Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

How to treat criminals 101

Unfortunately the number of us who are qualified to offer advice on this front is quite out of proportion to what it should be. However, having been a crime statistic five or six times I’m ready to share what I’ve learned from each ‘occurence’.

Event One was an attempt at indecent assault which took place while I was walking home from work along King Edward Avenue quite a few years ago. The perpetrator was a young adult male and fortunately for me his anatomical knowledge ranked at about the same level as his manners and a lot lower than my actual stature. It took place shortly after 4pm while there was a fair amount of traffic and it was the barefaced cheek of the incident, and I suppose the natural embarrassment of a 17-year old having to recount it, that kept me quiet for years afterwards. [Lesson one: stay in built-up areas particularly when on foot. Lesson two: don’t keep quiet, especially while it’s happening. Forget manners and yell like a banshee – or a foghorn – or anything else uncooperative and bolshy and really really loud]

Sadly Event Two was a very similar incident that took place in Lindup Road about five years later. On this occasion the wannabe pervert was a schoolboy and my husband and I pursued the matter. It resulted in being asked to do an identity parade at a local boys high school : a tad awkward in that a number of my friends’ younger brothers were among the inspected, leading to a lot of speculation ; after the initial reaction wore off, the interpretation some of these young men put on our visit lead to a lot of mirth but it wasn’t funny at the time. There were three or four boys who looked similar to what I’d seen of the person the previous day but I wasn’t prepared to tag anyone unless I was 300% certain. Hopefully the fact that the incident had been followed up would have been noted and put the person off trying again. [Lesson three: pursue the matter through whatever channels are appropriate]

Event Three was a lot more traumatic and one that does colour my attitude to security to this day. My daughter, recently turned nine at the time, and I lived in a garden flat in Epworth. At twenty to three in the morning on Heritage Day (how ironic) which happened to be the Sunday of a long-weekend, I heard the chain on our wall clock tap against the wall. Assuming it was the local mutant cat hoping to cause trouble with our cat yet again, I lay in bed and cogitated yelling at it. However, past experience had shown that had no effect and I eventually staggered out of bed and to the interleading doorway to evict the visitor in person. The number of coincidences that took place that night and that saved us from anything worse happening still amazes me. I was studying at the time which lead to later than usual bedtime ; as I was about to go to bed an obnoxious-looking flying cockroach had come in but I was too tired to chase it around. Instead I left a side-light on in the hopes of keeping it busy until I could capture it in the morning. We never slept with lights on. This chance decision led to me being in the shadows of the doorway and the intruder in the lounge being floodlit. Although I was half asleep I did have the element of surprise on my side. It sounds silly now but at the time my brain couldn’t believe there really was a man in our lounge. But once it got the message all hell broke loose. Despite being dressed only in a negligible tee-shirt nightie I took one step forward and took off like the aforementioned bolshy foghorn. All I could think of was my young daughter sleeping in the bedroom behind me. The guy was standing at right angles to me looking at a bookcase when I first saw him. When he heard me he turned his head sideways but made no effort to move. I didn’t realise why at the time – had I known he had three or four accomplices with him I don’t know what I would have done – and the fact that he didn’t listen just made me blindly angry. I remember taking a step towards him and raising the index finger of my right hand like a stereotypical teacher/librarian/politician and yelling “I told you to get out of my house”. At that point he pottered slowly off towards the kitchen and ambled out of the open doorway. Despite slamming the door behind him, it was more than I could do to bring myself to loiter in the room because by then I could see other shadows moving in the garden outside and I left the window standing wide open – they’d gained entry by pulling that burglar bar from its mounting. [Lesson four: don’t assume you know how you’ll behave when confronted with a criminal situation, rely on your instincts as they often know best. Lesson five: have burglar bars welded on, not screwed in]

Event Four followed hot on the heels of the previous one but in Bank Street in the CBD. A car had cut a corner in front of me as I drove into town and the heavy rain caused my car to skid. In controlling the skid I’d wrenched my wrist. Instead of being vigilant as I usually try to be, I was walking up Bank Street at 2.15pm thinking things like “owie, owie”. A slight sensation at my right elbow caused me to look down, only to see a rusty filthy dirty old knife blade an inch from my ribs while a hand held the strap of my bag. I understand entirely why you may be under the impression that I live my life on a cloud of rage, ready to vent at the least provocation, but this isn’t actually how I am. It is interesting that on the few occasions I have had to confront criminals my inner self becomes blindly furious ; each time it has paid off and the criminals have made themselves scarce but I can’t honestly recommend it as a planned response. For all I knew, it could equally have caused them to panic or retaliate. Instead they behaved like the naughty little brats they are and pulled out. This particular one had an accomplice a couple of metres away whom I had seen out of the corner of my eye. After dropping the packet I was carrying and latching onto my bag, I first asked the other person if he was with the one trying to attach himself surgically to my ribcage. He denied all knowledge and sidled off down the adjacent lane. This left me free to concentrate on the hapless freelance surgeon. I wasn’t yet becoming long-sighted with old age so having my nostrils three centimetres from his wasn’t at all a disadvantage. Heaven knows what he saw in my face but it was sufficient for him to back off and start leaving the scene. For some reason this was just the last straw and, to the shame of my vocabulary as I don’t usually speak like that, I bawled after him (right outside the Education Department nogal) “come back here, you bloody bastard”. The response was appalling. He actually turned around and came back. My vocabulary still wasn’t entirely reconstituted and all I could think was “damn, what am I going to say now?”. However, instinct ruled once more and The Finger was mobilised while I gave him a lecture on why he had better never try a similar stunt again. By then my sense of humour was reasserting itself and when he promised faithfully never to repeat his behaviour I was hurting with the urge to laugh. My day was made when a teeny weeny little old lady with an umbrella pottered up to me (the only other person in sight despite the time of day) and said “well done, my girl”. [Lesson six: do what you have to, even if you do penance afterwards – dribble like a ghoul if it’ll frighten them]

Which brings me to the most recent episode, Event Five, about which I have little to say. Just over a year ago I’d parked my car in Berg Street, about fifty metres from my desk. However, I work on the first floor of the building and cannot see the spot without walking across the building. I parked at a quarter to eight in the morning. By nine fifteen my car had been stolen. It turned out to be the fifth such loss among people in our building and one across the road. On each occasion the car guard who worked this section at the time was either “going to the toilet”, “at the restaurant around the corner” or somewhere else conveniently not where the thefts were taking place. In my case he claimed to be at the tearoom but colleagues saw him sitting in the nearby side street for about twenty minutes during the fateful time period. None of us could prove his involvement but he no longer patrols this particular joint. I have no specific lessons from this experience but feel abiding relief that neither my daughter nor I were in or near the car at the time. The police were extremely helpful, Red Alert staff went way beyond the call of duty to try to recover the vehicle, Woollam Brokers worked magic to get me a courtesy car until the claim was processed, Imperial Car Hire were stars and Barron’s dealership also couldn’t have done more to help me. Colleagues and friends made sure we had lifts wherever we needed to be until the courtesy car arrived.

What helps me most of all in the longterm is the refusal to see myself as a victim. I remain a crime statistic but I’m doing my level darndest to instantly turn my assailants into victims too and keep the stats dynamic.

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