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Real life

Crime and nourishment

Melissa Kite discusses the Real Life

30 January 2008

12:00 AM

30 January 2008

12:00 AM

Despite efforts not to be superstitious, I am much obsessed by the idea of disaster seepage. That is to say, when one thing goes wrong, a hundred others usually follow.

So it was that a leaking roof segued seamlessly last week into blocked drains, a broken catflap and a stolen mobile phone.

Have you noticed how we don’t have rain any more? Hence Britain was in the grip of seasonal flash flooding — much more terrifying — when my living-room ceiling emitted the first ‘plip’. It wasn’t long before the plip turned to a plop then a splat, then an ‘oh my god the roof’s coming in I’ll be homeless by the morning is the building even insured where did I put that renewal letter?’

Tony the odd-job man confirmed my worst fears: ‘You’ve definitely got some sort of leak.’

I knocked on the door of the upstairs flat and asked my twentysomething neighbour if she had experienced any unusual water occurrences.

Incredible as it may seem, she uttered the words, ‘How will I tell if I’ve got a leak?’ At which point I may have said, ‘Stand aside, I’m coming in.’

Anyway, to cut a long leak short, it was all do to with a defective downpipe which my neighbour on the other side, the sensible one, had sent me a letter about three weeks earlier, which of course I had ignored.

I knocked on her door, begged for forgiveness, and submitted myself to her original plan to get the whole thing sorted, which she duly did in 24 hours.

No sooner had I settled into a state of smug self-satisfaction at my brilliant handling of the situation than the bath started gurgling.

The drain people gave me one of those helpful 12–6 p.m. appointments. When the man finally arrived, it took 25 seconds to establish that there were some leaves inside the drain, which he lifted out with his hand. He wrote ‘some leaves’ on the invoice before totalling up the fee.

At some point during all of this, my mobile phone got stolen. I say stolen because it dropped out of my pocket. I rang it and someone answered it then turned it off. Stolen, right?

The mobile-phone company disabled it and then asked for a crime number. A what? ‘You have to report it to the police and get a crime number or we can’t give you a new one free. It’s for insurance purposes.’

‘Right. Well, in that case it’s not stolen, I’ve lost it,’ I declared. This was never going to work. ‘But I’ve typed stolen now. We can’t change it. People lie, you know.’ Well, obviously.

Wearily I agreed to go away and report it to the police. I rang what billed itself as my local police station and was automatically transferred to the Metropolitan Police headquarters. I told them I wanted a crime number for a mobile phone stolen in south London. They told me I couldn’t have one for 72 hours. Why? Because that’s how long it takes if you report things by phone, silly.

If I wanted one quicker I would have to go to a local police station. But I just rang the local police station and it didn’t exist. Hold the line, caller. Piped music. She came back to confess she couldn’t find one either. So, let’s be clear. I can’t get a new mobile phone for three days because I need a crime number which I can’t get for three days unless I find a police station which doesn’t exist? Correct.

I rang the phone company and asked whether, on balance, it wouldn’t be better if the phone was just presumed lost? ‘Yes, but we can’t change the report.’

Then, quite by magic, the phone turned up. A lady called Gretta found it in a puddle. It didn’t work any more but it existed in every physical sense. I rang back. Ha ha, I said, it turns out the phone was lost after all.

‘Sorry, we can’t change the report. We need a crime number.’ But the police can’t give me a crime number, it’s not stolen, you see. I have it here. ‘Sorry, we need a crime number.’

I think this was when my giant rabbit burst through the electronic catflap with unusual zeal, sending bits of the expensive mechanism scattering over the floor.

It was also at this moment that I was struck by an all-consuming desire to eat chocolate, which has not shifted since. Not having had a sweet tooth since childhood, I’m deeply suspicious about where it will lead. ‘I suppose I will be getting fat now,’ I declared miserably to a colleague as I sank my teeth into something faintly nostalgic called a ‘club’ biscuit. ‘Do you good,’ he said. ‘Probably make you a bit happier.’ Somehow, I doubt it.

Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

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