The thief, the solicitor and other awfully nice country folk

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MANY people who move out of London to live in the country often find that things are done differently there. Today we bring you an advice column for recent rural arrivals.

I recently came home to my new 17th-century old rectory, only to find an intruder in the living room, stuffing all my valuables into a large sack.

When I remonstrated with him, he replied indignantly that there was an ancient right of way right through the centre of my house, and that as long as he didn't cause any damage to my property, he could do what he liked.

Is there anything in what he said and what rights do I have to stop this sort of thing?

A Countryman Writes:

Well, what we normally do in our part of the country is to get out a shotgun, point it at him and explain that there is an ancient right of way bang through the middle of his noddle, and that you are about to shoot your way through it, being very hopeful not to hit any of his sparse brain cells.

I find this generally works. But what did you actually do?

Well, I phoned my solicitor for advice on the subject, and he came round in a flash. When he came in, the intruder greeted him with the words: 'Hi, Bob, nice to see you, got a light?', and my solicitor got some matches out and lit his cigarette for him.

It was at this point that I began to realise that people in the country tend to stick together against newcomers from the big city. This was reinforced by what happened next.

What happened next?

My solicitor started helping the intruder to pile my valuables into his bag.

Did you try to intervene?

I most certainly did. But when I remonstrated hotly, my solicitor told me that, broadly speaking, it might well be true about there being a right of way running through the middle of the house, and that, pending a legal inquiry, it made sense to store away any valuables that might be at risk once a right of way was established through my house. He then disappeared in company with the intruder, whom I remember he called 'Sid, me old darling'.

Why not give your a solicitor a ring and demand an explanation?

Because he took my phone.

Fair enough. I can see his point of view, though. No, but honestly, it fair gets my blood boiling when you folk come traipsing down from London having got a fancy price for your little box of a flat in Chelsea and then spend the whole fortune on the old bloody rectory while we country people can't afford to buy an old bloody bike shed to live in, and then kick up a fuss when the old country burglar has the decency to pay you a little social call.

Sorry, I seem to have lost my cool a little there. Don't mind me, eh] Just my little joke] Incidentally, what happened next to the right-of-way problem through your house?

My solicitor suddenly reappeared, claiming he had worked out the whole thing and if I just signed the form he had brought, nobody would ever attempt to follow a right of way through my house again. So I signed the form.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. And what happened next, as if I didn't know?

I found that I had signed away the entire rights and deeds of my new old rectory to the solicitor, who had me evicted the next week. Since then, I have been homeless. Or rather, I have been wandering through the countryside looking for somewhere to stay.

With what success?

Very little so far. Country people are not always as hospitable as we are led to believe.

For instance, somewhere in Somerset I was going up the drive of a friendly-looking house to look for help when all of a sudden bright lights came on, I heard the barking of dogs, and then there was a loud message broadcast through the estate, saying: 'Do not come any closer] You are not welcome here] I am not at home] If I have said something that offended you, I am sorry, but what's done is done and anyway this house is in my wife's name, so bad luck and buzz off]' What was all that about?

This is all to do with the libel laws. Many writers who live in the country have put their property in their wives' names to avoid having to sell them to pay for lost libel actions.

That's as may be, but meanwhile, here I am, homeless and helpless and living rough.

What can I do?

Bugger off back to London, mate.