So it was with a certain degree of optimism that I attended my local Neighbourhood Watch meeting in the village hall recently.
It was an interesting experience, not least because someone had accidentally double-booked the date with a local group of gospel singers who were practising at the top of their voices in the room above the main hall for some kind of religious X-Factor competition.
Chairs had been laid out by a policeman to accommodate approximately 150 people, but only nine turned up. This instantly triggered some kind of defensive mechanism in the resident grumpy old man. He is sort of like Victor Meldrew, the only difference being that he walks around with a small fluffy white poodle which he apparently keeps with him at all times “for protection”. In a rather loud and aggressive voice he pointed out that no-one had turned up to the meeting because no-one except him had seen the notice posted in his building’s communal foyer. The policeman apologised for this and said he’d do better next time, then introduced himself and the purpose of the meeting. Victor Meldrew shouted at him again, insisting that the purpose of the meeting was because people were too scared to walk down the street at night, and what were the police doing about it. The policeman said that Victor Meldrew had “hit the nail on the head” and he wouldn’t keep us for more than 45 minutes.
Two-and-a-half hours later we were still there, and I was wishing that someone would hit Victor Meldrew on the head rather than a metaphorical nail. An argument had developed over crime statistics. Someone told the policeman that his statistics were wrong, but the policeman said they were right. Someone else said he’d read the same statistics in the newspaper so they must be right, but thought they were more likely to be wrong. And the remainder of the people had no idea whatsoever because they hadn’t been able to hear anything over the sound of the gospel singers. Meanwhile, Victor Meldrew roared that, statistics or no statistics, people were too scared to walk down the street at night, and what were the police doing about it.
It’s at times like these that I really wish I hadn’t left my living room, let alone walk down the street, and I’d have rather been at home watching Junior Apprentice than listening to a group of mindless people arguing over statistics, nails, and invisible notices.
The meeting eventually drew to a close and, deciding to be a willing neighbour, I introduced myself to the local bobby on the beat who is responsible for my part of the village. Unfortunately, I discovered that Victor Meldrew and his fluffy dog also live in my part of the village and he came over demanding the young chap give him his mobile number, then started rambling on about pointless statistics and asked what the police were doing about broken street lamps.
I left the village hall to the throngs of the gospel singers chanting “Rock Me, Jesus, And I’ll Drive Your Car” (possibly, it was “play your guitar”). When I got home I turned on the television to discover a news report about how areas of the police force are likely to be cut. Whether this means a reduction in numbers on the city streets, I don’t know, but I went to bed reassured that, if nothing else, we’ll always have Victor Meldrew and his fluffy poodle there to protect us.