Everyday for the past 18 years I’ve walked past the house on the corner of Kensington road, a small detached, unattractive house with an integral garage and a simple garden. The house is partially hidden by a curiously clipped hedge of leylandii, neat on one side and hacked at the other…a dispute between the neighbours so I hear.
I’m told that the owners of the house are a bit strange and don’t really fit in with the rest of the neighbourhood. They keep themselves to themselves and never join in the few remaining community events that still take place. I’ve heard that if you see them out in the garden, they’ll say hello and pass the time of day but anything more than that and they become a bit stand-off-ish.
Apparently, he works as a builder but does a bit of wheeling and dealing on the side. He is known to mix with a few well-known jack-the-lads and they say he has lots of connections with dodgy characters that live on the council estate at the other side of town. It’s even rumoured that he’s involved in criminal activity and spent some time in prison as a younger man. He drives a white van and seems to be out most of the day. She apparently works in town, as a cleaner.
They spend lots of time away especially during the summer months. Last year, so the story goes, he was sent down for handling stolen goods and she went to stay with her mother. Come to think of it, one day I did pass and saw the garage door had been left open a bit. I could see lots of boxes piled up around the walls and some were partially covered with a sheet. Brian from the church says that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time.
According to Jean at the corner shop, they can’t have children because she is infertile but she does look after her sister’s children from time to time, mainly in the school holidays, because her sister is separated from the children’s father after his temper went too far one day and he gave her a good-hiding. Jean is a mine of information.
According to the grapevine, they are in quite a bit of debt and he declared himself bankrupt a couple of years ago but now operates his business in his wife’s name. Jean says that she’s heard he doesn’t put any of his work through the books and that he works on a cash in hand basis, “which is alright until it all goes wrong and then you have no comeback”.
Rumour has it that the house is completely ‘over-the-top’ inside with garish decorations and gilded glass and plaster coffee tables. Cathy’s husband did some repairs on their conservatory roof and was surprised how “footballers wife” it was inside for such a modest home, “but what would you expect from someone who came from such a working class background…” Also, they keep the house too closed with curtains drawn and blinds closed much of the time, well that says a lot about folks doesn’t it?
Their neighbours are an elderly couple who are lovely, he has a bit of Alzheimer’s and she looks after him twenty-four hours a day. Jean says at their time of life they can do without the hassle and rudeness they apparently get from next door. Their dispute started years ago over the hedge. It was OK until it grew but then they fell out about how it blocks views and how it will eventually undermine the foundations and drains. I’ve never seen the hedge grow over six-foot in all the times I have passed it but there you go…
Last Thursday I was on my way to work when I saw a couple of police cars parked up outside the house and a small crowd of people gathered on the other side of the road. As you do, I stopped and joined Jean, Cathy and a few others who were desperate to find out what was happening.
Brian from the church appeared. “Very sad news indeed” he announced to the concerned neighbourly group. “We’ve heard that Richard and Diane were killed outright in a car crash in Bulgaria at the weekend”. A short gasp of breath from Jean was followed by “What on earth were they doing in Bulgaria Brian? I knew he was short of work but Bulgaria is a long way to go for a bit of building work …and why on earth was she with him?”
According to Brian, they had been travelling back from an orphanage where they had spent 6 weeks in summer repairing the fabric of the building and delivering toys and much-needed provisions. They had been working with a charity for the past 12 years and were very well thought of apparently.
Jean appeared to be in shock but soon regained her decorum. “How very, very sad” said Jean. “They were such a lovely couple, they’ve been coming in my shop for years”. Cathy nodded in agreement and said that it was tragic that such giving people were taken at such a young age. The next ten minutes or so were filled with heart-warming tales of how their lives had intertwined with the lives of the now “beatified” Richard and Diane. Joined by Doreen, their elderly neighbour, Jean started to denounce all those rumour mongerers that had sullied the name of these good people. “That’s the trouble with gossips” said Jean, “they know everything but the truth”.
Over the next few days and weeks, the chitchat continued, the gossip grew and further chapters were created and embroidered. The house was sold, new people moved in and the new stories evolved. Apparently, not the main reason, but one of the reasons, Richard and Diane, had been in Bulgaria was to “adopt one of those orphans…” well according to what Jean had heard. The hedge grew tall.