For five years of my life, it's fair to say that I lived in a fairly sketchy neighborhood. Birkenhead in the North West of England isn't widely known for being an international focal point of culture and education. It's the kind of place you wouldn't have any reason or desire to visit unless you either lived there or knew someone who did. However, somehow I ended up becoming a resident of the town just across the Mersey from its more famous neighbor, Liverpool. I'm not really sure how it came to be that I spent nearly seven years of my life in Birkenhead, but somehow I did.
In those seven years, I saw things I just wouldn't believe true unless I had witnessed them with my own eyes. I could write story after story that would shock, amuse, and disgust you. Stories like the one of when some friends and I witnessed an object come crashing through a Birkenhead pub window followed by several people crashing out of the doors into the street embroiled in a fistfight over the fact that someone had insulted a 'charming' young Birkenhead residents dead mother.
Then there's the time I was walking home late one night and a man was walking toward me as naked as the day he was born. Some way down the road a similarly naked woman was screaming and shouting obscenities at him. With all his bits and pieces swinging in the night air the 'Gentlemen' made his way down the road toward me as if this was how he always went out. What do you do in that situation? Two naked people are making a spectacle of themselves and short of going massively out of my way, there simply was no way of avoiding them.
I tried to act like I hadn't noticed the 'domestic dispute' and the fact that the parties involved were butt naked! But as the man came down the road toward me I happened to make eye contact with him to which he shouted at me "What the fuck are you looking at!".
I could understand this man's desire to put as much distance between him and the terrible woman screaming at him as he walked down the road. But I think in his position I would have at least collected my clothes before I decided to take leave of her company. But then that's Birkenhead for you, it has its own set of rules and reasons and for the people who live there, they seem to work in a bizarre messed up kind of way.
Since then, however, I have moved to the relative serenity of Bebington, just under four miles from the town I nicknamed 'Birkenhell'. Bebington is best described as suburbia, it's the first stop on the train ride from Liverpool where the suit-wearing commuters depart. At the four stations before Bebington, the chances are that anyone leaving the train will be sporting an Adidas tracksuit and be more ready to engage a stranger in battle before conversation.
Life in Bebington is very different from Birkenhead. For a start, people here do not walk around with the 'Birkenhead scowl' on their faces. Eye contact with someone on the street won't end in hospital and you are not vastly outnumbered by security guards at your local store.
With all this in mind, you'd think that nothing would ever happen in Bebington. And to the most part, you'd be right. However, in a cruel twist of irony, it seems that life is perhaps paying me back for all the bad things I have said about the town I used to live in. You see in Birkenhead I was never really the victim of crime, but in just two years in suburbia, I have been a crime statistic four times already!
The first time was last summer when an 'opportunist thief' came up my garden path, into my house, and then left with my very expensive Canon camera while I was upstairs and unaware of the house call that was being made. No less than two weeks later my mountain bike was stolen in the same way when one of the hairdressers from the salon below where I live, left the conservatory door wide open to let some fresh air and a few burglars in. A little while after that the ventilation was improved once more when a brick was hurled through one of the conservatory windows. I was beginning to think maybe someone had placed a fatwah on my life!
Two weeks ago I was again added to the Victim Support's mailing list when my car was stolen. It seems remarkable to me that anyone would want my shoddy wreck of a car, previously described as a 'piece of shit' by my friends! And what makes this crime all the more annoying is the fact that I have just spent a small fortune on putting through its yearly MOT (road safety) inspection!
I called the local Police who were about as interested in this crime as I am in TV soap operas. They took down some details and assured me they would 'circulate the information'. In Merseyside Police language what this means is 'we will put it on our computer as stolen, then we'll go back to whatever it was we were doing before you interrupted us.' They assured me that the car had probably been 'borrowed' and would turn up in a day or so.
Their 'couldn't really care less' attitude really aggravated me. To suggest that my car had been borrowed was absurd! I felt like going down to my local store and 'borrowing' my week's groceries just to prove a point, perhaps I'll go out and 'borrow' a Police car next time I need to get anywhere.
It's taken two weeks for the Police to concede that the car has not been 'borrowed', but has, in fact, been stolen. They have now given me a 'crime reference number' so I can approach my insurance company. However, this would be an entirely pointless exercise as they have already told me that they won't pay out a penny for the stolen car, despite the fact I am covered for theft.
You see, according to the insurance company, my car is worth less than the £100 excess on the policy! Furthermore, they told me that if I do make a claim I will lose my entire 65% 'no claims discount'. This would mean that the next time I get car insurance it would be something in the region of £600 more expensive! (The car only cost me £150) So not only have car thieves robbed me, but I have also been robbed by the insurance company.
So as you can imagine I am feeling pretty pissed off with things right now. I'm £400 worse off because of the cost of work done on a vehicle that I no longer have any idea of its whereabouts. I'm faced with the prospect of not having any option but to take appallingly bad public transport because not only do I not have a car, but I also don't have a bike because lets, not forget.. that was stolen too!
I still have to pay the insurance company for the insurance on the car, despite the fact I don't own it anymore, and the Police told me that if they do find the car and it's not road worthy I will have to pay something in the region of £200 to have it recovered to a garage, or more likely a scrap yard! In about a week I'll get a badly photocopied standard letter from the local Victim Support group saying the usual. "We have learned that you have recently been the victim of crime.. yadda yadda yadda." It will once more invite me to talk to a counselor about the crime or crimes against me.
I wonder what those sessions are like? I've heard stories about the victim meeting the people who committed the crime in some kind of 'head-on' therapy. Maybe I'll take them up on it this time. However, I doubt they'll be able to get a room big enough to accommodate the thief, insurance company, the Merseyside Police, and me all at the same time.