No photograph would do justice to that phrase, so I will do without for fear of scandalising the congregation.
It was a statement in frequent use by my grandmother’s neighbour… a lady of firm opinions, baldly stated. I would dearly like to have her resurrected in this era of trigger warnings, PCism and all that…Saul might have slain his thousands, but she would have slain her ten thousands, snowflakes melting to left and right of her. Suffice it to say that she enjoyed the Black and White Minstrel Show on the television, went to church on Sundays and regarded all foreigners with suspicion. Rumour had it that in her younger days during the Great War she had denounced a Belgian for espionage on the grounds that he wore a wig, proving that he was a master of disguise.
She was also involved in the forced resignation of my grandfather from his post as an ARP warden in the Second World War when he crept up on her gossiping and waved his gas rattle at her. The fact that he was supposed to be a messenger during an exercise which supposed a German bombing raid in the area which resulted in, hypothetically, the gasworks being blown up together with the trolley bus depot and the hospital because he had dallied in the Rose and Crown might also have had something to do with it…but as far as he was concerned, it was the neighbour wot done it.
As children, my grandmother used to usher us indoors when an encounter with her neighbour was likely to sully our ears, but she had a carrying voice and we, straining our ears for more, were agog.
The problem was, one could not seek enlightenment….one would be accused of eavesdropping…so to this day the phrase, ‘There she stood, tits akimbo’ remains an enigma.
I can remember receiving a horrified dressing down by my mother when I saw a woman walking down the road outside and asked whom that tart might be, as she had been so apostrophised by the neighbour. I had been puzzled as to me, in the age of innocence, a tart was something to eat, made of pastry and fruit, so I vaguely thought the woman must be involved in the bakery business. I was enjoined never to use the phrase of any woman but retained an idea that women who ate fruit tarts were of ill repute but that attention should not be drawn to that fact.
Which sounds very like the respect accorded to the current generation of politicians. We know they are venal lowlife, but attention should not be drawn to that fact…because if you do you are either wearing a tinfoil hat, are a domestic terrorist or a pathetic lunatic…so, as she so often said, you can kick up all you want, but you might as well shit in your hat.
We were having lunch when the sound of cars on the track below the house sent the dogs into a frenzy.
Normally, they take no notice….they know all the regular cars: Hugo’s SUV, Luis’ pick up, Franklin’s van and the two motor bikes which bring the Mariachi’s workmen to his finca down over the river.
These come at their appointed hours and apart from the odd grumble from the poodle pass without challenge.
But today the dogs were out in full fig: Arthur, periscope ears rotating as he gave tongue….the two pups hanging over the edge above the track presenting their less attractive profiles as they barked in baritone…Black Tot and the poodle yapping hysterically and bouncing up and down to see over the bushes.
Danilo’s dogs joined in, nothing loath: Calamardillo showing his crocodile teeth….the Hyena giving it laldy…and tiny Bigote – more hair than dog – yapping along with the best from his vantage point on the table in the porch.
The cars had stopped by the time we had left the table and gone to investigate.
Two large, shaven headed men were looking up at the canine reception committee, then a hard faced woman peered out from the lead car and seemed to call them back.
The convoy turned in the entrance to our neighbour’s corral and departed whence it had come.
Lost? Plenty of people do get lost, thinking that there is a road through the valley….
But it appeared that they were not lost…they were on a quest.
All was revealed when the young man who delivers goods after dark turned up with a further installment of wire fencing.
He of the crisp white hat with a curly brim has been remarkable by his absence of late.
Yes, he would be. he’s lying low.
The fencing unloaded, the story was recounted over a beer.
The Neighbour – while ostensibly making his living from transporting cattle – has other occupations.
He works for one of the local Mr. Bigs doing goodness only knows what which pays very well in cash
However, when the opportunity arose to do some moonlighting for another of the local Mr. Bigs in the same line of business he seized it with both hands.
Flush with this doubling of his income, The Neighbour has been extending his social horizons.
Banned from every bar in town and for several kilometres around he decided to go further afield and betook himself to one of the casinos with which San Jose is blessed.
This did not please the lady who has moved in with him in the hope of one day depriving him of his house by accusing him of ill treating her and thus being awarded possession of his property under the provisions of the law protecting women from domestic violence..
The hostesses in the casinos look considerably more like Shirley Bassey than she does and are even more expert at cash extraction.
Apart from the hostesses and their lack of apparel, the casinos have other attractions….free meals and snacks…and free booze.
The Neighbour’s dream.
Until it turned into a nightmare.
Flush on the attractions of the casino he appears to have ventured past the one arm bandit area into the maw of the beast – the gaming tables – and there to have laid down some four thousand dollars on one turn of the roulette wheel.
Whether it stopped on the red or on the black our informant had no idea…but he lost.
Collapse of stout party.
He could pay…but he was now skint.
And he had immediate calls on his money – because the money he had lost was not his, but money belong to Mr. Big 2 which The Neighbour had collected on his behalf.
Resourceful as ever, The Neighbour betook himself to Mr. Big 1 and negotiated a loan of four thousand dollars to tide him over.
He then paid this to Mr. Big 2 and settled down to a period of enforced domestic economy to pay off Mr. Big 1.
Enforced domestic economy had not pleased the lady resident on his premises. In return for the donation of her favours, not to speak of the washing, ironing, cleaning and cooking, she expected considerably more than a diet of rice and bananas, while his refusal to share the remaining whisky on the grounds that decent women did not drink alcohol only exacerbated matters.
She took herself off to Mr. Big 1 and revealed to him that The Neighbour was
A…working for Mr. Big 1’s rival Mr. Big 2
B…the money he had borrowed was to pay to Mr. Big 2.
Then, wisely, she retired to her daughter’s house to await results.
Mr. Big 1 was displeased. He intimated to The Neighbour that
A… he wanted his money back. Now.
B…there was no future employment for The Neighbour’s talents. Not at his address.
The Neighbour had a problem….he might not have future employment with Mr. Big 1…but if he did not cough up it was likely that he would have no future at all.
Sell the truck he used to transport cattle.
But he has not only to find a buyer willing to pay his price…he has also to have the sale ratified by a lawyer – and they don’t work at week ends.
So until both conditions are fulfilled The Neighbour has been lying low…and Mr. Big 1’s enforcers are hunting him down.
We wait with bated breath to see if the previously resident lady will reveal to Mr. Big 2 what The Neighbour was doing with the money entrusted to him….in which case the dogs will have a lot more barking to do.
I’m a sort of optimistic pessimist…if the glass is half empty then there’s room for a top up….but there are days which leave me in no mood even to pick up the glass in the first place.
Yesterday was one of those…..on the face of it a fine day for being up on the building site, deciding where to build the corral and chicken housing and planting more trees and shrubs.
The work had, despite the early start to the rainy season, been going very well so what was there to spoil the mood?
A prat, that’s what.
There is a big reorganisation of water rights and usage going on in this area after the mess made by The Neighbour when the developer was trying to get permission for housing further down the valley.
It has taken ages…meetings, checking title deeds, visits to government offices, more meetings, gentle persuasion exerted on the man who thought his neighbours should pay him for permitting the new main pipe to run through his finca, appointments with a taxation tribunal to arrange who should in fact pay what to whom, and finally, more checking of title deeds, but we seem to be in sight of the objective…water for everyone (except The Neighbour) at an agreed usage.
Being a glass half empty person, it occurred to me that long before this process ended we would need to begin building and as part of The Neighbour’s reorganisation had seen the water removed from our cafetal where we wanted to build we had to get a secure supply there to enable work to start, rather than waiting until the big reorganisation was completed.
There is a convenient spring on the finca next up the mountain…and until the Neighbour started messing about the pipes had run over that finca and through our own so we thought we would ask the owner, a North American, if we could come to some arrangement by which we could use that water and reinstate the pipes.
We had only met him once before….when he stopped us on the road to tell us that unless we paid him for the telegraph posts which carried the ‘phone line over his land he would sell them to someone else and leave us without a ‘phone.
ICE – the electricity board – did not take his attempt at blackmail kindly; especially as the posts were theirs…
So it was no surprise that he refused downright to help us out in the matter of water – even though there was a partial right of way and customary use over the whole line had been established for more than forty years.
So we told him that we would seek a concession to take water from the spring from the Environment Ministry and re establish the right of way for the pipes.
His response came a few days later when his North American neighbour came by for a coffee and got straight down to business.
We did not want to apply for a concession.
Yes, we did.
No, we certainly did not. X (the owner) doesn’t want anyone on his property.
He won’t have anyone on his property. Once the line is laid there’s no need for anyone to go there. No one did before when the pipes were there.
You don’t understand. X doesn’t want anyone on his property. You don’t want to go ahead with this.
But we do.
No you don’t. Y won’t like it. You don’t want to upset Y.
Who the blazes is Y?
You don’t know Y?.
We had never heard of Y, but enquiry showed him to be another North American, living a high life and popularly supposed to be involved in the drugs trade. He did not come to call and was found hanged in his garage some months later….
So we went ahead and – after much dirty work at the crossroads – obtained our concession. The re establishment of the right of way is taking longer, but the Environment Ministry inspector said that if we took the water pipe from the source down the bed of the stream that runs from it then we were on state property – the state owns all watercourses – and so not trespassing on the North American’s finca.
It meant going about three times as far with the pipes…but if it got the work started…fine.
And so the foundations went down and the walls went up.
Then we had a call from the owner of the finca. He wanted to see us to talk about the water. He would come to the building site.
He duly arrived. He was chatty, admired the site and the house and then said
I’m cutting off your water.
We have a concession.
No you don’t. My lawyer has seen the Ministry lawyers…there were irregularities in your application. Its not worth the paper it’s written on. I’m getting a concession…that will be the only one…and I’m cutting off your water. This week.
It was suggested that he leave before Danilo’s dog Rowley took a dislike to him and after saying how disappointed he was in our lack of willingness to discuss the matter he left.
So what now?
We know we have a legal right to the water…..but what do we do if his workmen rip out our pipes?
Replace them of course and sue him for the damage but it all takes up time better spent on building.
Do we believe the ‘irregularities’?
No, but as he has a lawyer whose list of contacts compensates for his ignorance of the law it is well to check with the Ministry.
More time wasted…but I believe in belt and braces.
Nothing we can’t cope with.
But what I find so depressing is that someone could set up a meeting at the building site….appear to enter into our enthusiasm for the project and then pull the ‘cutting off your water’ stunt, designed to ruin everything we were working to achieve.
He has to have a strange sort of mentality to find that satisfying.
Don Freddy dropped by at the house later on and we were discussing it with him.
He repeated what we had already heard about X’s none too savoury way of life…..taxi drivers talk….and provided a possible key to explain the behaviour.
You building up there, on the road to his house, must bother him….you’ll be able to see who comes and goes.