When recently re-reading a favourite book, “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle I was particularly struck by the anecdotal account of a neighbour dispute that occurred in his locality.

A wealthy Parisian acquires a holiday home in a small, remote village. He anticipates rural idyll but unfortunately finds that his relatively infrequent visits are spoiled. This is because he and his summer guests are woken up very early in the morning by a cockerel belonging to the farmer who lives next door. The Parisian complains to the farmer. Their dispute escalates and ends up in court. A judge rules in favour of the neighbour.

Disgusted by the outcome which presumably was the culmination of costly proceedings, the Parisian leaves and is never heard of again. On the Sunday after the court’s verdict is delivered, the euphoric neighbour treats himself and one of his friends to a celebratory coque au vin, the primary ingredient of which is the rooster that caused all the difficulties in the first place.

I can quite categorically state that none of the disputes that I have mediated or helped to resolve has ever had quite such an outcome. However, Mayle admirably makes the point that outcomes can never be predicted and highlights the futility of the entire affair. His anecdote also demonstrates not only the importance of matters being resolved promptly before they get out of hand but also what can happen if they are not.

In effectively abandoning his holiday home, the Parisian presumably incurred considerable expense and inconvenience. By eating his cockerel, the farmer gives every impression of being indifferent to the whole process and all concerned will have wasted considerable amounts of time. Court processes that are designed to resolve disputes are often unwieldy and fail to take account of the perversities and uncertainties that are at the very heart of human discord.

Mediation, whether in the context of complaints about noisy cockerels, an acrimonious divorce or a multi-million-pound commercial dispute is sufficiently flexible to both identify and address the nuances and perversities outlined above. The 90% success rate that mediation enjoys means that in very many instances, the patently ridiculous of outcome that Mayle describes can be avoided.