We spent a few days in Suffolk, near Southwold, mostly to let the gasman service the boiler but also to relax and take in the coast and heathland.
The gorse is out in force at this time of year and the scents almost overpowering, as if I’d wandered into a Holland Park candle shop. The colour, though, snagged may attention. Southwold supports Ukraine!
There were many small moments of delight but one I failed to capture because it happened too quickly was to come across a viper sunning itself on the path near the derelict windmill, on the marshes outside Walberswick. It’s probably as well, because while I was fumbling for the phone, Dog came up behind me, sniffing. I’m pretty sure a Dog-viper interface is not recommended.
I did experience one specific frustration hereabouts. Why is it that so many public conveniences have a hand dryer that feels like someone is trying and failing to breathe on my wet hands? Whatever happened to the blast of warm air that might actually dry them? Mind you, I experienced the other extreme in Reykjavik airport; I was confused anyway by the tap system which looked like a set of handlebars and dispensed soap from the centre of the T and water from each end (it took me an age to suss this out). However, I’d just finished when I realised I had no clue how to dry my hands; there I am, holding them in the air as I looked around the tap/soap system at which point a 747 that was just about to take off had its jets channelled through the T bar and into the sink, in which the remnants of the water I’d used to wash was still present. That water didn’t remain in the sink long but its bid for freedom was thwarted by my crotch which stood in a direct line of fire. By the time I’d realised what was happening the jet had disappeared heaven knows where and the ability to dry anything with it. I emerged to the arrivals hall sporting a dark stained trouser/jazz hands combo. Bastards.
While we were away, a box of organic veg was delivered and left on the door step. Reynarda, our tame fox clearly thought it must be something interesting and pulled it open, scattering the contents on the drive. As it comprises organic veg, she left disappointed but not before she’d leave an aubergine as a sort of comment on the lack of meat alternates.
When not in Suffolk, I played at lawyering this week. A friend had a property query – my former speciality – and while I moan fit to explode if people ask for my advice/opinion/help on things legal because of my former career (a) I remain flattered when they do (b) often the problem is intriguing and captures my imagination, though (c) I groan when I find I’ve left myself open to continuous help because there is always a follow up.
This particular issue related to adverse possession, or squatter’s rights as it is colloquially known. In the law, certainly the Common Law that applies in England & Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have distinct legal systems on which I’m not competent to comment – there is a maxim: the law abhors a vacuum. Thus all property – every bit of England and Wales that is – needs to be owned by someone. Technically, despite the idea that an Englishman’s (and Welshman’s and Englishwoman’s and Welshwoman’s and… oh you get the point) home is his/her/their castle, all land is fundamentally the current Monarch’s ever since William the Horse Chestnut (he was always William the Conker at school) stuck an arrow in Harold’s eye and said ‘Allez vous en, Engleesh pigdog’. However he allowed various others to occupy bits on payment of a toll – a fee – for the privilege. Gradually his successors allowed Barons and others to keep their land and dropped the monetary value of the fee until it was just a technicality – a fee simple – and thus today we who own our castles (other stone structures are available) – hold it in fee simple, in right of the Crown and, basically enjoy it whatever Her Maj may think.
But sometimes, those who own it die and people forget who owns it, or they move away, or go bankrupt and can’t be bothered anymore. If they die without leaving to anyone, it will eventually go back to the crown – oh, all right, that’s the Treasury to you and me, as bona vacantia – essentially a little legal lottery win. But that can take an age to be recognised and in the meantime others – those squatters above – move in and use it. It’s all a trifle unsatisfactory, especially if the squatters improve it and look after it. Hence, so the law says, if they’ve occupied it for a number of years they can claim it as their own.
Adverse possession. It takes a minimum of ten years and even then there are hurdles but it’s possible to acquire a piece of property cost free this way. In the case of the friend, it revolves around a bit of back garden and it falls into the nice to have category. It also had me dragging my memory back a dozen of more years to the complexities. That’s the danger here. To the friend, it’s something he’d like a simple answer to; to me it was an intriguing conundrum and I maybe played up my enthusiasm for the problem and less for the solution (basically sit on it for a few more years). A lesson I need to relearn.
Sometimes these things pay off in real ways; when the Lawyer of these pages gave up the law and became the Financial Broker, he didn’t realise how much he’d enjoy the new job, nor that two years later he’d leave with two friends to set up their own business. Their former place of work threatened to sue them – utterly spuriously but still not nice – and I may have helped settle some nerves and push the rapacious S.O.Bs back into their box, while they settled into their new business. As a result his two new partners gave the Textiliste and I a voucher at an extremely posh restaurant in Notting Hill for a meal. Covid rather delayed that treat but on Tuesday herself and me, plus the Financial Broker and his delightful spouse, the Journalist sat down for dinner.
I haven’t eaten such a sumptuous meal for so long. Maybe, I thought, I should get back into giving some legal steers if this is the outcome!
Possibly the biggest worry around the upcoming move in of the Journalist and the Financial Broker is integrating their cat, Tipsy, into our little menagerie. Currently she has the run of their flat and a fairly enclosed set of back gardens within which to wander. She has met Dog who maintains a studied indifference to all felines so I’m not worried about them. However the Dowager hasn’t shared with another cat for two years and that was her sister so that may be interesting.
And Tipsy has to get used to this environment, the foxes and other cats. Of course plans are being laid how to ensure this happens, but my worry is I do not want to be the person who forgets to shut a door while Tipsy is being kept in, thus allowing her some kind of Great Escape. I just have a feeling that it is going to be me….