Tuesday 28 February 2012

My new alarm may not deter burglars, but it certainly scares me

For a man whose default setting is one of constant concern about “what could possibly go wrong”, I reckon that I take a reasonably phlegmatic approach to the everyday risks of accident, fire and theft.

Back in 1988, when I moved into my current house, I remember asking the splendidly unflappable John Woodford, who had overseen its restoration, whether I should be concerned about the fact that the nearest fire hydrant was a couple of miles away.

“No,” he replied. “Because by the time a fire engine gets out here they won’t be able to do anything apart from damp down the ruins. The trick is not to set fire to it in the first place.”

Similarly, when an insurance company insisted a few years ago that I must fit window locks, and I commissioned the great and sadly late Len Gregory’s firm to carry out the work, he made it very clear that I was wasting my money. “If somebody really wants to get in, they’ll get in,” he opined, outlining a range of possibilities that I suppose it would be imprudent to repeat in print.

So it was a bleak day for me last December when an insurance assessor pitched up at my home in what I blithely imagined was a peaceful rural backwater. Because he spotted right away that it actually represented a bigger risk than an inner city terraced house sandwiched between a hostel for allegedly reformed arsonists and a pub noted for late-night binge drinking and the circulation of Class A drugs.

My house: an insurance assessor's view

In consequence, I am now the reluctant possessor of something I never wanted: a burglar alarm. I have no idea what these things do to burglars, but it scares the proverbial out of me every time the warning siren blares as I enter the house. While leaving home has become a nightmare, given that I am one of those people who always likes to pop back at least three times for the vital things they have left behind.

I have had to distribute sets of spare keys to kindly neighbours, as required by the police, vaguely wondering how doubling the number of keys in circulation actually makes my property more secure.

And far from enabling me to sleep easier at night, I am now lying awake worrying about how long it will be before the wretched thing goes off because of a passing mouse or moth catching one of the system’s many electronic eyes.

I would have much preferred to give the insurance industry its marching orders. However, one downside of living in a listed building is the hypothetical risk of a disaster that could land me with a bill for twice the property’s market value in order to reinstate it to the satisfaction of English Heritage. As a “what could possibly go wrong” man, I could not bear to take that risk.

At least twice a week I witness the normally placid Mrs Hann suffer a meltdown as yet another website refuses her order, or one of her credit cards is cancelled, because she cannot remember her password or PIN.

Between you and me, I am not sure that this is because she has religiously followed the official advice to use a completely different password for every site, a different PIN for every card, and never, ever to write any of them down. Frankly I don’t see how anyone, with the possible exception of Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man, could ever comply.

“I bet a fraudster wouldn’t have this trouble!” I hear my wife cry, and of course she is absolutely right. I am under no illusions that my new alarm will be the slightest practical use, either. I just hope that it does not disturb my neighbours or their livestock. And, if it does, please accept this apology and know that the risk-averse insurance industry is entirely to blame.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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