Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'The new gentility is bugging Matthew. He never admitted it, but he enjoyed living in the eye of a criminal storm'
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The Independent Online

Matthew has been complaining about crime again. He came charging in late one evening after a deranged dash to his car, shouting: "I don't believe it. It's not right. It can't be right! I mean just look at this, will you." So I did look. I looked up from my book, from my broken moment of calm, expecting to see something along the lines of a smashed wing mirror in Matthew's hand. But what he was actually holding was an apparently intact car radio, still in its smooth, black box.

"Three days this valuable item has been on the backseat of my car, with, I might add, the door unlocked," he shrieked. "Three days, and nights! And here it is, untouched! What is happening to this area? This is Shepherd's Bush for heaven's sake, not St Bloody Mary Mead!" And then, because he had planted the idea in my mind and it was too hard to resist, I made us both a delicious Bloody Mary, without the mead, while he ranted on about "the work ethic of old", and our criminals seeming to have lost every last ounce of their self-respect.

It started last month, when Sir Edmund Hillary died. On hearing the news Matthew sighed and trudged heavily up to the sitting room. He moved the rocking chair to the window that overlooks the street, and sat and rocked and gazed dejectedly at the pile of logs in the front garden. At first I failed to make the connection between Sir Edmund's death and this vigil, but eventually it came to me. In the past the thing that always delighted Matthew about the Shepherd's Bush criminal fraternity was their purism, as displayed by their stealing of his logs. A few years ago he sat for several nights at the same window, in the same chair, rocking back and forth like Norman Bates' mother, keeping watch. Every night he would drop off at about 4am, and when he woke an hour later, more logs would be gone.

He was furious of course, but also impressed. "It is splendid in a way," he said, "It is unlikely the thief has an open-fire, and the resale value of a log, even of finest yew, down the pub, must be minimal. These people are the Sir Edmund Hillarys of petty crime. This log pile is like Everest to them. They steal from it for no other reason than that it is there."

For the last couple of winters, however, there has been no log theft. And what's more we haven't been burgled and, apart from the odd gratuitous key scratch, even the cars have been left alone. Nor has there been a single drive-by shooting since 2003. Even the character of the bail hostel opposite has changed. These days the inmates are not criminals at all – they are affable old-timers with drink problems who sit outside smoking and swigging Special Brew, cheerily telling us all that they love us and we are their best friends.

It's the new gentility that's bugging Matthew. He never admitted it at the time but he actually enjoyed living in the eye of a criminal storm.

And then, recently, I unearthed a television with an inbuilt video recorder that I didn't know we had, from the back of a cupboard. I had been having a clear-out in anticipation of the arrival of an Ocado order of Indian pickles – 24 brinjal (aubergine), 24 mango, 24 lime (hot), 24 lime (mild) and 48 chilli. This is the result of my failure to check, before cooking a curry, on our supply of requisite condiments. Matthew said it must not be allowed to happen again and has decided to hoard pickles.

So here, in lieu of the pickle's arrival, was a pristine, if old-style television. I can't remember why Matthew bought it since almost every room in the house has always had at least one telly. It was probably because it was there. A telly displayed in the front window of Dixons, or Currys, on special offer.

Once unearthed from the cupboard it sat in the kitchen for a couple of days and then I asked Matthew to put it in the back of my car so I could take it to the charity shop. He was in the process of clutching at the small of his back (more out of respect for tradition, than because of any actual twinge) when he changed his mind and said, "No, it is needed here. It has important work to do – it will be the fulcrum of a vital social experiment."

That evening, at 9pm, he deposited the old but pristine telly in the front garden so that it was clearly visible from the pavement. "Dawn's arrival will cast a light on the true extent of this crime crisis," he said and I wondered who Dawn was until I realised he was speaking in the manner of Sherlock Holmes and what he meant was "Morning's arrival...etc".

"For now, let us do nothing but wait." he said, lighting the Holmesian Churchwarden pipe he usually reserves for smoking during crucial sporting events.

And wait we did. And for three whole nights no one took the telly. It was entirely ignored and then, thank God, it went. When Matthew checked that morning and saw it was gone, I was thrilled for him and congratulated him warmly while pouring him a glass of Moet & Chandon. But I did not tell him that it was next door's Polish cleaning lady who had it; that she had asked very politely the previous afternoon if she could have it and that her son had been to collect it in the early hours, on the way home after his night shift.