Painting the Town




A gang of youths dismantled a speed camera near to where I live, and set it alight, roundabout this time last year.  Neighbours gathered, and came up with 63 plausible explanations, the most obvious being that the camera caught them off guard and they had to destroy it (shocking I know, to think that it was actually working).  But why not take the camera with them in the car?  Surely that would’ve made sense rather than let it burn knowing full well that the incident would be treated as suspicious, forensics would’ve been onto them quicker than you can say “CSI: Miami”.  We never quite got over this mystery from last year.

And then tonight its Mystery from Last Year: The Sequel.  I am quietly minding my own business, for business is best minded in silence, when I hear a very disturbing noise; something being smashed quite violently.  At first I think its Mrs. Raza’s cats (when your home has been burglarized as many times as mine has, trust me, even the slightest movement of a twig, will be enough to wake you from the deepest of slumber).  Then, I think I should take a look as the noise is getting louder. I move to the window and see a young guy, in his 20’s I would say, although please do excuse my incompetence it didn’t even occur to me that I should step outside and ask him his age for this article. This 20 something guy, is in the process of smashing a single divan bed. If you have ever bought a single divan bed from my uncle who sells beds from his “Business Centre”, formerly known as his garage, I am sure you have often toyed with similar temptation.

So, next he takes out a watering can, (yes a watering can, which I can hand on heart identify, I bought one just like it from B&Q – I would recognize that yellow flower on that green plastic anywhere) and starts to do an impression of Alan Titchmarsh watering his plants.  Cheered on by his friends, he starts dancing, but then they go quiet and he starts to look around.  Have they spotted me? Damn! I hate it when people see me without my make-up. I panic, and I move away from the window.

I then proceed to turn off the lights, grab the shoe polish and make a line across my nose and underneath my eyes and across my cheeks. I am sorry I have not expressed that very well, but English isn’t my first language. But you know what I mean right?

The liquid, that the 20-something guy is spraying on the broken divan, has now finished; he shakes the watering can, and heads to the car parked 100yds away from the crime scene, which is now reversing.  So, I am trying to catch the registration plate of the car, but I can make out some of it but not all, I can see the model of the car and the fact that it is a shiny navy blue car, and that is all I need to know.  He runs towards the car and I think this will be the end of the matter.

To my dismay and disbelief he walks back to the broken divan with something in his hand.  “Oh please be lighting a cigarette”, I say to myself, as I’m calling for the Fire Brigade.  Alas he does not listen.  He carries on playing with the matches and, after throwing a few dud ones, he throws the one to light the Olympic torch.

The whole thing is in full blazing saddles as I watch the plastic pavement stumps burn to the ground – no more leap frogging for me then, which is probably a good thing, as they were too high anyway.  The flames become fierce and begin to roar and I tell the fire people to hurry for right next to the fire, there is an electrical box thing and of course, right above it, there is a speed camera.  I have a terrible feeling that something is about to explode, and I am now also wondering if this has become an annual ritual and whether I should make a note in my diary for a similar “night out with the boys” for this time next year.  I watch the lad, as he runs to the car and is driven away like a pop star escaping from crazy fans.

I pace up and down, up and down waiting for the fire brigade and my wait is over in a matter of seconds. Handsome firemen pour out of the brigade and I am desperately trying to see which of them is not wearing a wedding ring, but they are being most uncooperative. Attending to the fire is obviously more important to them than presenting themselves to me as a potential mating partner. But I don’t hold it against them; I am not one to harbour a grudge.

Next thing I know, the car of youths drives past. I recognize the passengers and they are having a laugh as they pass this horrific scene.

I dial 999 and call the police to give them the registration plate of these criminals.  The officer tells me off for calling 999. “It is not an emergency, the crime has already happened, why are you ringing this number?” she says.  I am left confused, even though not much confuses me. So to report a crime to 999, it has to be in progress?  Ok what if you are witnessing a crime, and on the phone to the police, and by the time they have taken the details down, the criminals run away, do the police then refuse to speak to you, because the crime is now in the past? I mean what is all that about? Where did all this bureaucracy come in?

Professor Rod Morgan, the Government's chief adviser on youth crime, recently warned that due to the furore over anti-social behaviour, youngsters as young as 10 were being labelled with "the mark of Cain on their foreheads".  He continues “there is a danger that serious youth offenders who do need targeting will slip through the net.”  I quite agree.  It seems that the hole of the net happens to be in my neighbourhood.

But, if no one else will help, I always got ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, where we, the neighbourhood just watch.  After all, what else can we do?


Nasreen Akhtar