Monday, February 3, 2014

Nasty neighbours - boundary lines to battle lines
With the recent move to our home came the inevitable - finding a location for a modest shade-house structure to erect for my orchids in Summer. I was kindly donated an old existing shade-house structure by a friend of mine who's neighbour had told him that he could take theirs down and have the material. One hot Summer afternoon I dismantled the entire thing which was quite a job, and carted the materials off to my home just around the corner. I waited a few weeks before I had the time again on a weekend to set things into motion. I found the perfect spot in my back garden and measured out the 3.1m X 2.7 floor plan to position the four end upright posts. I began putting the frame together once I had the poles in and screwed most of it together in a single afternoon with nothing more than an electric drill, a spanner set and some large galvanised coach screws. I like screwing things together rather than using hammer and nails. Things are always easier to unscrew and to adjust or tighten when needed. Besides, I am a respectful chap and I certainly didn't want to make a nuissance of myself hammering away for the whole neighbourhood to hear while they were sitting down to Sunday lunch. Then, a rather stern looking face appeared, only just, above the 1.8m high vibacrete wall which draws the boundary lines between me and one of my neighbours. It was strange seeing her like this for the first time. I had been living here for three months already and all the other neighbours had made the effort to at least say hello when me moved in. One even brought us a freshly baked cake to welcome us to the neighbourhood and another kind and friendly elderly German lady who lives right at the end of our street popped in to congratulate us on the move and to offer her baby-sitting service if we needed it! Under the grey blue (or is it an odd violet colour?) hair of the ellusive-until-now neighbour I could see the accusation and the disapproval swelling deep in her beady little eyes. I could not see her mouth but she spoke briefly while affixing her stare to my shade-house frame. "What are you making there?" she enquired with a tone of ice. "Hello! It is good to finally meet you" I replied. "I am making a shade-house for my orchids" thinking that most if not all elderly people have a deep love and respect for orchids... "That (shade-house frame) doesn't look good at all, not good at all" she repeated. Somewhat startled I replied to her to then tell me how a shade-house structure should look. She gurgled a few mumbles and then composed herself before uttering that this thing (shade-house) would affect the re-sale value of her property and she didn't want to see it at all. I was rather puzzled how an orchid shade-house in the neighbour's garden could influence the sale of one's own property and I pondered this for a few minutes while sipping on a cold beverage in the kitchen. A wave of sympathy gripped me and I went off to inform the wife that I didn't want to bereave the old lady next door and that I would consider taking it down. To my surprise my wife let fly and under no circumstances was I to do anthing of the sort! Armed with this new-found support I headed back outside to continue with the structure. A few minutes later the old lady materialised half obscured again by our boundary wall. Again she protested so I packed up my tools and headed inside. This time I had a plan. I would seek municipal approval in the following week for the structure based on the rules set out in the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act (Act 103 of 1977) which allows for the erection of minor building works without the need for building plans as long as permission is granted by the district municipality. Greenhouses by the way are included as minor building construction and may be up to 10m X 5m without plans. So, I contacted the Overstrand Municipality's Town Planning Department and sent in my request in writing together with a detailed sketch of the structure and its building materials and use. The next day my wife received a phonecall from the disgruntled neighbour but this time she was particularly rude to my wife. This was of course very short-sighted. Anyone who knows my wife will know that this is like teasing a pit-bull terrier. My wife sternly informed the old lady that we had lodged a written request for permission with the municipality. To this the neighbour replied that she would do whatever she could to stop the process! So I entire week went by and I picked up the phone to enquire at the municipal offices as to the fate of my shade-house. A lovely lady on the other side of the phone told me that it was scheduled to be discussed in a meeting that afternoon and that I would have a response by the following day. Two days later I received written permission from the municipality with the inclusion "you do not have to request the permission of your neighbours as long as it is built within the property building line..." The next weekend I took out the old measuring tape and duly lifted the structure and relocated it a further 30cm away from the boundary to the building line. This time the structure was now in fuller view of the neighbour and I could sense the beady little eyes watching me from inside behind curtained windows. I progressed with the roof beams and just as I completed the roof and was about to begin working on the interior staging I heard a familiar voice. This time the tone had changed from ice to a more pleasant and polite tone. "Please man" she began "can you not just make it a bit lower?" Now, under normal circumstances a request like this would have been met with a compromise from my side but after all the nonsense prior, and the fact that my shade-house is only 2m high I simply and sternly responded that I would be leaving it the way it was and that I would not be entertaining any further discussion about it. The neighbour retired into her home. Ironically, the front door is decorated with stained glass images of orchids! After some more thought some time later after I had completed the shade netting, I realised that my neighbour should be lucky that I am not as crazy as some of the orchid-characters mentioned in Eric Hansen's book "Orchid Fever." She should count her blessings. However, a colleague did mention I should purchase a mooning garden gnome to pose for her in clear sight of her double-storey window... but why start a war when you have already won the fight?


  1. Simply amazing! Love your story. Hope that you are enjoying your new shade house to the fullest!

  2. Thanks Colleen! It is sad that some people alienate themselves from their neighbours. I am apparently not the only neighbour she has given a hard time. I will enjoy my shade-house thoroughly :)