And a right old farce it was. There were five people in the garden, Tim Heath and Peter Johns from the BCT, two conservation Officers, Peter White from the ADC and another whose name I didn’t catch and the inspector from what is now called Historic England and used to be English Heritage. She is called Samantha Johnson, and was young, pretty and doing her utmost to be helpful, coming across to inroduce herself and explaining to me how difficult it was to raise funds for such a project – as if I didn’t know. But as the inspection and the negotiations were over, it wasn’t the time or the place to explain, so I let it ride.
I handed the first tranche of our petition to Tim Heath, telling him there were 500 signatures on it from ‘the vociferous minority’ he’d been writing about. He ignored that and passed it on to Peter Johns, who instantly saw it as a chance to sting all the signatories for a fiver or a pound. ‘If they all gave us a pound, that would raise £500,’ he said. I could see the pound signs flickering behind his eyes. I told him I certainly wasn’t going to hand over any addresses and nor was I prepared to open the signatories to a demand for money. That wasn’t the object of the exercise. He didn’t seem to understand that and persisted, telling me what a good start it would be. So I told him I didn’t think many people in the village would be prepared to give their hard earned cash to the BCT after the very great effort we put into raising money for the purchase of the cottage had been sidelined and ignored. And added that a lot of us had been considerably upset to be treated in that cavalier way. He didn’t seem to understand that either, but went on saying we’d all got to work together.
Then Tim Heath started to give me one of his unctuous speeches. He looks dishonest when he does that so I slapped him down and stopped him, telling him I didn’t like being condescended on and that he was to stop it at once. Then I promised Samantha Johnson that if any of us in the village noticed any sudden deterioration in the state of the cottage, I would phone her and report it. And headed off to the gate.
But the thick-skinned Mr Heath hadn’t finished with me. He came mincing down the path with a cheap postcard reproduction of one of Blake’s paintings in his hand, saying ‘I’ve got a present for you.’
‘No thank you,’ I said.’I don’t want it.’
‘It comes from Paris,’ he said, urging it on me.
‘I don’t care where it comes from,’ I said. ‘I don’t want it.’ And as he was still holding out his offering, I gave him the full benefit of the Kingston disapproving stare and said. ‘You just don’t get it, do you!’ And left him.
But he was doing exactly what he said he would do on the BCT website ‘People (AKA plebs) could visit the cottage on open days,’ he’d written. And ‘they could become Friends of the Cottage’ – and be harassed by endless begging letters – and he would reward us by giving us ‘works of art produced by his wonderful artists.’ When I first read that, I thought what a load of old tat it would be. And I wasn’t far wrong.
So the status quo in the cottage hasn’t shifted by so much as a centimeter. But take heart. Since the news hit the national press and national TV, the public perception has undergone a seismic shift. There will be more to come. Watch this space, and let me know what you think.