My faith in surveys was boosted last week when, only three days after being burgled by thieves who had used a garden fork taken from our garden shed to prise open a ground floor window, I read that the Home Office's British Crime Survey was reporting a 14 per cent rise in burglaries last year, together with a steep rise in thefts from garages and garden sheds.
According to a Neighbourhood Watch spokesman, there has been a rise in what is known as "acquisitive crime", which is logical enough. If I were a criminal, this is very much the type of offence I'd be interested in committing. After all, if you're going to go to all the trouble and expense of breaking the law, why not make sure you have something to show for it?
It is, of course, the recession that has prompted what might be seen as this manifestation of the Big Society: the convergence of people who have something to steal with the people willing to steal it. Except that, in our case, this amounted to not very much.
When the scene of crime officers turned up, they asked me to indicate the rooms visited by the burglars. While doing so, I said, "They took an Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3 and...", but the officer cut me off. "We'll get into all the stuff they took later. For now, let's just look." After the tour, he took out a large notepad, saying, "Right, can I take down all the details of what was taken?" "I've just told you," I said. "An Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3."
As he seemed rather disappointed, I added, "Oh, they took a bag as well. Probably to put the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 in." "What sort of bag?" he asked. "A black holdall," I said. "And it had a hole in it. It was just a cheap thing. I'm quite glad to see the back of it." The officer frowned. This was not what he wanted to hear at all. He inquired: "Did you have the serial numbers of the PlayStation and the Xbox?" I replied to the effect that he would have to ask my sons, to whom they belonged, but that if they did have the numbers I would eat my hat. Furthermore, I didn't mind. The boys had been wasting far too much of their lives on these pernicious machines, and we would not be replacing them or claiming for them on the insurance.
I could afford to be sanguine, because the one item I would have missed was my laptop, but I had that with me on the short holiday during which the break-in occurred. I realise that I have become like those people you see profiled in the style magazines: people who need only a laptop to live, except that with me there is no quasi-spiritual motive. It's just that my CD player broke down, so I began to listen to music on Spotify; my DVD player also broke down, so I watch DVDs on my laptop. And I can never find the TV remote, so I watch programmes later, on the iPlayer, using my laptop.
Basically, my whole life has collapsed into my laptop. The only things that have any value in the modern home apart from laptops or similarly voracious electronic devices are genuine works of art or at least beauty, and it appears we don't have any of those. My wife, whose diamanté brooches the thieves had inspected and rejected, was quite sad about this. "They didn't even bother to see whether we had any first editions," she said ruefully. (Actually we do: two fairly battered Graham Greenes). But I don't mind. The burglary confirmed that I live in the 21st century, even if I don't quite know how I got here.
Andrew Martin's latest novel is 'The Somme Stations' (Faber)Reuse content