It looked as if I was going to have a fight on my hands if I wanted to keep my new-found freedom
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Three weeks after moving in, I got a firm finger on my doorbell, withdrawn hastily when the chime turned out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?’
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
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,
‘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.