Living Between the Lines

Prying Eyes

We have a small barn in our front garden that for several years, has served as an external office. It is pretty and quaint and its top floor provides a delightful guest bedroom and en-suite. The upstairs East facing window overlooks farmland and distant forests. However, downstairs has always seemed a little dark. The only source of natural light comes from the large glass double doors that face north-east.

We have recently obtained planning permission to add a window to the downstairs wall that faces the road and East. This has just been unveiled and has yet to have curtains hung or shutters attached.

That one window has made a noticeable difference to the downstairs space and I was in there earlier, admiring it and pottering around.

I heard a couple of ladies walking along the lane but paid them little heed. Their voices grew nearer until suddenly, two faces appeared at the window, one over the other’s shoulder. The first lady actually had her hands on the window, cupped round her face the better to see.

I had to smile when she spotted me. She drew back quick smart and hurried off, dragging her friend with her. Doubtless they giggled all the way home.

I expect they thought the building was under construction (though it has been there more than a hundred years and has been a working office and guest bedroom for the past eight or nine).

We are naturally a curious species but some of us possess an inner mechanism warning us when we are about to go too far and some do not. These two ladies evidently fall into the latter category.

It made me think back to a time early on in my married life when my in-laws came to stay. We had moved to the Gloucestershire countryside some miles from the town where we had both grown up. Summer had come and it seemed a good idea to take a walk along the local footpaths that cut through fields and crossed the canal.  Being lucky enough to have a small cottage that backed onto open countryside, we had only to walk a short distance before we found ourselves crossing a farmyard. A  public footpath meandered through the yard.

I, having been brought up to observe rules strictly, (my father was a policeman and I believe instilled this need in me along with a liking for fresh shrimps and ‘Battleships’) kept to the sign posted path.  My companions strayed now and then to investigate what lay beyond the fence.

We crossed the yard and passed a large barn whose windows were shuttered. A working barn, it was clearly off limits. At least, that much was clear to me.

As we sauntered by, my mother-in-law stepped across and tried to peer through the windows. Finding the shutters closed, she reached up and opened them. Horrified, I dared dart a glance towards the farmer who had, at that moment, appeared with a couple of his dogs and was frowning in our direction. My sense of what is right kicked in as usual and I continued walking, urging the others to follow, while my mother-in-law and sister-in-law continued to peer into the barn.

They finally closed the shutters and walked on, with the farmer’s eyes burning into their backs. The dogs growled menacingly. My in-laws remained nonplussed and strolled on apparently unaware of the faux pas they had just committed.

Now, I have to ask myself, is this just a case of misplaced over confidence? Is it not better to be fearless and to flout the rules and perhaps learn a little more about life (or your neighbours) in the process or is it truly better to stick to the letter of the law and forever walk the straight and narrow?

Would you have walked up and peered through our barn window?  I feel I may have glanced across but not gone to the lengths that the two ladies did perhaps.

I am guessing that a healthy mix of the two options is desirable.

For my part, my adherence to rules has not prevented me from risk taking nor has it meant that I have not indulged my natural curiosity. Equally, if I have ever felt a rule to be fundamentally wrong I would make my feelings known.  This last got me into hot water at school more than once as I stood up for what was fair.  

I could not blatantly ignore a rule without good reason though. Hence, I could not ‘bunk off’ a lesson (tried it but failed miserably) but I could refuse a group detention that had been, in my opinion, wrongly handed out.

The two ladies who peered into my window, noses practically pressed up against the glass may, at this very moment, be relating the tale to their partners. They may well be giggling or feeling embarrassed.

They will not know that they have provided inspiration for this post.

Perhaps then, there is a deserved place for those who peer and pry as well as for the hangers back and the more careful investigators among us.

I remain tolerant of both though do not know many farmers who feel the same.

Which category do you fall into?

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Joey @ Big Teeth & Clouds

    I’m a rule follower. I would never peek. I lived next to a hoarder for four years and never peeked to see what was inside his junk filled townhouse. After he died I was even afraid to look. I guess I just don’t have that peeping Tom thing.

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. no to either … because the 2nd was obviously a working place, and your barn .. because it had been there for ages – so wasn’t new. Strange .. but perhaps I might have taken a peek & then been totally disconcerted to find you inside!

    Enjoy the Spring weekend .. Hilary

  • Katie Gates

    Hmm… I’m a risk-taker, and I’m not a huge fan of rules. I guess I avoid situations that include rules, but if I can’t do that, I respect the rules. I also am respectful of privacy, because I want others to honor mine. All that being said, the best way to look into another person’s home is to walk at night, when the lights are on inside. That way, you can see what there is to see without approaching the house and its windows. (And for that reason, I keep my curtains drawn at night!) P.S. Loved hearing about your lottery win!

  • Patricia

    I try to follow the rules and I would not have peered into the window. I would have ignited the fires of my imagination to figure out what could be there and if I needed to go further and paint or photograph something – well, I would have figured out how to obtain permission. We all need to feel honoured as people and human’s with space.

    Dictators do not need to do this.

    I would have taken the detention too, and figured that I have a purpose in being in that space and I needed to figure it out.

    Although, between the earthquake in Japan, and the politics in the USA right now, I am exploring new feelings of being unsafe….I might have rushed out and bellowed at the giggling ladies today

  • John Cowton

    I stick to the rules, but then I think most men would be more inclined to stick to the rules when it comes to peering through windows. I’m not saying that men are any less curious than women. But women don’t run the risk of getting labelled as a peeping Tom and less likely to suffer a punch on the nose by an angry home/landowner.

  • Deb

    I tend to want to push boundaries, but wouldn’t ever trespass without permission. I think in the case of the barn, I would have started a conversation with him and asked for a peak. People are generally really happy to share their lives with the curious.

    Great post. Your shed/cottage sounds wonderful.

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