A few years ago, I got a bit fed up with receiving Christmas cards from my friends designed to show off just how well they were doing. A typical card consisted of five or six blond children on ponies or quad bikes with a massive country house in the background. The caption would be something like: ‘Greetings from Shropshire.’
So I came up with an idea. Why not create my own version? I’d get my four children to strike a variety of delinquent poses. One would be outside QPR stadium, fag in mouth and can of beer in hand. Another would be doing an impression of Lord Coke with a rolled-up £10 note sticking out of his nose. My daughter would be pushing a double buggy containing two snotty babies and sporting a Croydon facelift. This is when they were all aged eight and under, which would have added to the joke. The caption would have read: ‘Greetings from Acton.’
I didn’t do it in the end, partly because I haven’t ruled out standing as the Tory candidate in Ealing Central and Acton. It’s exactly the sort of thing that would be reproduced on a leaflet by the sitting Labour MP, illustrating just what a heartless Tory bastard I am. But I was reminded of it earlier this week when I got a round robin email from the chair of the local residents’ association about a murder that had taken place on the corner of our road.
It happened at one of the local ‘supported living’ facilities dotted around the area. These cater to people that the council describes as ‘vulnerable’, although when you spot one of them at night, loitering at the steps of the unlit footbridge at the end of my street, that isn’t the first word that springs to mind.
In this case, the victim wasn’t a ‘vulnerable’ individual, but one of the staff employed to look after them. She was discovered dead at 6.40 a.m. on Monday and, shortly before that, a resident had absconded from the hostel. He was described as a white man of heavy build who suffers from schizophrenia. The email quoted Detective Chief Inspector Partridge, of the Homicide and Major Crime Command, cautioning against any heroics: ‘I would urge anyone who sees him to contact the police immediately and not approach him.’ No danger of that, chief inspector!
This is the second time someone has been murdered a few feet from my home. I suppose it’s fairly common if you live in London — or, indeed, any large city, although the murder rate in England as a whole is declining. According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 537 homicides in 2013-14, down from 1,041 in 2002-03. Earlier this year, some friends of mine, driving along the Caledonian Road with their four children, actually witnessed a murder. At least my children have been spared that.
Is it a reason to move to the country? I thought about getting out of Dodge after my eldest son was mugged outside our house at the age of six. He had set up a little trestle table and was selling glasses of lemonade at 50p a pop, when a couple of teenage boys cycled past and swiped the Tupperware box he was keeping his money in. He didn’t seem all that bothered by it, partly because I agreed to reimburse him, but also because he’d already ‘priced in’ the moral depravity of his fellow citizens, having already spent six years in Acton.
If you take a Catholic view of human nature, as I do, and believe we’re all sinners of one kind or another, then it’s no bad thing for your children to be exposed to man’s wickedness at an early age. It’s all very well wanting to preserve their innocence, but encouraging them to think that all human beings are fundamentally good is bad parenting. In the long run, it’s more likely to get them into trouble than bringing them up in the city.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I’m relaxed about being next door to an ‘assisted living’ facility. I’m not a complete nimby about this sort of thing, but I hope Ealing Council is going to explain to the local community how this murder suspect came to be placed by them in the middle of a residential area. And I hope they’re going to reassure us that they’ll vet these ‘vulnerable’ people more carefully in future.