Poles Apart

It looked as if I was go­ing to have a fight on my hands if I wanted to keep my new-found free­dom

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

Wel­come to the neigh­bour­hood’ read a per­son­alised flyer I found in the let­ter­box of my new house on my re­turn from work. ‘And a par­tic­u­larly warm wel­come from the Plover De­vel­op­ment Home­own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.’

I no­ticed the back of the flyer fea­tured a close-up of my own front door.

‘Please note that your door must be re­stored to the stip­u­lated shade, ‘Tran­quil Dawn’. Cur­rently, it is ‘Spring Dusk’, cho­sen in er­ror by the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pant.’

I checked the name at the foot of the flyer – a Ms Mil­dred Sev­ing­ton.

I scrunched up the flyer.

I’d had quite enough of petty or­di­nances when I was liv­ing with Gor­don.

Over the next few days,

I had a light in­stalled on the porch (mo­tion-ac­ti­vated for se­cu­rity), mounted a ye olde me­tal post­box by my door­bell, and set Nobby the fish­ing gnome on my doorstep, a mov­ing-on-from-Gor­don gift from my brother.

Three weeks af­ter mov­ing in, I got a firm fin­ger on my door­bell, with­drawn hastily when the chime turned out

to be Hawaii Five-O. I opened the door to find a woman of about my own age crouch­ing down, mea­sur­ing the dis­tance be­tween my new post­box and the ground.

She stood up in a grace­ful, fluid move­ment.

‘Mrs Brown­ing?’ I nod­ded re­luc­tantly. Thank­fully, I wouldn’t be Mrs Brown­ing much longer, once the pa­per­work came through.

‘I am Mil­dred Sev­ing­ton,’ she re­vealed. ‘Chair­per­son of the PDHA. You’re aware of re­stric­tions on wall­mounted… anom­alies?’

‘No.’

She held up a lam­i­nated list. Each line be­gan with cap­i­tal let­ters: NO cling­ing ivy (in­clud­ing red), NO se­cu­rity lights, NO wind chimes, NO wheelie bins in view af­ter col­lec­tion day, et al, NO gnomes… it went on, but I’d got the gist. Af­ter liv­ing with Gor­don, I swore I’d never let any­one brow­beat me again.

‘I’m sorry, but it’s all non­nego­tiable,’ I said, mak­ing a swift in­ven­tory of her as I spoke, not­ing the pale cir­clet of flesh on her ring fin­ger, nico­tine-stained fin­gers (she had a vice af­ter all – hur­rah!) and ex­er­cise-toned fig­ure.

Mil­dred Sev­ing­ton, mean­while, was look­ing at me with shock and be­wil­der­ment. ‘We have rules for a rea­son, Mrs Brown­ing!’

‘I re­ally don’t give a mon­key’s. I know my rights!’ I didn’t re­ally, I re­flected, as I swung my door shut in her face. There was bound to be some­thing

I’d sim­ply over­looked in the small print of the house sales bumph.

But I wasn’t harm­ing any­one. I just wanted to pull up my draw­bridge and be left alone.

A few days later, a mis­sive in my il­le­gal post­box

‘in­vited’ me to a meet­ing of the

PDHA. Should

I fail to at­tend,

‘mea­sures will be taken in line with the spe­cial pro­vi­sions clause of your ti­tle deed.’

I stomped there de­fi­antly, ex­pect­ing to find a mil­i­tant turnout bent on burn­ing me at the stake. But when I pushed open the squeaky door to the com­mu­nity hall, I found I’d been granted a ‘closed ses­sion’ with Mil­dred and her deputy, Colonel Blas­coe (re­tired). ‘We’d like to re­solve this dis­creetly be­fore the next full meet­ing,’ Mil­dred in­formed me, the colonel nod­ding in agree­ment.

My con­fi­dence and dan­der ris­ing, I made an im­pas­sioned speech, quot­ing Churchill and El­iz­a­beth I. I was just hit­ting my stride when the colonel in­ter­rupted and said, ‘Do ex­cuse my dicky blad­der,’ and left the room, leav­ing me alone with Mil­dred.

We eye­balled each other un­til she sighed and said, ‘With­out rules, what are we,

Mrs Brown­ing?’

‘Au con­traire, Ms Sev-’

‘Call me Mil­dred.’

‘You may as well call me Angie. Any­way, with too many rules, we are sti­fled. You might take Nobby – though not with­out a fight – but you’ll never take my free­dom!’

At that point, I was cer­tain her mouth ac­tu­ally twitched.

And by the time Colonel Blas­coe re­turned, Mil­dred and I had es­tab­lished that, while poles apart in our think­ing, we had been scarred in sim­i­lar ways by ex-hus­bands.

With Mil­dred, it had been his way­ward­ness with her bank cards, sig­na­ture and best friend, mak­ing her crave sta­bil­ity, or­der and the let­ter of the law. In my case, as I ex­plained in de­tail on the walk home to­gether, it had been Gor­don’s con­trol freak­ery. ‘That’s why I err on the side of be­ing quite assertive now.’

‘I hadn’t no­ticed,’ she said dryly. ‘By the way, how did you guess I’m di­vorced?’

I told her about the cir­cle of pale skin on her ring fin­ger. I also knew by her lim­ber mea­sur­ing up at my front door that she must pa­tro­n­ise Pi­lates at the com­mu­nity hall on Tues­day nights.

‘You might con­sider that as well,’ she said, adding hastily, ‘Not that I’m say­ing you’re not lim­ber…’

‘Don’t worry, I know what you meant.’ I paused at my front door. ‘As long as I’m still wel­come when I don’t re­paint this Tran­quil Dawn.’

She raised an eye­brow. ‘A com­pro­mise? We could trade your door and post­box for the light and gnome? Or vice versa. That’s the beauty of well-drafted rules,’ she sniffed. ‘The ex­cep­tions prove their in­built ef­fec­tive­ness.’ And with that, she walked off home.

I un­locked my il­le­gally painted door, telling Nobby I might just have made my first friend and joined my first lo­cal ex­er­cise class.

Af­ter all, if Mil­dred could make an ex­cep­tion (or two), my draw­bridge could be low­ered more of­ten than even I had planned.

THE END

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