I’m looking over the wall and they’re looking at me

Alliance Géostrategique is having an interesting-sounding meetup on the theme of walls, borders, and checkpoints. Here’s a little contribution.

In my home village in the Yorkshire Dales, there lived two men, who both owned a large shed they used for their business. Somehow, one of them owned the roof and two walls, and one of them owned the other. There was some arrangement about the land under it, but this bit of the story escapes me. Anyway, years pass, eventually they give up the business and sell a chunk of land next door to a property developer. But they can’t agree on what to do with the shed. They fall out to the extent that only genuine Yorkshiremen can; and the shed is left to rot quietly.

Eventually, bits of it start to fall down. One day, down goes a great chunk, and the local council decides that the building is a menace to the public. So they knock it down. Surely this must resolve the issue one way or the other. Or can the wall exist in a purely legal, moral sense, without the tiresome requirement of a couple of hundredweight of rocks? It turns out that it can, at least for a while. The owner of the roof sells the plot of land, less the strip the wall actually occupied, to another property developer, who builds on it.

At this point, our man gets worried about his interest. Even if the legal position was clear, it might be difficult to assert his rights if the question had actually been physically built over. So he visited the site and put up a sort of temporary favela barrier of corrugated iron, tape, and cones along the route of the wall. Rather like the original, overnight barricade the East Germans set up before the more permanent Berlin Wall was created. On this he stuck a sign reading “For Sale: Valuable Amenity Land”.

It’s worth stopping here and thinking for a moment. Strangely, the replacement of the original wall probably strengthens his position from an economic point of view. If it was a sound structure of traditional Yorkshire stone, would anybody notice it? Probably not. They would treat it as a wall, not an economic interest. Nobody would think of removing it, or even that someone else owned it. It would just be a brute stone fact. The wall, however, has been replaced with a sort of deliberately absurd, theatrical monument to the guy’s ego. (Actually, the original wall wasn’t Yorkshire stone or any stone – it was made of breeze-blocks.)

Of course, the other parties to the dispute have not been idle. They are still unwilling to pay the greenmail required to make the whole thing go away, and the very ridiculousness of the new wall makes it clear that destroying it would solve nothing. So they came up with a plan of their own – they painted the whole thing pink, in the hope that this would embarrass the other guy into giving in.

He still hasn’t.

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