I dashed to the head of the stairs, from where I saw a long stick poking through the letterbox. Attached to one end was a hook, attached to the other was what the police call a youth, and he was after... well, what else do youths want to get their hands on these days but car radios?
A little background here. We'd had three car radios stolen, so we'd been advised - by a man who sells high-tech radio cassettes with a detachable front - to buy a high-tech radio cassette with a detachable front. Between journeys we kept this on our hall table, which is visible through the glass of our front door. Silly, I now realise. When we had that door glass put in, our fellow Londoners had been appalled: "That glass is no good," they had blurted, "you can see right through it." And I should have cottoned on to the fact that, by virtue of the hole through which you put the tape, the radio/cassette was easily procurable via the letterbox with a hook on a long stick.
Anyway, regardless of the fact that I was wearing a long nightshirt bought for me by the wife as a semi-joke, I scampered down the stairs, threw open the door and started chasing the youth, waving the hook which he'd dropped on our doorstep. I must have cut a pretty biblical figure: besmocked, wild-haired, shouting oaths of vengeance and waving a crook. But as I ran down the street I was suddenly pulled up short by the thought that I was in danger of doing something brave, which is not my style at all. So I stopped running immediately and returned to the house.
And yet... I had done enough. Half an hour later, there was a man-to-man respect in the copper's voice as he said: "Don't chase after burglars, sir, they might be carrying a knife." And for the next week I listened with pleasure as my wife broadcast the news to friends and family: "This burglar came with a big stick, you know, and Andrew chased him away."
I felt that I had done something genuinely mannish, or bloke-ish at any rate. And what made the reflection particularly sweet was the thought that everyone else had played their roles to perfection. The youth had run away when chased; my wife had slept through the whole thing, so that I had to break the news to her over breakfast (coolly, I waited until she remarked "You look a bit tired, didn't you sleep?"), and my three- year-old son had woken up when the copper arrived, requiring me to break off from my macho de-brief in order to go upstairs and reassure him that all was well.
And yet I have a confession to make. There was something dutiful in the running away of the youth; he wasn't going flat out, I don't think. He was probably torn between not wanting me to see him too closely and the indignity of being chased by someone dressed like Oblomov. I, too, was not going at full tilt, even in the initial adrenaline surge. It pains me to say these words but here they are: I could have caught him if I'd wanted to.Reuse content