pieces and dragged or carried them through the garage and flung them into the back of a lorry with a tow-bar hitched to trailer-carrying high-powered petrol driven shredder - so far unused. There was a lot more to be cut and carried but it was being done fast and efficiently; the drama was over the male Stantons had not shown themselves it was time for reporters, photographers and cameramen to make there way back. Suzanne Virdee of the Evening Mail and Maggie OKeane were making arrangements,
Dont call a taxi, Ill run you to the station. I said sorry to Maggie for not giving her my time but she was well pleased. They are excellent women and the front page reports and photographs were superb. They are my favourite journalists. Certainly the Guardian had redeemed itself for its miserable report after the Court of Appeal hearing.
Barry came up to me with two pigeons eggs and said,
I didnt show anyone these they would have made an issue of it. I was very, very grateful; I proclaimed my anxiety to PTS early in his procrastination days and he answered,
There is only one way you can safeguard the nesting birds.
It was possible to get some comfort; we were over populated with pigeons; they are huge and fat from gorging on gardeners brassicas; they dont eat harmful insects. They disturb prevent tits and finches from nesting by their sheer size and wing flapping noise but are not their predators. Rose, our ex-daughter-in-law called in to see how we had got on; all was peace and quiet now; it was bright and fine and sunny and from out of the blue sky came the pair of birds each carrying a straw they had to start home building again. Rose, a pigeon fancier in her girlhood said sadly,
Oh dear, oh dear.
The workmen were in the cab of the lorry, supping our tea and eating sandwiches when the gaffer came back. He had not asked me but nevertheless I heartily approved of his little walk round to the Stantons. All the debris had been cleared and the garage and drive swept that team did a complete job.
Ive just spoken to old man Stanton.
Youre a brave lad; someone had to remind him no April Fool after twelve.
No, I told him Ive got your property in my truck; where do you want it and he replied stick it back where you stole it from and he wasnt smiling.
I had written on my notice of intention that in the event of being unclear of precise directions for the disposal of the debris the contractors would be paid to dispose of it and the total costs including VAT would be paid by me and claimed from Bernard Stanton. In the event he never paid any maintenance cost other than for the derisory removal of two feet in 1997 he did that just to tease me.
Everyone had gone; it was exceptionally quiet and surprisingly tidy both inside and outside the house. The dish washer had done its job Maureen had even managed to put the cups, saucers, beakers, glasses and fruit drink bottles away; now food, tea and rest. It had been a hectic seven hours; space to eat and refresh before the next onslaught but on going into the living room all was light we hadnt had so much for five years there were some ugly patches of bare stem then, where I had cut back the trunks to the boundary. We could see the clear blue sky and the sun shone from the right and that hedge looked great Gary was a skilled woodsman who had instinctively found the best places for his saw to retain the overall shape. It was now one o clock and we switched on the BBC news and waited and we were on towards the end but we started the Midlands news and had a full report; all was recorded. Presenter, Michael Colley completed his task and then rang; he wanted to do an outside broadcast for the evening news. I thought, what the hell were we doing all morning? Satellite broadcasts were in their infancy and a remark by Eric Macinnes made this morning made more sense he said our satellite van (presumably their only one) was held for emergency use down south royalty was in a crisis and always got priority. Michael Colley took only minutes from Pebble Mill arrived by car and his task was to view the situation in situ so that he understood what was on his monitor in his evening broadcast. He is an exceptionally nice guy. Maureen related witnessing the vilest racial prejudice in a supermarket check out and our guest had just experienced the same in an interview. The mutual experience evoked astonishment that the perpetrators thought others shared their prejudice. The conversation revealed all our neighbour aggro; as he was leaving the cameraman and technician arrived in the white van. They struggled with getting and transmitting a TV signal and gave up the effort outside the house; then they shifted the van at the top of the croft within fifty yards of PTSs house and ran a thick cable down the pavement, covering it over with sticky adhesive. It worked; if our saga had taken place five years after it would have been covered throughout by satellite. There was plenty of time to to arrange the furniture with Michael Colley directing operations. The camera was located in line with a garden table and chairs and the hedge. A bottle of wine and glasses was called for but I disallowed this it would have been ideal to ascribe the whole event as vandalism (and the Stantons had always called me a vandal) carried out under the influence of drink. So we had a jug of orange juice; the news was still introduced as the Joneses having a glass of wine in their new garden. We were getting close to broadcast time when disaster struck and the line went dead. Midlands Today had to re-arrange their whole schedule; our TV was always going wrong even though we had Cable; it was something we were always putting up with so we went indoors to watch ourselves on the early evening news. Twenty minutes after we were given the call, (I set the video) outside we went and seated ourselves at the table; microphone wires were fed up our jumpers; it was getting chilly by now and not really comfortable for sitting out. This was a last fling from Pebble Mill; new technology was on its way but true to type everything was done to achieve a perfect result. We heard Michael Colley from the studio clearly; then I felt my ear-piece slipping out keen not to spoil anything I kept my head rigidly still but it made me look as though I had a stiff neck,
What advantage have you gained apart from the obvious light which is obvious considering it is early evening?
Well I cut back the trees to the boundary, years ago but it was still impossible to grow much whilst the hedge was so high , now we have an extra eight feet wide strip along the length of our garden which you can see is not very wide.
What are you going to grow?
Do you know; we were just having that very lovely discussion.
The exhausting day was at an end, Maureen had already gone indoors. I said to the technician,
Well I am going in now to look at Shefali. She is still the beautiful weather girl; even dressed in old rags she would make them look the most modern Paris fashion.
Ill pop in with you, it is the only time I see her nowadays we are getting married next week.
You are the luckiest guy.
We were told the marriage didnt last long. Shefali would have made it to be not only the top national weather girl but news caster; she does not want to move. However it is not over yet.
You fixed your fault then what was the trouble?
Some stupid bastard unhitched the cable from the van.
That would be Stanton junior, he lives by there hes in your line of business; closed circuit TV.
Yes, I know him alright he owes my father money.
Pete Spyby had posted his Evening Mail through our letterbox. We had seen the Stanton coffin on TV but here it was on the front page of the local press. Suzanne Virdee had done us grand it was just the harbinger of the national press in the morning we had come out of it well very well.