Our first introduction to our closest neighbours the R’s came when we returned
from the notaire, the keys to our ruin new house in our hands and found the post box had been uprooted and left against the fence.
The post box had been at the end of a chemin rurale – a green lane, on the verge outside the R’s house. La Poste isn’t officially allowed on private land (it doesn’t stop our nice post lady coming to the door when something needs signing for though) and there wasn’t anywhere else for the post box to go.
It took a month and the intervention of the mairie telling the R’s that the verge is public land and they had no right to stop our postbox being there before we could have letters delivered again. Then we got a letter from the R’s demanding that I stop walking up the 250 metres of chemin rurale to collect the post as I was making their dogs bark. We were instructed to make a round trip of over a mile by road instead and informed that we probably didn’t understand the ways of the countryside…
The R’s are natural bullies and thought that as we were foreigners they could dominate us – they soon discovered how wrong they were about that. They also owned both houses at the end of the chemin and wanted to sell one of them. They were desperate that potential buyers shouldn’t realise that the “abandoned” chemin which went under the kitchen window was actually in regular use. I refuse to use the car when I can walk though I did try to compromise by going the long way around, through the vines and not past their garden, when I could.
As a result the R’s cut us dead which, frankly, didn’t cause us any loss of sleep. I scrupulously bonjoured them whenever we met, it was always ignored. We found common ground with our other neighbours – they detested the R’s too. The R’s sold their house eventually, no doubt blaming us for it sticking on the market rather than it being semi-detached and vastly over-priced. I introduced myself to the new owners, the I’s, while collecting the post of course, and they shook my hand with visible reluctance as if they were afraid of what might be on it. It seemed that they’d already heard about us.
The I’s were nearly as unfriendly as the R’s. They too disliked me using the chemin, especially after I inadvertently surprised Madame sunbathing in the nude in their garden. They started parking their cars two abreast and blocking the chemin which wasn’t just inconvenient when I was hauling the wheely bin up there on rubbish day, more importantly the chemin is the official route for the emergency services to get to our house.
One day my OH saw Madame I trying to change a wheel and helped her do it. The next time I saw the I’s they said bonjour, a breakthrough. As they were being slightly approachable I explained about the chemin being our access pompiers – the right of way that we use as a drive isn’t marked on the maps and a fire engine wouldn’t know it’s there. The I’s looked thunderstruck, it must have dawned on them we weren’t being so unreasonable about the chemin after all, and they’ve kept it clear ever since. Relations thawed considerably.
The R’s continued to pointedly ignore us until recently when Madame R’s younger dog chased Kevin the kitten across the field in front of me. To do her credit, she was horribly embarrassed, I said it didn’t matter, Kevin had a good start and got away easily, and since we were actually talking admired her dogs for something non-controversial to say. She told me the elder one had arthritis and I, who will always help a dog, offered to give her the details of a remedy I’d found helped Jez’s arthritis, which I put in their postbox the next day.
Madame R seemed astonished at this even vaguely neighbourly gesture and it’s had big results. Both the R’s now say Bonjour when we pass, I doubt they’ll be asking us around for an apero in the near future but I can live with that. I’m happy to accept we’ll never be friends, I’ll settle for no daggers drawn.
The other day Monsieur I popped his head out of the kitchen window, the one that opens onto the chemin and asked me if I’d like a pheasant he’d shot.
Despite it being almost certainly illegal as it’s long past the end of the hunting season, my not liking pheasant and the fact that I’d have to draw and pluck the horrid thing I was still deeply appreciative of such a generous peace-offering. He looked quite relieved when I thanked him profusely but explained I have an allergy, I expect Madame I was about to be put to plucking.
The I’s have put up their house for sale. I wonder if we’ll have to go through all of this again with the new owners.