From time to time I toy with creative writing. I wrote this a couple of years ago with the thought that I might send it in to the Queensland Planner. I've never got around to it, and it's probably not what they are looking for. I apologise for all the town planning in-jokes.
The following is entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, places, or local governments living or dead is entirely accidental, and/or the product of their own guilty conscience. None of this would happen in real life!
There are days in local government planning when I forget one of my fundamental laws of planning. These are a series of 22 laws that I have built up over my years of experience, and I should know better than to break them by now.
I have come a long way since I first started, when I thought ‘Banana Shire’ was a fictitious entity, much like ‘John’ and ‘Jane Citizen’ and my lecturer’s favourite site on ‘Street Road’. I made some humorous comment to a colleague, before discovering my error.
But back to the point - Rule Number 1: Listen before speaking – or regret it.
I first made this a rule very early on in my career when I was called to the counter to answer a query and thought I was speaking to the proponent of, not the submitter to, an application. Enough said.
Today’s mess was more funny than worrying, but indicated the usefulness of Rule number 1.
I was called to the counter. Mrs Thompson, a little old lady who reminded me greatly of my great-grandmother, was somewhat hesitant and unwilling to come to the point. Her question involved the growing of vegetables in a residential area, and was it O.K? To make her feel more at home, I allowed my verbal diarrohea to take over, and assured her that growing vegetables in her yard was fine, ancillary to the residential use of the site, etc etc.
Mrs Thompson looked crest-fallen, and I stumbled to a halt before asking for more information. It seems that some people in her area have some difficulties with a neighbour who is growing vegetables. She stopped, unable to articulate her precise concern.
Still not having remembered Rule Number 1, I once again launched forth (with a picture of Tom & Barbara Good’s garden from the old series ‘The Good Life’ firmly entrenched in my mind). I was a little more circumspect as I said we could investigate if they were undertaking commercial market gardens at the site, and went on about amenity issues regarding visual pollution, fertiliser odour, pest spraying, machinery operating at odd hours.
As I threw these suggestions forward she was still looking at me blankly, and I began to panic and draw even more ridiculous possibilities for how a vege patch could be causing concern to the neighbours. I think the most ridiculous one was the idea of big lights all over the yard to make the plants grow more quickly, but an increasingly large part of my mind was trying to work out how much of an idiot I was going to make of myself before managing to palm the complaint onto one of the Environmental Health Officers.
Finally I ran out of words, and asked her to explain what the problem was. (A sentence that would have saved a whole heap of embarrassment if I had used it at the beginning of this episode.)
It seems that Mr Jordan from number 45 lost his wife a few years ago, and tends to spend his time in the garden to cope with his loss. The problem was not that he was operating a commercial operation, quite the reverse.
It seems that the garden has become bigger and bigger each year, and he gives the neighbours all the produce that he can’t use himself (which is heaps, because there is only one of him). At first, they all enjoyed the occasional veges and used to compliment him on the size, taste, and freshness as a way to start conversations to see how he was going. Unfortunately, some of the neighbours complemented veges that they didn’t actually like, and now don’t know what to do with such huge amounts of them. Mrs Thompson can’t eat the amount of produce that he is giving her, and like all the rest, doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.
Hmmm, and getting the Council to do something about it wouldn’t hurt his feelings? I tried to explain that that wasn’t really a Council problem. By the time I was finished, I could feel the not-quite-hidden smiles of the Customer Service girls from behind me. Can anyone explain to me why is it that Customer Service are never busy when the planner makes a fool of herself?
Maybe that should be Rule Number 23.
Ways to get out of this situation without embarrassment?
... Approximately None
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