Do not enter : Why is the word PRIVATE so difficult to understand?! by Bernice Clark

Do not enterWhen out and about and spotting an interesting private property I understand that the owners aren’t expecting unwanted visitors. That’s simple. Why is it then that our own home, bearing signage that clearly states it’s private, does not afford the same respect? We’re plagued with uninvited visitors!


A few years ago it was our privilege to buy a piece of French history. More accurately, a pile of old stones on a hill (which we’re ‘privileged’ enough to still be renovating all these years later). Now I accept that if one has any interest in history, at various stages over the past 800 years or more since the first part of it was built, things have occurred here that would be fascinating to others. But we bought it so for now it’s our bit of history. It was on the market for some time before we took the plunge so others could’ve purchased it or some public body or others may have chosen to invest. They didn’t but we did.


We love the property and have made sure that our renovations painstakingly observe the building’s past and, on occasion, we’ve entertained various academics and official bodies who’ve wanted to see our efforts or include elements of it in some study or other. That’s fine by us. Bona fide is good. We’re not historical heathens and are happy to help, having also learnt plenty from those who know more than we do.


But it’s the people who just turn up unannounced that really rankle. Sometimes these uninvited visits are funny; often they’re annoying and at times downright implausible. They range from a whole clan from the US who’ve decided our home was their original European family seat to campers and picnickers who just like the view. Well we do too which is why we bought it. But it’s a tad less picturesque if you look out to see camper vans parked up in your garden or a group setting up a picnic next your drive. They’ve even lit barbeques and left their empty wine bottles and other less savoury rubbish behind; an affront in anyone’s book let alone a fire risk during our tinder dry summers. Just imagine how that would play out if we had to make an insurance claim for our house burning down.


Only last Sunday when returning home from walking our dogs along a public footpath that adjoins our property we met a dozen or so walkers rambling towards us. One of them said he recognised us (actually, not us but the dogs) having previously seen us on the other side of our gate. He then boldly asked to come in to see our house. Muddy boots aside, how many readers would really want a group of unknown chaps filing into their home on a whim? Our carefully crafted response in these situations is to politely reiterate that it’s private and that the renovation work makes it potentially dangerous. Incredibly, some persist so we then utilise our somewhat firmer declinations.


Once, a minibus arrived containing a teacher and about 10 small children. He was already leading them into the front courtyard and mid spiel when we caught up with him to question their presence. He was quite adamant that he was within his rights to show them around. We were equally adamant that he wasn’t and also pointed out the dangers of them being on a building site without hard hats and insurance. He sulked off muttering something disparaging.


And then there was the lady on a bicycle who’d already circumvented our locked gates, ducked under a fence and was pootling around at her leisure when she turned a corner and suddenly discovered me hanging out washing, not an uncommon occurrence with a house permanently under renovation. When I asked her why she was in my garden she spluttered something about ‘looking for a property to rent for friends for their holidays.’ 3 out of 5 for quick thinking but 0 out of 5 for honesty!


But back to the American lot. Over several years we’ve had a variety of groups arrive unannounced. At first we humoured them and led a short tour or two but we then discovered that they’d created a whole web presence without our permission and we were the stars. Kardashians we are not, nor with no wish to be. On another site one woman had even developed a commercial operation selling photos of our house to her relations. Before they began printing t-shirts and baseball caps we made it clear that their homage had gone beyond our polite intentions and it was becoming rather abusive. We felt as though our home was being stalked both on line and in person. And even more so when, after our own investigations, it became patently clear that their claims were wholly inaccurate and fanciful.


We wrote to their "clan" site asking for them to stop. Thankfully it worked for a time until just this summer when a people mover parked up at the (locked) gates and disgorged seven occupants. We were working in the garden at the time so saw them encroaching beyond the ‘private’ sign and were able to head them off halfway up the drive, but not before they’d all whinged and bleated about having "come all this way". Well sorry, did we ask them to? We made sure they didn’t go home empty handed as we gave them something free; a bit of education, i.e. in "old Europe" we have a thing called "an invitation."


OK, we all have some sense of wanting to belong but, when your name’s not on the door, you’re not coming in! If it’s history you’re after there’s a wonderful range of buildings open to the public in this region. Just look them up and visit a few...