Country Matters: A burgling wife and her polo stick

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The Independent Culture
Everyone knows that farcical events frequently occur in the countryside, but have you heard the one about the woman who was obliged to burgle her own house with a polo stick?

In our neck of the woods a middle-aged couple - let us call them Paul and Petra - have been going through a long-drawn-out separation. The isolated house in which they lived belonged to Petra, but she decamped some time ago to set up on her own, leaving Paul in occupation. Naturally, she wanted to recover some of her effects - pictures, and items of furniture - but Paul proved difficult, refusing her access to the house. Once, as she arrived with the aim of collecting things, he deliberately drove off in the opposite direction, leaving the place locked.

The answer, she reckoned, was burglary. But how to ensure that the house would be empty? Answer: go on a day when Paul was shooting. So it was that she lined up a couple of helpers - her sister-in-law, who is married to a solicitor, and another tough lady whose contract gardening keeps her fighting fit - and planned a raid for the following Saturday. On the appointed morning the team set off armed with a horse-trailer, a ladder, a hammer, and a polo stick - for Petra, knowing every inch of her own house, aimed to break a small top pane of glass and fish down inside with the polo stick to pull up the catch of a main upstairs window.

Alas, the morning turned out to be hellishly wet. The rain was so heavy, in fact, that the women became alarmed that the syndicate, which was close at hand, might call off its shoot prematurely, and that Paul might suddenly return home, catching them red-handed and possibly resorting to violence.

Nervous as they were, they went ahead - and there they were, with the ladder in position against the wall, and Petra up it, hammer in hand, when suddenly they saw a Land Rover sweeping down the drive towards them. Panic! But it was too late to move and, before they could react, two men who looked like farmers had got out of the vehicle and started advancing on them.

One headed for Catherine, the sister-in-law, held out a wad of notes, and said, "I brought the money for the tractor."

"Oh," Catherine gasped, pointing at Petra. "You'd better give it to Mrs Turner. She's the one up the ladder." So the farmer handed over pounds 450 and then went away, leaving the women free to carry out their burglary. Having fiddled their way in with the polo stick, they assembled what they wanted, including a large doll's house and several pictures, and cleared off without further alarms. Meticulous to the last, they scribbled a note to say that they had taken the money, and swept up the broken glass from the windowpane. So the little saga ended happily - more so than another ridiculous episode, which took place last week.

Adrian, the builder who has been refurbishing our kitchen, left the house a little before six one evening and set off for home. Twenty minutes later he was back, with the news that a man had driven his car into the churchyard wall, had become lodged, and was blocking the lane. Could I go and drag or push him off? "He needs watching," added Adrian in warning. "He's had a few."

That proved to be some understatement. When the builder's van hove in sight, the driver had leapt from his vehicle shouting "Fourteenth Lancers!" many times over. When I reached him, he sprang out again crying, among other extravagant exclamations, "Gentlemen, I salute you. What can I do for you?" Coming down the lane too fast, he had failed to take a bend and crunched his near-side front wing into a stone wall, hitting several yards of it down and leaving his car half in the air.

We could have dragged him off backwards with another vehicle - but that would have meant going up, down and round a three-mile circuit to get behind him. Instead, we resorted to that device beloved of pyramid-builders and other ancient peoples, the lever. With a stout fence-post at an angle under his front axle, and four men pushing, we managed to dislodge the car enough for its rear wheels to grip the Tarmac and pull it back on to the road.

Once freed, the driver became still more effusive. "Sirs!" he shouted, capering about. "Gentlemen, I shall buy you all a drink. It's champagne all round in the Old Crown at midday tomorrow. Bollinger at noon in the Old Crown."

Throughout all this his female companion - possibly his wife, but who could tell? - sat stony-faced in the passenger's seat.

The man had already told Adrian that he was bed-and-breakfasting at the farm on top of the hill. If that was right, he had less than a mile to go, but even in such a short distance I was afraid he would annihilate some pedestrian or another motorist. "Look," I said. "Where are you going?" "No distance at all," he cried. "The Evanses, is it?" "No, no. Some damned Welsh name. James or something." "Not Evans?" "Jones." "Sure it's not Evans?" "Yes, yes. Evans. What's your name?" "Duff. But take it easy." Away he went in a rush, and reported that he had been rescued by someone called Duff on his arrival.

But did he then settle down for the evening? Did he hell. He and his companion sallied forth again. Soon they were back in the Old Crown - but where they went when that closed at 11pm, none could say. They did not come home to roost until two in the morning.

Should we have summoned the police when we realised the state the driver was in? Much as I dislike shopping people, I think we should have. If we'd known that he was bent on a further binge, I'm sure we would have. As it was, he got away with it on the night - but he faces hefty repair bills, one for his car and one for the wall.