DJ Taylor: Mr Grist would be mortified to hear himself described as one of nature's complainers

  • @djtaylorwriter

'I think you'll find I'm within my rights," Mr Grist announces, one foot poised on the kerb of Siskin Drive, Dorchester, where the Grists have their domicile, both eyes trained on the monstrous cypress hedge whose possible trimming is the subject under discussion.

Darryl from next door, to whom these remarks are addressed, is 30 years younger than his neighbour, six inches taller and has been heard to describe him as "an interfering old ____", but it is a fact that within 24 hours a tree surgeon has called at the property and reduced the landmark by a height of several feet.

A lesser man would perhaps have paused to luxuriate in his triumph, but Mr Grist has already moved on to new challenges. By the time the wood has been dragged away he is deep in a letter to the manager of the local supermarket, drawing the latter's attention to the existence of a can of baked beans, purchased by himself at a price of 79 pence, by comparison with the 75 pence that prevails in a second branch four miles away on the other side of the town. This brings not only an apology but half-a-dozen extra cans gratis and a voucher for a free cup of coffee.

Grey-haired now, not far short of his seventies and with a modest professional life as an audit manager some years behind him, Mr Grist would be mortified to hear himself described as one of nature's complainers. Nothing could be further from the role he imagines himself to play in life, which is that of the vigilant campaigner for justice. He had a spectacular falling out the other month with the firm that services his boiler and, by dint of writing to two newspapers and his local Member of Parliament and, further, getting the case taken up by the Consumers' Association, contrived not only to have the boiler replaced, but did so with a different and possibly more expensive model.

Curiously, little of this tenacity attends Mr Grist's domestic life in Siskin Drive, where he is supposed to be thoroughly sat upon by Mrs Grist. The friends to whom in his meek-minded way he offers entertainment on the evenings when Mrs G is at her book group are sure that he "means well", and certainly there are worse ways of spending your time, or even achieving some form of emotional release, than by writing letters to supermarkets about baked beans.