I was in bed when they broke in…

[This post was written on Saturday 28th September 2002 in a notepad on a train to Huntingdon, following the break-in at my flat in London, and transcribed onto the following afternoon.]

It’s not been an easy week. I suppose that’s what I should start by saying. It’s not been an easy week. I didn’t expect the man in my flat. I didn’t expect some other stuff either. But mostly it was the man in my flat that threw me.

I’m going to a wedding. Maybe that’s where I should start. Simon is marrying Adele. I’ve known Simon since I was sixteen. We met at school. And he’s getting married in Bury St Edmunds. Today (Saturday) in fact.

Typically I’ve not been very organised. It wasn’t until Wednesday that I’d organised a hotel. And it wasn’t until yesterday that I knew what train I would be taking. And only last night did it occur to me that my suit needed cleaning. And it was quite late in the evening before I finally twigged that my late-night dry-cleaners weren’t going to have enough time to get it clean before they closed.

Old faithful memory came to the rescue with an epic scheme – I would fill the bath with hot water, hang the trousers above it and close the bathroom door. The magic of steam wouldn’t clean them, of course, but it might get the creases out. And so it did. But it left them slightly damp.

My flat is small and kind of hectic and I live on the first floor. For the Americans amongst us, who don’t know the concept of ‘ground floors’, you should read that as, “I live on the second floor”. So to help my trousers dry a little, I opened a window a couple of inches to let a bit of a breeze in. And then I went to bed.

To get to Huntingdon this morning, I had to get up fairly early. So I set my alarm for seven-thirty. But for some reason I woke up before that – just before seven in fact. And I knew immediately that there was something wrong. I could hear noises and I was surprisingly cold. My first reaction was that there was someone in my flat – but how often do you get that kind of momentary paranoid thought when there’s really noone there? A noise, some wind – or maybe a book falling over or some paper rustling. You don’t take it seriously if you’re an adult. I turned over and tried to get some more rest.

But it was no good. I was nervous and I didn’t know why. I turned on the TV in my bedroom and caught some news, and then pulling on a towel I got up and wandered into the sitting room.

And there was a man in it – almost halfway out of the window wearing a blue baseball cap, a two-tone blue hooded fleece, dark skin, startled eyes and my DVD player under his arm.

He bounded down from the window and sprinted around to the road at the front of my building. I pull open the front door and chased him into the street – barefoot, wearing a towel at seven in the morning. But he was too fast and was wearing proper shoes. A man with a van nearby told me to get in and we chased him. He’d abandoned the players somewhere and was walking calmly down a nearby street. Jumping out of the van, I ran after him, but he turned a corner and when I got there he had gone.

I’m writing this on a train to Huntingdon, and I’ll type it up when I get home tomorrow. Around me are hills and countryside – England at its best. It’s a beautiful morning. I’ve spend over an hour talking to the police and driving around West London estates with an officer, trying to identify the guy. He was nowhere to be seen. I’ve lost my DVD player and my new X-box. And worst of all he stole the camera that all my friends clubbed together to buy me for my thirtieth birthday has been taken as well. That he’s managed to spoil that memory for me – even a little – is more upsetting than almost everything else.

He left some dirty handprints on the window frame. He got his hands dirty climbing up the drainpipe. I had to leave there so that they can try and get some fingerprints off them sometime in the next couple of days. Then I can start trying to scrub them off. But I think that even if I get rid of all visible traces, that mark of vulnerability that he’s left on my home will remain for a long time to come.