I long ago resigned myself to the loss of view and seclusion. I have fitted a blind in expectation of the day on which I first see not the setting sun through my office window, but my new neighbour’s bathroom. I considered myself ready for everything the builders were to bring, but I was not. I was not ready for the noise of diggers and bulldozers clanging away throughout the daylight hours, digging up soil and stacking it into long, low banks; digging it up again and stacking it into short, tall piles; digging it up once again and stacking it into a thousand giant molehills. I have no idea why they are doing this, but the resultant dust storm ensures that the garden, for now, is a complete no-go zone. The last two weeks have been about nothing other than muck and noise and shifting piles of soil presenting me with an ever-changing moonscape each time I open the curtains.
The dust is unbelievable – you will just have to believe me – covering every outdoors shiny surface we have. Our black glass topped tables are now bright orange, home to a good half inch of prime topsoil. The view through our garden mirrors is like a sepia photograph of years gone by. The sun that shines through the windows into the house casts a strange ochre hue into the rooms that makes them somehow darker. The greenhouse appears to have been at the centre of a volcanic eruption. I am sure the airlines will have to guide aeroplanes out of our airspace.
And all the time the relentless ‘thrum’ of heavy, yellow machinery doing its almost balletic ‘thing’ just a few feet behind our low garden wall: digging and stacking, redigging and restacking, clanking and grinding and banging and banging and banging, whilst in the sky we have the incessant screech of the gulls (Why, I have no idea. I don’t think they’re digging fish up out there.) that have replaced the kestrels and the buzzards now that the mice and rats and voles have gone who-knows-where to find somewhere quieter to hang out. (Toad Hall perhaps? – Or probably more likely, the now-redundant outside seat covers in my shed.)
I have no idea how long this will last before the scaffold and the bricks and the men in yellow hats move in. Presumably some time after the men in suits with clipboards and yellow hats move out, when a new brick wall will begin to climb its way across my horizon, which it will all-too-soon dominate.
And I can’t pretend that I’m not fascinated by it all: watching the buildings slowly encroach from the left, the ground being prepared straight ahead and the lorries growling in from the right. Watching the green become brown, the brown become stone: little boxes entwined within snaking black rivers of tarmac road; watching the trees and the grass and the hares and the deer and the mice and the rabbits pack their bags and leave for a none-too-distant silent landscape pricked only by the song of a steeply ascending skylark, the shriek of pheasant, the baby cry of a fox, the curse of an errant golfer…
A year or so from now it will all be over and we will soon grow used to looking out onto a brick wall. We’ve started to wonder what colour it will be. Will the new people love their garden? Will they grow honeysuckle up the wall, or will they hang a basketball hoop? Will we talk over the garden fence? Will they ask us round to a welcome party in their garden? Will we learn that all they want is a little taste of what we have had for over four decades? Of course we will.
Those on the growing fringe of the oil-on-water spread of development will briefly have country views. Their successors will have nets to stop the golf balls and (according to the plans) shimmering blue, reed-lined pools to control the flooding. The golf club will have a massively increased clientele, as will the doctor’s, the school and the shop – when all this has finished, the village will have trebled in size – and the runoff rainwater from the acres of new concrete will go… somewhere where it is nobody’s responsibility, and somewhere, presumably, where it will meet the new school, the new health centre and the new shops which appear to have quietly disappeared from the plans. It’s hard to believe that we could move from the edge of a village to the centre of a town without even the need for a removals van. Never mind, we have a shiny new road which will ‘facilitate further growth’ apparently and the man from the council tells us that the massive development here will mean that other villages escape almost unscathed. They’ll get our mice and rats and voles, our foxes and our birdsong, and maybe it serves them right…
The photo at the top of this page is the view I have had from my office window for over forty years. The photo at the bottom is the view I have today. Can you spot the difference?