I have been up all night with my friend Kerrith, barricaded into my house by furniture piled in front of the doors like a shit zombie movie. (Un?)fortunately, Oxford had not been overrun by the undead. We were just hiding out in my house, armed to the teeth with a combination of delirious overtiredness and total bemusement, waiting to be burgled again.
I got home about seventeen thirty, unlocking the back gate so I could lock my bike up in the garden and then entering the premises, a two-storey jointly-leased terraced house, via the rear entrance. (I have given enough witness statements—not that I actually ‘witnessed’ witnessed anything—that I am now talking like a ridiculous police stereotype.)
I unlocked my bedroom door and placed my keys in the pocket of a navy-blue Barbour wax jacket which hangs outside my room. I usually do this because it stops me getting locked out of my room if my door (which has one of those automatic-pull-to things which, along with copious fire extinguishers and ridiculously utilitarian kitchen flooring are the defining features of college-, as opposed to private-landlord-, -owned housing) pulls itself shut whilst I’m in the kitchen making some cheese sauce, or something.
I made myself a delicious tea comprising reheated risotto (life tip #207: risotto does not freeze very well. Eating reheated risotto is like eating floured, moistened starch which someone has grated a taste-reducing anti-condiment all over) and rice pudding (it was only after I’d opened the tin that I realised this meant I would be having an entire meal of rice), and settled down to watch Arnie sci-fi–horror classic The Terminator.
Having watched the film and wasted some time on the Internet, the relentless march of time brought me to ten to twenty-one, a mere ten minutes before a friend’s birthday party was about to start. I popped my wallet, ’phone and penknife in my trousers; all I needed now was my keys. I went outside my bedroom to grab them.
My Barbour wasn’t there.
My immediate thought was ‘Jesus, it’s been stolen!’, but then I thought ‘No, wait, hang on a minute, this is patently ridiculous. No-one steals a Barbour. I must’ve moved it, or put my keys somewhere else and not noticed its earlier absence, or one of my housemates must have lost his fashion sense and popped to the shops in it, or something.’
One of my housemates has been in California this last week squinting through some telescope or other, so he wasn’t a likely suspect. I gave my other housemate a ring and it transpired that he was in Birmingham this weekend, and, from the high levels of background noise and a probable low level of inebriation on his part, I think he’d been there a while and was having fun. Oh, and he said he’d not seen my jacket.
By this time, I was getting a bit nervous. I was trapped in an open house, and someone else had the only set of keys in, on average, 2,500 miles*.
This was the point at which I rang Kerrith. Scared of getting re-burgled, beaten to a pulp or raped, I thought I would ring my lankiest friend for use as an easily-jettisoned punchbag (or worse) in the event of fisticuffs (or rape). I also wanted someone else to help me scour the house for either my Barbour or my keys to make sure I wasn’t being a total idiot. Nobody steals a fucking Barbour wax jacket. Do they?
Kerrith arrived and, much looking later, we decided that somebody must steal fucking Barbour wax jackets, because it really wasn’t anywhere in the house. So, it was time to inform the cops and college, whose house this is.
I agonised for a bit longer before I actually reported the crime. Who steals a fucking Barbour fucking wax jacket? I must have misplaced it. My personified paranoia sat on my shoulder, whispering into my ear what an eejit I must be to misplace a coat with my keys in and not even remember doing it. On my other shoulder, my guardian angel thought he was being helpful by constantly asking me to remember if I’d put my keys in the jacket. Or, what if the coat had been nicked, but I had absent-mindedly put my keys on my desk, in difference to my usual routine? Could I specifically remember putting them into the Barbour? Well, of course I couldn’t. It’s impossible to remember doing anything you do every single day; only the tiniest seed of doubt, and you can convince yourself that more or less anything happened. I must have had my keys to get into the house. Where had they gone after that? My jacket was definitely gone. Even Kerrith thought so. ‘No, I’ve not worn it for about six months,’ I patiently explained to my paranoia for about the fiftieth time, ‘It’s basically been a glorified key store. Except now it’s gone.’
I finally rang the local police station. I explained the theft; they’d probably come in through the gate and back door, both of which were closed but not locked, and grabbed the coat whilst I watched Arnie doing his best to terminate Sarah Connor. Did the coat have anything in it other than my keys? ‘No,’ I said, pausing for a moment, ‘Actually, no, I think it might have had a golf ball in the right-hand pocket.’
‘Do you know what colour the golf ball would have been, Mr Steele?’
I couldn’t really believe I was answering this question.
‘Err…it was probably yellow…actually, yellow or white, I can’t remember.’
I thought the promise of officers attending the scene of this minor but bizarre criminal incident was one unlikely to be kept. It was about twenty-two o’clock on a Friday night, so any officers on duty would be hauling drunks away from O’Neill’s Irish Crime Scene on Oxford’s home of the pissed street fight, George Street. I have never cycled past there late on a Friday or Saturday and not seen someone getting arrested, so Barbourless boy would probably be quite a long way down the fuzz’s priorities this evening.
It was time to barricade ourselves in the house and sit it out. The back door was the real challenge. As I explained several times to the night porter at college, no, I couldn’t lock it because someone has stolen my keys and, no, even if I could lock it by some means, it would be no use because someone has stolen my keys. The only option was the comfy chairs in the dining room. A little bit of experimenting with two armchairs and a door-wedge later, the door was rammed shut. The two armchairs connected the exterior door to an open door, wedged backwards such that it wouldn’t open any further. The arrangement was simple but effective. Unless, that is, you wanted to get into the kitchen without negotiating a soft furnishings assault course.
It rapidly became obvious why mankind had adopted keys rather than persisting with locking doors by means of heavy furniture.
Surprisingly, the police did turn up. About 01:30, a young and very friendly policeman and policewoman turned up, observed the total lack of forensic evidence, found themselves slightly baffled by my summary of the crime (who steals a fucking Barbour fucking wax fucking jacket?), and sat down in my bedroom to take a witness statement.
I explained all the stuff about the unlocked door and gate, the missing jacket and the golf ball (‘Was it white, presumably?’ was the slight variant question I felt a bit of a knob answering this time). I described the keys on the missing ring (which I will not repeat on here, because the readership of my ’blog probably comprises exactly the kind of scum who would steal a fucking Barbour fucking wax fucking jacket). Thankfully, none of the keys have any identifying features, and none of them was to a vehicle, or the White House, or anything.
Then, they wanted more details of the coat. ‘What colour is the lining?’ they asked. Well, I was pretty sure it was black with red and white checks, but, I suddenly remembered: ‘I think I’ve got a photo of me wearing it on my computer somewhere! It’s a bit embarrassing though.’
Whether to the noble end of fighting crime, or the in the hope of a good laugh, the cop suggested I find the embarrassing photo. I duly did.
‘In all seriousness,’ he explained, ‘We’ve got a USB key outside in the car, we could grab that photo and send it round the force, firstly so they could have a good laugh at the haircut, but secondly so they would know what it was they were looking for.’
This was rapidly turning into the most surreal crime I had ever been the victim of.
Then came the scariest part of the evening. The policeman had written me a witness statement, and I now had to read through and sign it, initial any crossings out, and put a signature after the last word to stop any idiots writing ‘and all the above is total lies, so I don’t know why I said it’ at the end. Most of it was fairly mundane (description of the crime, the house, the missing stuff), but the scary part was signing off on ‘I have looked for the coat and am 100% sure it is missing.’
I wouldn’t go as far as one hundred percent. Anthropomorphised paranoia over here was half-expecting the officers to trip over the jacket on the way out and then slap some cuffs on me for wasting police time. Oxford police station on a Friday night probably isn’t a fun place to be. Had Kerrith and I definitely scoured the whole house? Had we looked everywhere? Twice? Of course we had. I… Just…
I re-read the sentence a few times in the hope it would stop my heart racing. It didn’t help, for some reason. This couldn’t be happening. It was totally absurd. Nobody steals a fucking Barbour fucking wax fucking jacket. Had the suspense, blood and gore in Terminator sent me into a trance in which I’d forced the damn thing down the toilet? How long would it have taken a practical-joke-loving housemate to make it back from America? Was I going totally, stark-raving mad? If they brought charges, could I just plead insanity?
The rest of the statement continued the mundanity, and I placed the appropriate signatures in the appropriate places (yes, the date is today, no, I don’t need victim support), and the police left (probably bound for George Street).
We blocked up the back door again and kicked back for a long night, and a long night was exactly what we got; The fall and rise of Reginald Perrin, Father Ted and Doctor Who kept us going. Kerrith, who’d had a rather good night out the night before, was flagging by six, so he went to sleep on the sofa. I decided to use the opportunity to catch up with a friend who’s living in Japan for whom 6 AM BST was actually sensible o’clock. He was hung over, so if either of us remember anything we talked about, I will be surprised. But not as surprised as I am that someone stole my Barbour wax jacket.
Two workmen from college arrived at about half eight with a bag of new locks and keys and set about the repair work. It was all surprisingly painless, and once the old locks have had their tumblers fiddled with, my housemates should be able to keep their old keys and only I will need a new one.
But I still don’t really believe it happened. Maybe sleep deprivation is not the best state in which to try to convince oneself of the actuality of the extremely implausible, but I still don’t get it: who steals a fucking Barbour fucking wax fucking jacket?
* I love misleading use of the mean. And, to further spite all those GCSE maths teachers, your median and your mode aren’t going to save you in a sample of two, are they? Hah!