Harriet Walker: 'It was bailiffs at the door. How mortifying!'

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The Independent Online

When my doorbell rang at 6am, I was mystified – and slightly terrified – as to who could want to see me at such an early hour. As I lay in my bed, willing them to go away and listening guiltily as my more responsible flatmate got up and went down to answer it, my mind ran through the potential fizzogs on the other side of the door.

The mum of someone I'd bullied at school? The taxi driver who I drunkenly told last week was the kindest person I'd ever met? The man from Costcutter who's constantly trying to get my number?

It turned out to be some bailiffs. I know! How unnerving. And more to the point, how mortifying. I live on a leafy cul-de-sac; the trouble happens at the end of my street, not on it. The worst altercations we have down my way are when the little boy next door refuses to practice his trumpet. And that time I threw a party and some uninvited men in polyester vests started pelting the front door with beer bottles.

"Oh, we're not from Camden Council," Bomber Jacket #1 sniggered at my flatmate as she thrust our tax bill in his face, in a desperate bid to stop him and his colleague slinging us out on the pavement. "No, no," said Bomber Jacket #2, with the air of someone who has just twigged that he spends most of his working life as part of a weirdly anachronistic Dickensian double-act. "No, we're from Brent Council. You see, Ms X has several outstanding parking tickets."

"And when we say several," added #1, "we mean More Than Just A Few."

My panic ebbed slightly at this hyperbole: bunking off a parking ticket is among the more banal of criminal activities, like trying to re-use a stamp, say. Still, the Bomber Jackets took some convincing – we had to show them the binbag full of Ms X's un-redirected, languishing post that we keep, just to prove she was no longer living there.

That binbag, incidentally, has been in the hall so long that it's about to accrue squatting rights – but it's illegal to throw away someone else's post. It's also very difficult to manoeuvre your bike around, so I'm thinking of turning it into a papier-mâché anthropomorph and sending it off with some sandwiches to find its owner.

Eventually, the Bomber Jackets relented and left. "Twenty minutes left for sleeping!" yelled my flatmate, rushing past me on the stairs and leaping back into her bed. "Was it the milkman?" asked my boyfriend blurrily, from the centre of the sausage-roll construction he had made of the duvet.

It was funny, this brush with crime, I thought as I buzzed electrically with the proximity of foul deeds, but thanks to this woman's tardiness with her tickets, I now know bailiffs ply their trade in the early hours. The only other way I could have known would have been to break the law.

In fact, the snooze I was rudely awoken from had also started with a brush with the law, given the police helicopter that had circled over my neighbourhood for hours the night before. It was not how I'd expected a police helicopter (complete with searchlight) to sound; it was more like being fanned by an enormous lawnmower. Nevertheless, my snoring had been part of a chiasmus of crime, and it was the closest I'd ever come to London's seedy illegal underbelly.

"Oh course I'd hide you if you did a murder," my mum always says when I call her to check. "If you killed someone, I'd know there was a good reason for it and you'd done the right thing."

We're all sort of obsessed with doing the right thing, it seems, in the wake of the riots. That's why no one complained about the noise of the helicopter – because it was rooting out some deeply antisocial behaviour from our community. It's at times like this we're supposed to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, rigid against those we perceive to be the forces of disorder.

Imagine, then, my surprise, when I searched for Ms X – she of the parking tickets – online and found out who she is: a leading member of a "social wellbeing" thinktank that researches the causes of antisocial behaviour. She has also worked closely with several important politicians.

The next time I hear someone in Parliament pondering about crime and its abstract causes, I'm going to call them up and tell them. Crime isn't always so far removed. Crime can enter your life when you least expect it. Crime can breed in a binbag in your hall in a leafy cul-de-sac. Crime is closer to home than you think – and you can't always blame it on those you'd like to either.