Times September 2010 - 1
Times September 2010 - 2
Mullin Daily Mail Article
Johnson interview 1998
Hedgeman - The Book
The Berlin Wall
the Roaring Nineties
Stanton Turns Really Nasty
End Of The Annus But Not The Horribilis
Hand Of Peace
On Stanton Pay Up
Little Help From The Lord
NO CARTE BLANCHE
(Noun: white card; permission to act freely).
The Stantons, on the advice of a very expensive, top QC's, decided
not to appeal - it would be throwing money away - he told them,
"The crucial part of the whole judgement, giving Jones the right
to reduce the height of the hedge, has been upheld by the Court of Appeal:
the Recorder says Jones's maintenance has not gone beyond that which
is reasonable and appropriate - based on irrefutable evidence: however
it will be interesting to see what he makes of the no carte blanche".
Of course I never saw a copy so have just made the words up for you
-and did not need to spend my Christmas Hols wading through the whole
case or charge an enormous fee and, on top of that, pay one and a half
thousand pounds for last trial transcript. I have never read that transcript
and have never possessed it - you would have to go to PT Stanton to
find out who has one.
Now I will tell you what was dominating my mind as I looked out of
my living room windows on that New Years Day 1996.
"Those trees will be reduced". The only accurate height the
Recorder mentioned throughout his two judgements was 6 feet 6 inches
or 2 metres; he was quoting the Bournville Village Trust Guidelines
booklet; it was also in the outline planning permission.
That was obviously in the collective Stanton mind that it was my ultimate
goal for the line of ten conifers. I discovered an insulated wire in
the centre of the hedge at that height; one could assume it was the
basis of an electronic alarm system; the positioning was such that could
only have been inserted as early as 1991.
The final judgement gives me discretion at determining the height without
prescribing it. What height would I like? Not more than twelve feet
- with a ladder I can keep it at that myself until my physical capability
necessitates a jobbing gardener or a new neighbour does it for us both.
We want privacy and light; in the back of my mind, although never admitting
it - I would compromise at fourteen feet. I was willing to pay half
the cost although Stanton had paid nothing since he took a couple of
feet off the top, nine years ago.
How to go about it? Only one way to start - I would ask Paul Terry Stanton
directly first in writing, then by telephone and, if necessary after
an eye-ball to eye-ball. No procrastination time would be given. The
old man was eighty-seven - he procrastinated for eleven years - approaching
him would be waste of time; might as well get the trees cut straight
away without anymore fuss - the risk was - his son would go absolutely
barmy and carry out his threat to kill me. Then we found out, Stanton
senior had fallen in love again and was shortly to re-marry. We did
not know that he had conveyed his property to his sons before the trial;
this fact was not communicated to the Recorder. In fact we thought the
rivalry of a step mom would send the sons loopy. If the exertions of
the wedding were to kill the old man his new bride would inherit all.
We extrapolated our vivid imagination far beyond the reasonable - but
when had the Stantons been reasonable? It took years to find what a
load of baloney we idly chatted about - Bernard's will had taken care
of all eventualities -we had seen Abe Lincoln's outside the house a
number of times - he was probably better at drafting wills.
I typed a brief, simple letter and sent it by post, even though it
would be three minutes walk up the road to pop it through Paul Terry's
letter box - I did not wish to encourage any letter box popping return
visits. I said that Bournville Garden Centre had offered to cut the
hedge for free, in return for displaying their advertisement boards.
Giving access to the "tree surgeons" on his side as well as
me on my side, they would do a really good job. We would ask them to
cut to twelve feet out of alternative days at the end of January.
Then I wrote to Ray Burford to terminate my agreement with him to represent
me - except for the legal work in recovering our costs - in fact that
was why I employed him exactly four years ago because then I was convinced
we had won the preliminary judgement. We did win but never thought they
would be so dumb as to appeal. Ray offered a generous global figure
that would have saved a lot of money, if mutually agreed. True to type,
in hole digging tradition, this was not accepted by the Stantons and
total costs zoomed as both County and Appeal Court proceedings were
submitted to a firm of expensive, specialist taxation lawyers.
I followed up my formal letter of instruction with a telephone conversation
with Ray to emphasise my point that the dispute with the Stanton's was
a pure relationship issue now that must be resolved on a head to head
basis and lawyers are not the best people to help - in any case it would
be quite a time before our costs were paid and I could not afford to
dish out any more to Ray - he was now asking for more up front money
for the taxation lawyers - and oh! We would get everything back in the
final settlement - that was a joke for a start. Our cost of living was
not covered by our income and we were in debt.
I waited a day for Paul Terry to digest the contents of my letter then
rang him up at his office. He ranted with absolutely rage; it reminded
me of the time he knocked me down; this time he had to confine himself
to purely verbal assault. The Stantons never uttered obscenities; not
even light weight swear-words; such would have cut down the length of
his diatribe; a couple of well placed, really naughty words express
hate, contempt, and frustration far quicker and more effectively than
rude, ignorant, emotive, uncivil meanderings. PTS is not an English
language guru - I would have loved listened to eloquence. He had the
opportunity to be unrestricted but was so limited in vocabulary in pouring
out years of Stanton family rumour and scuttlebutt, extrapolated to
ludicrous extremes frustrated him. I found it fascinating but wondered
why such an unusual but basically educated family such as this had not
deeply explored, psychologically, their intense feelings of hate, directly
focused on me - it is true the local neighbourhood had despised the
newcomers on their sacred territory. Pity some wise friend or family
member not asked them to dig deep into these pathological and pathetic
motives? They dug deep enough into legal holes and would not finish
that exercise for quite awhile yet: now a new wife and step mother was
introduced. So, I listened carefully so as not to interrupt - except
to answer or pose a question if he seemed like flagging.
He went directly to me murdering his mother; it was this that affected
him most - obviously he had a load of guilt on his shoulders that he
had desperately been trying to shift on to me for years. Did he think
his father had betrayed her? Who knows? Then followed a fact I did not
know - when the Environmental Health Department cracked down on his
father's addiction to garden fires it had deeply hurt both parents.
Actually it was the roughest quirk of fate - that day, the old man had
shifted his fire much nearer his own house; this time it was only a
pokey, little fire giving a thin plume of smoke that drifted south over
next door gardens, then upwards where it was dispersed - he didn't want
to burn anything particular it was a gesture to assert his weekly independence
of any protestations I might give. The Health Officer was on patrol
because of a really nasty smoky fire lit yesterday by the Williams,
neighbours on our South side boundary - I had complained about that.
I made a brief attempt to explain this to PTS but he shut me up, I quickly
realised it was futile - he was never going to believe me so I paid
attention because he was getting interesting. I had burgled his father's
house four times - it was no surprise that the house had been done -
we had had a spate of burglaries in the last six years. Then I had raped
his mother - in fact no woman was safe from me in this neighbourhood.
He told me about my teaching career - his sister-in-law was a local
teacher and her colleagues had never heard of me - except of course
in the last couple of years - no, he went on,
"You have drifted from school to school all your teaching life
- not one would give you a permanent job".
Then he came to a climax of rage about our appeal against the district
judge's order to disclose the whole of my correspondence with the Bournville
Village Trust. The appeal was to be heard by Recorder Woltan before
the trial proper began. My barrister secured agreement with the Recorder
and his opponent that the trial proceed as it was always possible to
get back to the disclosure issue if it was necessary - a lot of magic
here - we got to know that there was bad blood about the conduct of
my prosecution - everybody could see the Stanton camp body language
and faces when the trial suddenly finished. I told PTS if he wanted
the correspondence he could have it - I would swap it for a copy (and
pay the copying costs) of the trial transcript for which he had paid
a load of money. I only wanted it for interest and my archives. Then
he referred to his other worry he had to get off his chest - I was a
complete coward in refusing to go into the witness box, insisting I
had avoided and never intended answering for my actions. I told him
'The trial was finished after ten minutes when your own witness admitted
that the evidence he gave to bring me to court was a load of balderdash
- we only made the decision a minute before I was due to go on the stand
-, the Recorder said he had no view at all for the reasons I did not
testify - he wanted to finish the trial and not put up with all this
rubbish you have just been telling me - in a long cross examination
by your Counsel'.
PTS had been going on for an hour and a quarter - Maureen was desperate
and anxious and wanted the phone. So I firmly insisted,
"Let's get to grips with my letter to you and my reason for ringing
you - do you agree to have the trees cut at the end of January".
He went livid again and started threatening I said,
"Sorry I have to ring off now but will get in touch again";
I replaced the receiver and got down to typing up all points but without
ever being 'in denial'.
We were surprised to hear from the 'Esther' show - they were doing
'follow ups' and we were invited for a further recording. I indicated
that everyone would know about the appeal and the trial, so vast had
been the coverage; the 'first cut' of the hedge would be a massive media
event - I would give them an exclusive; I intended that the media would
follow it up. They were interested but I would have to tell them quickly
as they had a schedule of future programmes.
I spent considerable time on producing the 'minutes' of the PTS conversation
thinking that if (when) the trees were cut he would take us to court
again and I would answer any 'carte blanch' accusation. As satisfied
as it was possible to be, I posted it with a letter asking for the 'cut'
at the end of February and followed it up, a couple of days later with
a phone call.
He talked, accused and railed for another hour but gave up without
ever knowing whether or not I was pleading guilty to any Stanton mythology
however, he did surprisingly qualify the 'rape of his mother' - it was
'with my eyes' and suddenly realised what he was on about - certainly
what his barrister wanted to hammer me about and never had the chance
- the binocular incident. Well, his barrister called me a 'peeping tom';
this had now escalated to 'rape'. His Counsel was going to retract this
as I was going to refer the matter to the Disciplinary Committee of
the Bar Counsel.
PTS was still upset about being fined £150 for his conviction
for 'actual bodily harm' - he had never hit me (and he really believed
this) - I was guilty of perjury. That caused me to giggle - his tree
witness had tried to screw me for £33,000 and then ended up admitting
he was talking codswallop - of course I wish I had know then that his
father had conveyed his property before the end of the trial. When PTS
came round to punch my head he said I had invited him round to talk.
This was something to agree about and I was so enthusiastic to talk
about it - I had not let him finish; I didn't know he was just about
to get really rude and personal. Obviously, the man was barely coping
with the indignity of his criminal record and had submerged it by denying
he had ever hit me - a lot more of this to come in the course of the
next few years - I accused him but he would not admit to a trace of
violence in his upbringing. However, I charged on whilst he was on the
defensive and concentrated on getting his agreement for getting the
trees cut at the end of February. It became obvious that he was keeping
the hedge nuisance to punish me - I said we would talk again and put
the receiver down and after a few days rest, typed up the 'minutes'.
It was pretty certain, let's be perfectly honest - he was never going
to agree, was he? But there were now four A4 sides for court if it ever
came to that - and it was interesting stuff for the 'Esther' researchers.
It was very interesting meeting the characters in the flesh we had seen
as regular viewers of the show. There was Danny Israel - I had missed
him on his Esther appearance but was with him on the platform for the
Granada 'Up Front' show - again the similarity; no improvement in his
neighbour relationships. There was the woman who had punished her cheating
husband by handing his bottles of rare wines around the local village
and cutting off the sleeves off all his sleek suits. Then there was
the woman who married the Maasai warrior - that marriage had by now
been dissolved and he had gone back home; and then there was me; not
any improvement in any of the relationships. As we sat together on the
platform we were re-introduced with clips from our previous shows; plenty
of updating news for me but no change in tree height: after their nasty
experience on the previous show it would be expected that the Stantons
would turn down their invitation. I stuck my neck out to say the trees
would be cut to twelve feet on April 1st and announced my campaign to
change the law.
I gave long interviews to the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek - they
both sent me the copy before publication for my verification; both were
accurate. Email was another five years away for me. It was phone and
post although I would have a good fax machine in eighteen months. Garden
News was also accurate and very supportive - it had reported both trials.
Gardeners do not like Leylandii because they drain all the moisture
and nutrient and take all the light. The editor forwarded forty-five
letters of support; the senders remained the bedrock of my campaign.
A similar number had found their way by successfully imploring the Royal
Mail to find me. One letter was addressed to the 'retired teacher who
cut down the trees'. There must have been scores that didn't get through.
The media asked permission to give callers my telephone number and address.
Life began to get busy.
Ray Burford had his first PC and had 'The Times' news floppy-disc with
a whole past year's news free with his subscription; when he typed my
name he got a huge photograph of me; he was hugely pleased when his
firm was mentioned in the Law Reports in the account of Stanton v Jones.
I readily passed on the name when asked about my lawyers, reasoning
that Ray by now had accumulated valuable experience about hedge nuisance
- our case had opened a Pandora's Box of disputes. For residents on
the Bournville Trust Estate the judgement cleared up any misunderstanding
- a wall, fence or hedge on or along the boundary is maintainable by
both residents on either side of it - well you would have thought it,
wouldn't you? Not on your life. The Williams my neighbour on my South
side cared even less than the Stantons about us - probably hated us
more - they were more wary of us because we had won and realised we
were not the softies they thought we were and could bully and exploit.
However David Williams died of cancer and we were sorry about that.
Six BVT residents got in touch and eventually joined the campaign. Some
didn't because they were afraid of their neighbour. Normal, emotionally
mature residents got on with their neighbours, respected them, appreciated
the law being defined, but shrank from ever getting in the pickle we
had plunged ourselves in. Writing this, ten years on, we know of tens
of numbers who have resentments about overhanging and encroaching hedges,
trees and bushes. However the Stanton v Jones judgement didn't affect
ninety-eight per cent of the population - for them only new law was
appropriate; so let me introduce Lord Denis Howell.
I have mentioned Denis in an earlier chapter when he became the successful
Minister of Drought and it rained. In our young days he proposed to
Maureen, telling her I was dangerous; his future wife was not yet grown
up - he left Handsworth Grammar School in 1939 when I just started;
at twenty-two, he stood for the Council and lost; not his fault, despite
the massive, overwhelming Labour swing, Tory votes in those far off
Handsworth days were weighed not counted. I went with him and the Handsworth
parliamentary candidate to watch Warwickshire. He married Brenda, the
daughter of Steve Wilson, the local ward Labour Party secretary. He
missed the League of Youth as he was twenty-one, the upper age limit
at the wars end as youth politics began - going straight into main stream
Labour. He took the traditional, very right wing, official establishment
stance but bravely, untypically and defiantly as Council Labour Group
secretary defied the 'city fathers' and finance diehards who put him
there and backed free passes for OAPs. He lived for sport of every description
and served it competently and more than any other of his generation
and possibly century; a football league referee; excellent sports minister
and constituency MP. He spoke un-reconstructed Brummie scorning the
elocution lessons of his politically ambitious contemporaries who attended
the old 'senior schools. We looked at politics in a different way -
I was implacably against the Government for supporting the Korean War
- or any war, or the H-bomb - against the eleven-plus and its logical
extension of comprehensive education - he became a governor of our old
school and abhorred the very idea. He adored my mother who was chairman
of his constituency labour party when he first became MP -she returned
the affection. I found out from his auto-biography, 'Made in Birmingham'
- that he was quite unaware the significant part she played in his career.
Mother was his constituency delegate at the 1958 Labour Party conference
at Scarborough; I was Birmingham Borough Party delegate. Each evening
we were with some city Aldermen and were told stories of scam, sleaze
and corruption - Denis was the straightest of guys -but he knew a lot.
Ted Castle, husband of Barbara was the standard bearer of the left at
Denis's selection conference; mother as chairman sent her apology and
the final vote tied, needing the casting vote of the chairman. Mother
had a conflict of loyalty; any one with local nouse knew the result
would be close but no one knew it would be that close. The ballot is
supposed to be secret; nevertheless the experts worked it all out; had
she gone, taken the chair and voted for Ted he would have got it and
no casting vote would be needed. Only people who have experienced this
political jazz know all about this. The secretary of the Borough Labour
Party was a tyrant and fixer - probably all this had been worked out
- Denis narrowly lost his seat at the 1959 election but quickly picked
up safe Small Heath - no one knows if he could have saved his first
seat - he was a national figure there is prejudice against young, local
lads like Denis - Ted would have slotted in a treat in Harold Wilson's
first administration before he became terminally ill. Anyway my mother
had wisely taken the pressure off herself, lived another fifteen years,
dying of old age, in harness for the party, suffering angina and arthritis
but faction free and loved by all.
Twenty-five years after all this the most brilliant secretary, Molly
and Tony her second party agent husband came to stay for a few days
and as they had already featured so largely in our lives my biography
would be incomplete without a write up. Our Tony was the best and most
experienced election agent, had just run Tony Blair's first campaign
in a hopeless constituency and lost the deposit. TB was not recognisable
then. A significant party figure, our Tony, a top paid officer responsible
for security party security and Molly made a formidable pair. Denis,
now an opposition front bench spokesperson for Sport, invited us all
to dinner; he was his natural, affable self and none of us had changed
in a quarter century- he was still a Villa fan, a director in fact.
Now please wind the clock forward ten years; tragically, the Howells
lost a son in a tragic car accident and Denis had serious heart disease.
The day after my trial, Denis was upbeat when he rang me up to congratulate,
(he was now a peer of the realm 'Baron Howell of Aston Manor'). He confidently
"There is a gap in the law; I will introduce a bill into the House
of Lords to fill it".
Denis was a self publicist par excellence and, with years of practice,
he played the media quite ruthlessly. As a simple, uncomplicated man
he quite wrongly diagnosed a simple problem ' if your neighbour grew
his hedge too high - legislate a height - make him cut it to that height
- if he refused fine him a hundred pounds a day until he did - as simple
as that to which the reporter would query,
"As simple as that"?
"As simple as that"!
An aspiring tabloidist must have a well developed half brain - the species
usually hails from the right wing and are good at headlines or phone
in radio shows and always have the quick and easy solutions; they demand
yes or no answers directly to the question they pose and accuse the
hapless politician, mainly from the left of evasion or lying the implication
being they are the only honest guys - but being that sort they patronisingly
concede that a horny handed son of toil from the back streets can have
an answer or two - now they hand a humble Brummie with a grand title.
Of course Denis was still a politician of sorts but no longer an official,
party spokesperson and they could identify with as a despiser of politicians,
evil evader of questions - they would a present him as a direct 'man
of the people'. So Denis enjoyed a spate of publicity as he had left
office. He brought pressure on me as his mail box filled; he forwarded
his mail on to me and added to the stash of enthusiastic supporters
for law change - he no longer had an office and secretary, but he still
loved issuing instructions; raise £3,000 from supporters and deposit
it with a certain prestigious London law firm who would draft the necessary
parliamentary bill. Typical of his species he was no organiser, never
would be - he had never run his own campaigns. Every good party agent
wants to run the campaign without interference and a good candidate
defers goes where he is told and does what he is told. A well run campaign
is recognised by how soon the inevitable row to establish who is the
boss, takes place. On the conclusion of the election the successful
candidate runs his office; if he has real ambition should appoint the
best secretary to rule. Of course the gender balance is different nowadays
but far from equal. On promotion to office the civil servants take over.
As it happened I had been offered four figure money sums if I could
get high trees removed but it was never understood how long term that
would be and they would never be tested into putting those sums into
an account now. I was always grateful when only return postage was included,
particularly with books or sheets of stamps. In no way would I become
a fund raiser and would never ask for any substantial donation to be
channelled into another yet another law firm - I was owed thousands.
It didn't surprise me that Denis didn't have a clue. In the first place
it had to be decided what was to go in to the parliamentary bill; most
importantly, I hadn't a clue but one thing I was absolutely certain
- what Denis espoused would work, was utter rubbish - he claimed to
be a gardener and reporters and camera men came round to take shots
of his garden - they were not gardeners either but one or two pretty
flowers served to make a story - they kept away from some rampant boundary
growth that never came into the category of nuisance. I was not free
of further advice and for years it was -
"Make all hedges six feet six". Mostly it was aggressive put;
then proposer became desperate that I had not the intelligence to see
what they thought was the fairest law; they could not conceive they
the civil servant lawyers and planners would take seconds to pronounce
would never get on to the statute book.
Denis had never approached law making from this fundamental basis but
he enjoyed being a Lord - it was only necessary to take a seat on the
red benches to claim the allowance for that day and that wasn't a great
deal of money. The perks were the heavily subsidised gourmet's meals
with flunkies and first class travel from home. There is no party division
- everybody loves everybody else and you wine and dine together. Denis
kept me in touch of his chats with government ministers; they had all
read and followed my case and appearances in the media and without exception
applauded the Stanton v Jones judgement - even if one or two were land
owners. Of course it would be far better if the Tory government would
introduce the bill and the best way forward was the formal letter to
the appropriate minister, who knew all about it over lunch from his
fellow peer. It took time and the minister was tutored by his officials
and the official government reply put in writing for public consumption.
Of course the next stage was the parliamentary Q and A - then it became
political. But he was stark and staring edict "it was impossible
to frame legislation to deal with nuisance hedges - the matter must
be dealt with by the courts".
Denis and his buddies talked about something else at lunch.
As far as I was concerned I was dealing with the matter through the
courts - the Tory government was in dire trouble - up to its neck in
mire and sleaze and just about to stagger into its desperate last year
of office. A political campaign was necessary and to think of pushing
the issue into prominence is the party political maelstrom was laughable
- in any case it was cross party. I had a fervent Tory party activist
in Sutton Coldfield who loved her MP Norman Fowler who had pledged her
his support when Health Minister nine years ago; he had even put out
tentative feelers for appropriate government action on nuisance hedges
- this was at a time when Stanton was building his notorious scaffold
spy tower, only now brought into public prominence.
So I sent Paul Terry Stanton an account of our second conversation
or more accurately his second whingeing and, again finished with the
request for mutual agreement on cutting the hedge to twelve feet, at
the end of February: after a day or two, I gave him another ring. He
was highly personal and at his sneering nastiest, talked about his perception
of our private domestic circumstances; tyrannical husband, other women
etc; mutilator of trees despite Maureen's urgent pleas for restraint.
Then Ian got his blast - this was an old one - threatening and terrifying
his mother's grandchildren - I did point out they were eighteen upwards
ours were seven when he was up on his tower but that was a long time
ago. Then it was Martin our policeman son, he had left home in protest
at what I had done to his father's trees. I pointed out that he was
the only one who wanted the trees cut right down at the very beginning
years and years ago; I was the soft one in the family and always wanted
a reasonable twelve feet would he agree to that now?
I wrote to the Bournville Village Trust asking them to mediate between
us, sit at a table and face the Stanton family. I sent a copy to Paul
Terry with the record of our last conversation. I had used up six sides
of A4 reporting my conversations and would be able to say that they
recorded four hours of conversation - this would be presented to the
Recorder that I had done my best to obtain agreement. I have written
many times before the Trust would speak with anyone and write unlimited
letters but would not embark on any action likely to open a legal can
of worms. BVT was delighted to mediate; the stuff which George Cadbury
would have approved. Of course many years ago I had tried to get them
to persuade the Stantons. They called upon a trained, skilled mediator
who composed a letter to both of us. We would be in different rooms;
the negotiator would go to each party in turn and all conversation would
be in absolute confidence. I rang Stanton to get confirmation of my
last notes and to state that I had only one aim 'to secure agreement
about the reduction in height to twelve feet on 1st April'. I was amazed,
'gob-smacked' as they say, to be told that he was prepared to break
the deadlock; he was euphoric, stating he was going to surprise everyone;
he was not as rigid as people might think. I had posed my dismay at
the effect our dispute had on both extended families and thought he
was responding at last: but as our meeting with a third party had been
arranged and it seemed a good time to end the conversation.
I awaited mediation day conscious that I might have to make a fundamental
decision or be the one holding up agreement. I was led to an empty room
and under the strict rules of a prompt start was told and was disappointed
that only Paul Terry turned up. However, I stated my sole aim and awaited,
very bored, looking out of the window, wondering how two free rooms
were available in a very busy building; and it was very quiet on this
day. Eventually the middle man arrived sadly but unsurprisingly without
bringing the agreement I had asked for; however he asked for my patience
because there was a chance of progress. I sniffed game playing and wanted
eye-ball to eye-ball contact and asked if he would conduct the proceedings
with us in the same room because this distance work was like having
translations - very time consuming. He agreed with me, went away and
again left me in total boredom; he eventually returned with the procedural
matter agreed and led me through a corridor to a room with a table at
which sat Paul Terry; he had an open A4 ledger with coloured page markers
and a substantial pile of papers. He greeted me with his cynical sneer
that put me at ease. I have never seen a Stanton smile but if he had
done so then he would have shaken me. He immediately took charge of
proceedings ignorantly discourteous to our host - his highly indexed
ledger was his confidence tool. He elaborated at length that any maintenance
works would not in anyway be an admission of ownership and the trees
would remain in Stanton territory and ownership- well I knew all about
the legals and judgements better than anyone else but just answered,
"OK by me". He then went on and on with futile points, grasping
the indexing tabs, peeling the pages and writing notes referring to
papers in the file; after every ritual I answered in the same way. Then
I interposed, looking at our mediator,
"There is a point I would like to confirm with Mr Stanton"
"Certainly, Mr Jones".
"The first time I cut the beech part of the hedge, you father said
the pieces belonged to him and he wanted them back - I carefully pushed
them over on to his side - later on he had obviously changed his mind
because they were thrown back over and I had to take them to the tip.
There will be a lot of debris this time and I wonder what you have in
mind for their disposal?
I have written about his transparent, white pallor before but a distinct
change was noted as an electric element switched on transforms from
dullness to red heat - this happened from his chin upwards, reaching
through the roots of his hair. He would have looked healthily well except
for the horrible distortion of his features. Now what followed must
have been picked up and copied from Chief Inspector Drefus when confronted
by Clueso in the 'Pink Panther' for I have watched the repeats with
fascination - there is a sharp in-take of breath followed by a winney
of absolute disbelief sublimated by a mad giggle and then by a shrill
roar of rage and indignation,
"That is my father's property I will take you to court for theft
- his voice cracked as the top of the note was reached- then he relapsed
into a mad giggle - I want those branches to make a smoky fire to make
you choke and suffer for days". I was eager to follow the sequence
- cutting; debris; disposal and offered,
"The contractors have a shredding machine - the material can be
returned to the hedge to make a mulch - this is environmentally sound
and you will not distress the residents particularly the old with respiratory
problems; it is not necessary to answer now, however I am leaving at
twelve o'clock - it is now five to and I am asking you for the last
time - will you agree to the trees being cut to twelve feet"?
One can only guess the thoughts of our mediator; George Cadbury, the
founder was smiling from above; this was what the Quaker Trustees were
waiting for - rule by the spirit - it really worked.
We both said,
"Yes?" as an interrogatory.
The big finger was on the twelve and as I stood, exhaled with relief
"Thank goodness for that, thank you, thank you so much", then
turning towards the mediator, and thank you for all you have done".
Then making three paces towards the door was suddenly halted by -
"If you will pay all your court costs". I turned, faced him
and called out -
"You are an absolute and complete asshole".