How my home sweet home became a house of pain

When Marcus Tanner moved in to an `up-and-coming' inner-city area, his domestic bliss was short-lived
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I LIE awake tense and restless in the dark, waiting for the next brick. I know it's coming and I almost want it to come, just to get it over with. At 1am-ish I feel drowsy. Maybe not tonight? But no, it is tonight. There is the familiar heavy "wunk" noise followed by a tinkle. The phantom brick-thrower of London Fields has struck again.

1.15am. I'm in the street, half-dressed and half the street is there, too. It's Alice tonight - her second brick in a week! An entire brick, as usual. Her two children look sleepy and confused.

The police from Shoreditch pooter up in their car. No, they don't need to see the brick and no, they don't need to go into Alice's house. Dutifully, looking like kids at the end of a too-long day in class, they note down that this is the sixth window smashed in almost as many days, not to mention umpteen car windscreens. We recite our little fears, scanning their faces for a sign that "something will be done".

But their expressions read: "You are luvvies who have moved into the heart of the inner city. What do you expect? It's tough." While we are still bleating, they back away. They've "Got to go" because "there's something going on in E5..."

"Any chance of a camera? Extra patrols?" I shout at their departing footfalls. But they were off to E5, the happening postcode, where people deserve help. We stand in the street. "Erm ... goodnight," we say to Alice, shuffling back towards our front doors. There are murmurs of "awful", "ghastly", "must do something", and we hurry away into the night.

It was the summer of 1997. The estate agent was gesticulating confidently at our sparkling row of new town houses with their big bay windows. This part of east London was up-and-coming; it was the next once-decaying inner- city dump to get the magical makeover from a busy little army of invading professionals, paintbrushes in hand, sanding machines at the ready.

It all seemed plausible, for a while. The nightmare didn't start for months. I remember the day I found the first brick in my front garden, just lying there, lumpish and stupid. "Funny," I thought. A day or two later I noticed the hole in my brand new plaster and wondered...

Neighbours moved in to my right. Days later it came. "Crash" - and a hole in the front window that looked as if someone had fired a rocket- propelled grenade.

I went round and commiserated. This was an up-and-coming area and it was bound to be an isolated act, I said. But, deep down, I suspected it wasn't. That was when my sleep pattern fell apart, when I started lying awake, listening for noises in the night.

Quite suddenly, my new dream home became a fearful place. Now I returned with foreboding, my eyes straining to catch a first glimpse of of that big bay window. Then "smash" went the window two doors to my left. And "smash" went the window diagonally opposite, and "smash" went the entire bay window - not the pane, mind, the entire window - of the house opposite. And then "smash, smash, smash" went about half the car windscreens in the street.

That brought the first of my many phone calls to the local police station. "I just know I am going to be next," I wailed. "Do something." There was a contemplative noise, like someone sucking on a pencil. "Hmm, so you're saying you think there's a pattern? Because if you DO [it was as if I was making a very daring deduction] we could [this sounded like a giant favour] put you in contact with the community liaison officer." Then she seemed worried she had made too many promises, and added: "Not today, in a few days, that is."

I tried to get the community liaison officer the next day and was pulled up short. "If you only knew what she was dealing with right now [my mind raced - what was she dealing with? Genocide? A chainsaw massacre?] you wouldn't want her to be pulled off the case for your window." Chastened, I gave up. and went back to waiting patiently for my brick.

When I got the brick it was with a dull sense of the inevitable. I almost felt relief. There was commiseration from my neighbours and murmurs of "awful", "ghastly", and "must do something". The police said they would make a note, but there was a manpower problem, you see, so it was best not to expect too much. Then I was alone in my living room, staring at the gaping hole, the brick, the shards of broken glass strewn over the carpet. Lucky I wasn't in the room at the time, I thought.

My up-and-coming area is starting to change. The house diagonally opposite has put up a heavy metal grille. So have two houses down to the left. Bit by bit we are all wiring and grilling and fencing ourselves in. By the time we have all finished, the street will look like some kind of strange, dispersed prison. And this is the groovy, beating heart of the capital. It's very handy for the City.

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