Well, I’ve planted out or potted up everything except three lavender bushes. And I’ve written a tetchy email to a client who owes me for a piece of china. Obviously, I’m not sending it until the cheque has cleared … if it ever arrives. Won’t accept a commission bid from him again in a hurry.
I phoned the client we’re due to visit on Thursday and he insists that he and his wife will take us out to lunch. “Oh, there’s no need,” I protested. “I know there isn’t,” he replied, which was so disarmingly charming – or charmingly disarming – that I accepted. As I said yesterday, people are lovely. However wrecked the world seems, individuals are lovely.
When talking to LT on the phone tonight, I said I was going to write something on the blog that had happened today, so I wouldn’t tell him about it then. He’ll have something new to read about. But I do need to set the scene for everyone else’s benefit.
There’s a public footpath, a few hundred yards from here, that goes down a narrow track – on one side is the “concrete river” – a wide stream with a concrete base – and someone’s garden fence on the other. At the end there are three bridges, known locally as “the three bridges.” Unimaginative? Shorely not. Two and a half years ago, in an autumn storm, one of the bridges collapsed. It’s made of concrete and metal and is bulky and very unwieldy, and it won’t be easy to get it out. The council said it would be replaced in the spring. In the spring, they said it would be done in the autumn. In the autumn, they said the river would be too high and it would be done …. oh, you get the picture. Finally, they actually sent people round to work out what the hell to do, and then they said it wouldn’t be done at all. They couldn’t afford it.
Villagers are furious. It’s a popular path. It’s been very dangerous all this time, children and fishermen have been clambering down and up again, and it’s remarkable that no one has had a bad accident. We all walked our dogs down there, local children went to ramble over the marshes and swim in the safe bit of river, it’s a lovely walk down to the weir and across the wolds.
Word has it that the estimate for removal and replacement is in the nature of £360,000. Which is, I agree, hard to justify. But I spoke to a local farmer, a very practical chap – who, totally by the bye, spent this afternoon at Buckingham Palace having tea with Prince Charles, the newlyweds et al. He was astonished and reckoned he could do the work for a fraction of the sum. I mentioned the awkwardness of the two bits of river to cross before he could get to the bridge, but he reckoned it was very possible and explained how.
Back to this morning. I was in the kitchen and heard a knock at the front door. The front door is the original, massive Tudor oak with built-in bolts and lock, and it’s always kept fully fastened unless we’re going out that way. So when someone calls, they have to listen to the bolts being drawn back noisily and the iron key being turned, which must be a bit intimidating. Useful, on occasion. This time, there were two nervous-looking youngish men. They introduced themselves as being from the council, but the logos on their sweatshirts also identified them as being involved with footpaths.
“We’ve a big ask,” one said tentatively. I said something kind, because I’m only terrifying when I need to be.
Turned out that the council had checked who owns land the other side of the river and found me. In short, they want to alter the right of way, so that they don’t have to replace the bridge at all. But that can only be done with the consent of the landowners involved. I being the main one. Hah.
I said gently that this is quite a matter of distress and indignation in the village. They agreed. We discussed it for some time, though my position was clear from the start. I acknowledge and welcome the public right to use footpaths, which should be safe and kept in decent repair. Members of the public should be able to use the countryside, in a reasonable manner. But what I’m being asked for is to let the council duck out of their legal obligation and remove a right that should be upheld. If I owned that bridge, I said, I’d have been put under considerable pressure to replace it by now. They didn’t attempt to deny it. It simply can’t be afforded, they said. And apparently, it isn’t down to the council but to the footpath people who don’t have very much money. So I told them what Johnny had said, that it sounded as if *they* wanted to price it so that it’s unaffordable. I suggested they speak to him next. Apart from anything else, he rents the land from me so I would do nothing without his agreement.
I was sorry for them, they were being forced to cold-call and ask for something completely unreasonable, and they knew that it was. I pointed out that the bridge (which is now gated off, belatedly) has to be removed at some time, and that is the major expense. It doesn’t have to be replaced with something so sturdy. Not that it was as strong and stable as it was said to be, but I mustn’t get political here…
So, the poor chaps now have to beard Johnny, once he’s back from the Palace. “Tell them Zoë sent you,” I said cheerily.
Poor guys. I don’t know what’ll happen next but I’ll be interested to find out. For which, it seems, I’m quite well placed.