Belfast Telegraph

Better hedge bets with neighbours, or they'll send hackers after you!

War has been declared. On man's final bastion of privacy. His pivotal hedge. From the end of this month, there will be a law in place that prohibits you from growing your everyday garden hedge in your garden, front, back, or side, above 6 feet.

Break the law and the Hedge Hackers from your local authority will pay you a visit, with the full force of the law by their side and will, well, hack your hedge down to size, as it were.

The High Hedges Act will be in operation by March 31.

The law here is, apparently, different (don't ask) from the law in England and Wales regarding high hedges and legislation had to be passed separately in the Assembly. It was meant to come into operation last September but our friends up on the hill were letting the, eh, grass grow under their feet, or perhaps sitting on the fence regarding this complex issue.

Part-delay was due to the Assembly amending the Bill to require the department to "introduce subordinate legislation to limit the maximum level of fee a complainant should pay and to allow for the transfer of the fee to the hedge owner''.

In other words, if your neighbour doesn't like the height of your hedge or is even, dare I say it, jealous of your herbaceous border, he or she can call in the Hedge Hackers but will have to pay for the pleasure.

If guilty. ie. your hedge is over 6ft, the cost the nosey neighbour has incurred is passed on to you. Pay up. The cost, or hacking fee, is, I think, around 160 quid.

The house I grew up, a modest terraced, one of 12-in-row, had a grand hedge all around the back garden and all around the front garden. My Father planted it not long after I came into this world and in formative years I watched it grow until one day it was so big that my Mother could no longer spend the day gossiping to Mrs K. next door ( which was probably my Father's intention) for they could no longer lock eyeball to eyeball. Though I used to hear her say, when she was hanging out the washing, Are you there Mrs K. A grand day it is ...

And the voice would boom back, I am Mrs H ... that's a grand hedge your husband is cultivating altogether, when she was really thinking, Who do those Hopkins think they are with their big, grand posh hedge?

For we were the only one of those modest 12 terraced houses that had a hedge, that afforded us so much privacy, and it was my Father's pride and joy to every other week take the garden shears to it and prune it back to a modest 6 feet and he would have to stand up on the old kitchen chair to reach the top to trim it back and then he would have to go and ask Mrs K if she would mind if he stepped into her garden so as he could trim it from her side, and ditto the neighbours the other side.

And so it went, and my Mother would lament to me years later when I was older and could therefore understand, Your Father spends night and day with that bloody hedge... never takes me anywhere... It will kill him some day...

And my abiding memory of him would be bringing my children to visit their grandparents and there he'd be, shears in hands, beavering away like there was no tomorrow and he running the palm of his generous hand along the top to make sure it was even and for him it never was for he would say, That hedge is getting the better of me... and for the life of me I could not see that it was not even. It looked pretty straight to me.

But he was a man obsessed.

And kill him it did.

In his 80th year he had a heart-attack while, you guessed it, trimming the effin' hedge. Two months later a second one. After that one day, my Mother was away, I rang as normal to see how he was and if was remembering to take his medication.

The phone rang out. No answer. It was a sunny day in mid-July. I bet he's out cutting that hedge, I said as I put the receiver back in its cradle.

That evening my sister found him dead, at home, alone. A third heart attack.

When my Mother died 10 weeks later, from a broken heart I know, we eventually sold the modest terraced house, to a young business woman, advertised as 'with very private gardens'.

For a long time after their deaths I could not bring myself to pass the old home when in the neigbourhood, such were the bitter-sweet memories of two people I loved dearly.

About two years on, I found myself, almost unaware, driving down that road, passing the home of my youth.

The hedge was gone, even the garden was gone, with the whole lot tarmacadamed and two big 4x4s plonked there.

And I thought a lifetime's labour of love has come to this.

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