A tale of two houses and the ‘little foxes’

Neville Presho was in buoyant spirits that July day in 1994 as the boat neared Tory island off the coast of County Donegal.

Monday, 26th July 2021, 8:48 am
Rev David Clarke

Having been in New Zealand for some years, the County Down film-maker was keen to see again the home he used as an island retreat.

But as the boat approached the tiny harbour, be could see no trace of the white-washed property. Instead, all he could see was a pile of boulders.

Closer examination revealed a piece of plastic pipe sticking out of the ground, and a bathtub upturned on the beach.

When he made inquiries, Neville was met with a wall of silence. There was some suggestion of a devastating storm, and of an accidental fire, but details were scarce and begrudging.

Suggestions that the property had been deliberately bull-dozed because it interfered with someone’s sea view, were just that, merely suggestions.

‘The House that vanished’ is now the subject of a BBC Sounds podcast.

Ann Hicks’s house was also in the way, but the reasons why some wanted it removed were somewhat different. For years Ann had been a familiar figure in London’s Hyde Park, at one end of the Serpentine.

She had a little stall from which she sold sweets, biscuits and ginger beer. She had no right to be there, but sitting under her umbrella selling her wares, she seemed harmless enough.

She found it a nuisance each evening to have to pack up her wares, and so she petitioned the Office of Works and Forests for permission to have a box, in which she could safely lock her goods until the next day.

She was given permission to have a box, but it turned out to be bigger that anyone had anticipated.

After a period, she again wrote to the Office of Works and Forests, asking permission to build a wall around the box, to keep potential thieves at bay. The wall was built, but it had a door and windows in it. She petitioned again, and eventually there was a house with a roof, fireplace and chimney, and a little garden with a picket fence, all formally approved, little by little. When plans were being drawn for the Great Exhibition of 1851, Ann’s house was in the way, and it took a debate in Parliament, and a sum in compensation to make her move.

The Song of Solomon is an erotic poem, whose inclusion in the Bible is a recognition that erotic love is part of human life.

One verse refers to the habits that can mar human relationships; ‘the little foxes that can ruin the vineyard’(2;15).

No one becomes untrustworthy or disreputable all at once. There are little foxes, subtle compromises of honesty and integrity that are as seemingly harmless as Ann Hicks’s requests, yet which grow and undermine a reputation.

As someone wrote, ‘Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance’