It was the American novelist Henry James who summed up modern existence as “the minor lacerations of daily life.” And one of those minor lacerations for any Londoner is coping with pervasive, low-level crime.
My wife and I awoke earlier this week to find that our brand new VW Golf had been broken into on the London street where we live. Thankfully the vehicle itself was relatively untouched, yet despite the most sophisticated anti-theft and alarm devices VW can provide, the miscreant had somehow been able to open the driver’s door and gain access without so much as a murmur.
His inventory of stolen swag suggested somewhat eclectic personal tastes. In addition to my wife’s mobile phone (naively left in the glove compartment), the thieves also helped themselves to two picnic blankets, a half used tube of sun block and an assortment of boiled sweets. One can understand the value of an iPhone, but a quarter pound of Fox’s Glacier Mints? You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that organised crime was probably not involved, not unless the gang masters have an unaccountably sweet tooth.
A call to our local police station confirmed the doleful trend that is blighting many affluent areas just now. Apparently it’s all too easy to acquire alarm-busting devices that can override the most sophisticated locking mechanisms.
But worse was to follow. The following night no fewer than 14 cars in nearby streets had their drivers’ door windows smashed in a single opportunistic spree. Whoever was responsible had little regard for preserving their anonymity, as one of the attacks was so violent it roused a vigilant neighbour, who took a photo of the thief as he leant in through the shattered window to see what he might steal.
A 999 call was all it took to summon the police and land the miscreant in custody. The victims, meanwhile, will be spending much of their weekend having their car windows replaced and trying to persuade their insurance companies not to increase their yearly premiums.
Yet even if you keep your possessions firmly in your grasp these days it rarely helps. In recent weeks there’s been a spate of phone thefts from pedestrians in the vicinity, each of whom have seen their precious devices literally snatched from their hand even as they’re making a call on the pavement. The thieves’ modus operandi is as audacious as it is effective, involving a single moped with two riders, one driving the thing and the pillion passenger deftly snatching the item as it hurtles past.
In fairness, crime rates in London have been falling in recent years, with murders and serious offences particularly reduced, but the most recent available statistics for the capital suggest a sharp spike in exactly the sort of incident already described: opportunistic crimes involving residential burglary, smash and grabs, and thefts involving mopeds.
With the 2017 UK general election now just a few days away both main political parties have been flexing their law and order credentials in an effort to win both our trust and our votes.
The opposition Labour party has been pointing out with gusto that 20,000 police officers have been cut in the UK since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and is promising to reinstate 10,000 by way of redress, using a rise in tax to pay for the extra manpower. The Conservatives have naturally dismissed this policing proposal as nonsensical, arguing that Labour has already committed the same amount to fund several other pledges. Labour has hit back by rejecting this statement as misleading, and so it goes on, both parties verbally hammering seven bells out of each other while the electorate cowers in our beds.
Whoever wins on June 8 will have much to do if they are to reverse this UK trend for petty crime, and until they do, the police’s advice is simple – don’t use your phone when out and about, and don’t leave items in your car – sentiments which, while undoubtedly prudent, somewhat negate the purpose of having either a mobile phone or boiled sweets in the first place.
Meanwhile, with our local car thief now safely under arrest, my wife and I are awaiting the return of our property.
The phone is probably long gone, as are the sweets. But I’m hoping we might at least get our picnic rug back …
Michael Simkins is an actor and writer in London
On Twitter: @michael_simkins