We have heard no more of our phantom building inspector, but, as it turned out, we didn’t need to call the police to report the impostor. A policeman turned up at our door one evening this week, uninvited. Some village youths had been ‘causing mischief’, he explained, and he wanted to reassure us that the county force was on the case along with the CID.
Apparently, it all started with the yobs letting sheep out of a neighbour’s field, then they came back to cut the plastic teats off the bowser parked in the lane to water the cattle, and finally they went way too far when they broke into an empty house nearby, spraying paint and putting matches to the curtains.
I bumped into the cattle farmer in the lane a day or two later and he was still shaking his head in shocked disbelief.
‘I’ve lived here for nearly 50 years and there’s never been anything like it,’ he muttered. ‘Not to say I never did a little scrumpin’ as a child if me and my friends saw some nice apples growing.’ I really didn’t like to tell him that by comparison with the murders and drive-by shootings that were weekly events?and passed almost unnoticed?in the London ‘hood where we lived until four months ago, a furore over some vandalism by a couple of tearaway teenagers seems as quaint as village fêtes and horse brasses. And as for the police turning up after a simple break-in, surely this is proof that Olde England survives in the countryside.
More unexpected visitors. A party of excited elderly ladies tootled up the drive, laden with cameras, asking politely if they could possibly view our ‘dovecote’. How did they know about it when we are hidden from view by acres of woods and fields?
The council must have posted a notice of its existence on the web at the same time they insisted absurdly that we commission a full historic-building survey, costing us £750-odd, of the small structure (erected in about 1985 by the farmer who lived here before us) as part of our listed-building consent.
When the old dears with the cameras were shown the plywood ‘dovecote’?little more than a dormer perched on the top of the old cart shed?they took a few desultory snaps and then left with the same derisive snort as the historic-building surveyor: ‘It’s not much to look at.’ Ah, but how wrong they are.
Our dovecote/cart shed as a whole is being magnificently transformed by the builders. With its new oak doors as solid as tank armour, and beams scraped clean of two centuries of bird mess, it is starting to look so fine my wife and I are tempted to move our bedroom across from the main house.
The restoration is not far from completion in fact, and Kevin, the skilled head carpenter and foreman on site, is trying for a big push this weekend. When I asked him this morning if he was on schedule, his face collapsed: the Portaloo hasn’t been emptied for six weeks; the electrician who told Kevin he was going to turn up last week still hasn’t shown his face; the bloke supplying some urgently-needed oak boarding hasn’t made good on his promise to deliver; and the team that was supposed to spend all of last weekend painting on a ‘mist coat’ upstairs turned up on Saturday morning and had vanished by midday.
‘It does my head in,’ said Kevin, puffing out his cheeks. I sympathised: ‘Builders, eh?’