Magazine article The Spectator

I Hope I'd Have the Guts to Shoot a Nocturnal Intruder

Magazine article The Spectator

I Hope I'd Have the Guts to Shoot a Nocturnal Intruder

Article excerpt

Snap. You're awake. Your ears are pricked. Was that just the loose latch on the bathroom window, shaking in the wind? You strain the ears again, sorting the nightly noises of the house - the moans and rumbles - for anything creepy. And there it is again, a sort of inexplicable thud coming from the kitchen, as though someone downstairs was moving about, and da-dum da-dum da-dum your heart starts like the theme tune from Jaws and your sweat feels clammy in the cool air as you ease your legs over the edge of the bed, and you prepare for the moment you have feared, the moment you have rehearsed, when you have to look for the hero inside yourself, when you have to DEAL WITH A NOCTURNAL INTRUDER! It is one of those moments, oddly rare, when our characters are tested. What would you do?

Do you (a) wake up your wife and ask her to go and have a look, handing her a tennis racket for her own protection? Or do you (b) softly close the bedroom door, draw the duvet over your head, and try to remember whether you have household insurance? Or do you (c) gird your boxer shorts, descend the darkened creaking stairwell, turn on the lights and tell the pair of crackheads to put down that television and hop it? I think, I hope, I am a (c) man. But you always wonder, in your mental rehearsals, what it would be like if the burglars were unimpressed. What if they just laughed, and produced their Stanley knives and chisels, and told you to go back to bed? And what if it was going to take the police at least 40 minutes to arrive? Well, like most of us, I have a plan for that eventuality.

High on a shelf in the kitchen there is a cardboard box containing a Greek air pistol. It fires small, ceramic pellets. In repeated tests on the squirrels who dig up the lawn, it has proved wholly inaccurate. In fact - before I am swamped with letters from animal-lovers - the squirrels are never safer than when I am stalking them. But it looks very much like the Ruger on which it is modelled. It feels like a mean piece, this plastic Ruger, bought for 3,000 drachmas from the tobacconist on Agios Stephanos; and the plan is to wave it at the intruders until they scarper. Note the modesty of this householder's intentions.

At the very most, my burglars might feel the momentary ping of a ceramic pellet. Far from being capable of blowing them away, this glorified pea-shooter produces a looping trajectory you can follow with your eye. Passionately though I support Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, and his right to defend his property, I would be nervous of keeping a loaded pump-action Remington shotgun under the bed. The Greek air pistol strikes me as supplying exactly what the law prescribes: reasonable force.

Except, of course, that the police would take a different view. Suppose I gave one burglar such a shock, by pinging him on the buttock, that he dropped his chisel on his toe, sustaining a nasty cut. Where would I be, in the eyes of the law? I would be in shtook. I would be hauled off to the cells and charged with possession of an unlicensed and unregistered offensive weapon, and one, moreover, which fell foul of the recent Act against replica guns. I would be charged at least with malicious wounding and perhaps even with attempted murder.

And would the local papers campaign for my release? …

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