One of my neighbours is something to behold. I didn’t catch her name the first time I heard it so we just refer to her as Cruella. In the 3 years we’ve been in our house, we haven’t had much interaction because our entrances are on different roads and our properties are separated by a wooden fence and a thick hedge. The original owners of our house warned us she was a difficult battleaxe.
Her hair is bleached blond and she bakes herself dark brown by spending hours lying topless in the sun. All summer I have had a good view of her tits from my upstairs bedroom window. She looks tough, cold and nasty. She’s the sort of woman who would leave you to the crocodiles. She might even push you in. Her family appears somewhat low class. I don’t mean to be a snob, but a fact’s a fact. In South Africa, you would call them skollie and the English would say they are chavs.
This lady, Cruella, planted bamboo against the border fence between our house and hers. Bamboo grows fast and in all directions, like weeds, and you need a flame thrower to keep it at bay. It’s out of control and we’re tired of the tangled mess. We want our neighbours to cut it back, so to prune it and take control of the growth and make the area pretty again.
I consulted the village commune for some advice on my rights and they said that sort of plant on a property’s border must be kept to 2m max. When I told them who my neighbour was, they hinted I should get the Judge of the Peace involved from the beginning. I got the impression my neighbour has a reputation in village circles. I love it that Swiss villages have an independent judge of the peace who arbitrates any disputes. I felt it wasn’t right to use him from the outset and should at least speak to the lady first.
I wrote a jaunty letter that was fine-tuned by my French teacher. If I received a sweet note like that, I would be out in the garden on receipt of it, pruning with my nail scissors if I had to. Nothing happened. When we returned from America, the bamboo had grown a further few feet and waved at us in the wind, like a giant eff-you to our polite request.
I felt ill at the implications of this. I would need to speak to the lady face-to-face. I put it off for days. It became about more than the bamboo. It grew into a personal mission for me to overcome my fear and face a potentially confrontational woman on the back foot ie in French. I’ve never coped well with difficult people, even in English. That’s why I am a useless leader. I can’t think on my feet. I freeze and then afterwards I replay conversations in intricate detail and despise myself when I imagine all the clever, articulate responses I could have made but didn’t.
One afternoon, the girls and I set off. I was quivering with dread.
Now you are probably thinking I made a big deal out of nothing. I didn’t. It was as I expected. I have never in my life been spoken to with such venom over a topic as stupid as pruning some bamboo. This woman greeted me with an inflamed and savage face and launched into a monologue about why she absolutely will not, under any circumstances, cut her bamboo. She was terrifying. Even my usually rambunctious girls cowered around my legs and listened goggle-eyed. Megan was mesmerized and disturbed by her long white false fingernails, which were actually more like talons.
To cut a long story short, over the course of our 30 minute discussion, it was as if I was diffusing a bomb with kindness, gentleness and grace. This was not my choice. I wanted to dominate her and put her straight because I know I am right and in terms of the rules of the village – and Switzerland is all about rules – she is legally obliged to cut her bamboo. Sadly I was incapacitated by my shock and had no alternative but to be somewhat mute and defenceless. I listened and nodded at her rant which then led to a walk through her garden where she preached at me next to the wretched bamboo. I forgot my French and repeated breathlessly and incoherently, ‘I want to have good relations. Let’s be nice. Can you cut the bamboo like we cut our hair? I want you to give it a little haircut.’
It would be a truly disgusting human being who couldn’t melt at the sight of a nervous, flushed young mum who bumbles about in a foreign language and squeaks for you to cut your bamboo’s hair. Eventually Cruella realized I was harmless and she apologized for being so cold and distant at first. She said, ‘I’m like that with everybody.’ It is no wonder she has such a bad reputation.
She agreed, ok fine, she will trim the bamboo in the autumn. I will believe that when I see it. She even offered Megan an ice-cream. We shook hands and I waved and wished her a great afternoon. What a turnaround. ‘What the heck just happened there?’ I wondered as we walked home.
In August we went to an indoor play area in Toronto. I forgot the nappy bag at home and, Murphy’s Law, Jessica had a major blow out and I needed to clean her up and change her asap. I asked the staff where I could buy some nappies and was given directions to the nearest shop, which didn’t sound so near. Drive past three traffic lights, turn left, turn right … I must have looked baffled. The manager said, ‘Forget it. I will go for you.’
This fellow took his own car and went past three traffic lights, turned left, turned right, parked, selected my nappies and used his initiative to buy wipes as well. He stood in a queue, paid for the items with his own money (I later reimbursed him) and then drove back. He did all that just for me. He said he has a 2 year old too and he understood. I was completely and utterly blown away by his unexpected kindness to me.
Moral of the story: Some people are lovely and some people are not. Either way, a little kindness goes a long way.