Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Englishman's castle

I have often claimed that there is a clause in the deeds to my property that forbid the erection of antennas. In fact, there is no such thing. The only clause that relates to antennas is one that precludes any TV or radio antenna from being installed on the front elevation of the house.

There is, however, a clause that states that the owner may "not do or permit to be done upon the Property any act or thing which shall be a nuisance or annoyance to the owner or occupier of any other property on the Estate." This catch-all clause could arguably allow a property owner who experienced RFI to get a radio amateur shut down by law, regardless of whose equipment was at fault. That's why I operate full stealth. Little did I imagine that this clause would be used to try to prevent my wife from turning our pocket handkerchief front lawn into a flower bed. But it is impossible to overestimate the extent to which the English middle classes can go to to make life unpleasant for their neighbours.

The picture shows the front of our house. Perspective makes the front lawn look bigger than it really is. What it doesn't show is that the frontage of our house is the driveway of our neighbour's property, and that it curves steeply towards the house so that on the right-hand side the lawn is just a few feet deep. As a lawn it is a complete waste of time, but when our neighbour parks his car at the end of his drive - which he does to stop people reversing into it - it looks as if the car is right outside our front window.

My wife Olga wanted to dig up the lawn and plant shrubs and flowers in its place, so we could look at those rather than our neighbour's old banger. Because the land slopes slightly down from the house, she planned to install a low curb at the boundary, to prevent topsoil from falling on to the neighbour's driveway. However, while she was discussing this with a man who was going to do the work, the neighbour came out and objected, and there was an altercation.

A couple of hours later this neighbour knocked on our door brandishing a copy of the title deeds and claiming to have spoken to his solicitor. He told us "you can't do this", citing the abovementioned clause as the reason. His main objection seemed to be concern that installing the curb would affect the foundations of his driveway. So I suggested that instead we would place a line of ornamental rocks inside our boundary to retain the soil, and make no excavations anywhere near his foundations. But he wouldn't have that, either. We had to keep the front exactly as it is, or he would go to law to stop us.

So it appears we have two choices. We can stay here, fight the neighbour, and end up as an item in the TV programme "Neighbours from Hell", or we can move house and avoid the stress that such a conflict is going to cause us. I would not be at all sad to leave Cockermouth, a town that one vendor of a property that I looked at when I first moved here described as "a small town for small-minded people." But I will be desperately sorry to have to dismantle my attic antenna farm which I have devoted so much time to perfecting, because with our limited budget and my wife's desire to live close to a town it's unlikely we will find a house with any better ham radio potential.
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