VICTIM

socketTaking advantage of a lull in the lunatic weather we’ve been having recently, the hounds and I were out in the garden, wading through ankle-deep-but-unmowable grass, retrieving the wheelie bin from the pond and general taking note of the ravages of winter, while being shouted at by the resident robin, demanding to be fed.

I’d almost completed a circumnavigation of the cottage when something caught my eye on the gravel by the oil tank. It was a shiny something which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a chrome hexagonal socket from a socket wrench set, just like the one I had in the shed. This struck me as slightly odd as the set belonged to my late father and I’d never had occasion to use it … but I decided that it must have been a stray that had fallen out of a rubbish bag I was taking to the dustbin, and just carried on.

Then I spotted another shiny something on the path at the corner of the house right beside the downpipe from the guttering … and yes, it was ANOTHER chrome hex socket.

Now, one hex socket is odd, but two is downright suspicious, especially when you have no memory of handling, let alone throwing out, a socket set – and that’s when I realized that I was standing on the direct route between the garden shed and the front gate: the unlocked garden shed, the key to which had not been handed over when I bought the cottage.

Surely not?

I’d be the first to admit that I don’t keep the garden shed in what you might call apple pie order even under normal circumstances, so I leave it to your imagination what it looked like when, prior to the arrival of the first of the winter gales, I’d hurriedly chucked into it all the loose pots, tools, tubs and buckets that were scattered around the garden.Even at its best, after I’d cleared a path to the peanuts, it looked as if someone had been in and comprehensively trashed it – so no one except Yours Truly could possibly have told if it had been interfered with. (In fact, that should read ‘no one, not EVEN Yours Truly’.) I opened the door and surveyed the wilderness of bird food tubs, ancient garden tools and miscellaneous gardening gloves, kneeler pads and plant pots. Then I looked at the two chrome objects in my hand and tried to find the socket set.

It wasn’t there.

I sucked my teeth and did a mental stocktake.

Long-handled loppers: check.

Two pairs of hedging shears: check.

Long-handled grass shears: check.

Ash-handled hoe: check

Three bow saws: check.

Assorted bands saws, wood saws and hacksaws: check.

Power cable: check.

Machete: check. (Phew.)

Strimmer: check.

Cordless drill-driver: in the house charging.

Electric hammer drill: ……………

Ah.

Just to be sure, I was forced into sorting the shed out. I dragged everything out, with the dogs swirling and snuffling excitedly around me (where there’s bird food, there are rodents ….) and then put it back tidily.

Hammer drill was there none.

The sequence of events then became clear. Local villains cruising the area on the off chance of finding an unlocked door duly find one. In the midst of the embarrassing chaos that is my garden shed, they spot a glimmer of felonious light: a hammer drill and a grey plastic case containing a socket set. They grab them. The catch on the socket set gives way (because it always does) spewing the contents over the pathway. They swear. They scoop up all the bits they can find in the dark and flee, triumphant … until they find out exactly what they’d got.

Their magnificent haul amounted to a secondhand, bottom-of the-range hammer drill which cost a whole £29 brand new six years ago (and which I was about to replace with a better model anyway) plus a dirt cheap, and quite possibly given-away-free-with-something, socket set, now minus at least two pieces (a third or fourth piece may have vanished down the drain). I estimate the total value at about a fiver if they were really lucky, and assuming that they even had the nerve to try and flog them – because I’m telling you that that hammer drill wouldn’t do a THING for anybody’s street cred.

I almost didn’t bother to report it to the Police, but then thought I should probably do my civic duty and all that, just in case the criminal masterminds were still in the area. Accordingly, I filled in and sent off an ‘Online Non-Emergency Crime Report Form’ and thought no more of it.

Remembering that I was now, unexpectedly, the proud owner of a magnificently tidy shed, I went out to admire it, taking with me a plastic bag full of miscellaneous keys I’d found in the garage after I’d moved in, on the off chance that one of them fitted the door. Fishing out a few likely-looking candidates, the second one I tried went in and turned in the lock.  If I ever acquired anything valuable I could lock it in. How very unexpected.

Half an hour later, my ‘phone rang. It was Alastair, the ‘Contact Management and Resolution Officer’ at the County Constabularly HQ, calling to acknowledge the report and to take a few more details: When did I think the burglary took place? (Last night or the night before.) What sort of door was it, and was it locked? (Wood and glass and (blush) No.) What was the value of the property taken? (Absolutely minimal, and quite possibly nil.)

‘Nil?’

I explained about the dirt-cheap, incomplete, socket set in the case with the dodgy catch and low-end-of-the-market drill.

He sniggered. I’m sure that isn’t in the  ‘How to’ manual for Contact Management and Resolution Officers.

‘Technically,’ he said, in the tone of one who knows he’s talking nonsense, but has to ask so he can tick his box, ‘you’re a victim of crime and as such entitled to a visit from victim support.’

I sniggered. He sniggered. We sniggered together.

‘I don’t think so, thank you. I’m not remotely worried. The house is quite secure and besides, I have two very opinionated and gobby dogs.’

‘Good … But have you locked the shed door now?’

‘After the horse has bolted? I most certainly have. The grass rake is perfectly safe.’

He promised to send me an Incident Report Number and we parted on immensely chummy terms.

That night, as I was heading upstairs to bed (having, naturally, double-checked to make sure that all lockable doors were, indeed, locked), I paused on the half-landing to gaze around the downstairs living area at my motley collection of possessions. I couldn’t help feeling that anyone who went to the effort of breaking in would be deeply disappointed by a 15″ portable television and an elderly laptop that’s so cantankerous you have to hit in just the right place to persuade it to start.

Not that the disappointment would last long of course: they’d be too busy throwing themselves out of the nearest window as two berserking Jack Russells came hurtling down the stairs.

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