Let me trim your bush for you
It has come to our attention that your bush is too big and is a hazard to pedestrians. We urge you to get your bush trimmed to prevent further action.
Mole Valley District Council
A few weekends prior to receiving that letter, our meek-and-mild busybody of a neighbour, Alan Squirrel (no kidding), had stopped me in the road. As usual, he was wearing green wellies and wheeling his wheelbarrow.
Neighbour: Hello Alan, how are you? Lovely day, isn’t it?
Me: Very well, thanks, Alan. How are you? Yes, a lovely day.
Neighbour: Great day for doing a spot of gardening.
Me: Yes, it is.
The sky was grey and it was far too cold for me to be in the garden. Neighbour Squirrel spent his life in his. The squeak of his wheelbarrow trundling between his house at the far end of the cul-de-sac and the woods at the other end was our neighbourhood’s equivalent of the screech of chalk on a blackboard. It happened all year round, especially on Saturday afternoons.
Neighbour: Alan, I know you’re a busy man and work long hours so I was wondering if you’d like me to trim your bush for you?
Me: Bush? Which bush?
He pointed towards the dense, beautiful rhodendendron bush that created a very effective hedge between our garden and the street. Two weeks before, it was ablaze with purple blooms. Now they were over. The frivolous purple bits had fallen off revealing the handsome dark green foliage that would stand there solidly until the following spring. Vigorous spring growth had made it a bit woolly around the edges, giving it the dishevelled look of an old man in need of a haircut.
Neighbour: I’m often clipping away at things so I thought you may want me to trim your bush. It’s grown a lot in the past month.
Me (icily): No thank you. I can do it myself.
Its woolly look didn’t bother me at all. I also had no immediate inclination to trim it. Neighbour Squirrel’s interfering but well-meaning offer did, however, bother me a lot. Every stubborn fibre in my body stood at attention.
A week or so later, my wife was getting shopping out of the car when an elderly couple came walking towards her, on the pavement. As they reached the car, they stepped in the road, walking around it instead of walking between it and the bush. She glanced up at them giving them her best neighbourly smile, prepared to exchange a few pleasantries. They cut her dead, their faces throbbing with haughty indignation.
It took a few seconds before she realised that our bush was the problem.
When she told me about it that evening, I felt all those stubborn fibres standing at attention again. I could imagine the curtain-twitching neighbours tut-tutting about the inconsiderate South Africans who let their bush grow too large. And who wouldn’t accept kind help to have it trimmed.
The letter arrived a few weeks after that. I trimmed my bush a couple of weeks later.
POSTSCRIPT: This happened about 18 years ago, soon after moving to England for the first time. I'd heard of the suburban, Little England character before but it was my first experience of it. Contrasting this episode with the 'real issues' back in South Africa made it seem even more ridiculous.