PEACE OF MIND
As a child, I was brought up in an area where there was a local community - we called it a ‘neighbourhood’ back then. From the front door of our terraced house, we could look at the front doors of the neighbours’ houses and put a name to every single occupant of the thirty or so dwellings on our block. Neighbours helped each other, and watched out for each other, and if one of them saw you doing something wrong, it would get back to your parents, and you’d get a clip around the ear. By the same token, if a stranger was knocking doors, he would be watched intently by at least one housewife, standing on her doorstep with folded arms, pretending to be taking the air.
Most of our neighbours had lived in the same houses for decades.
If an elderly occupant died, then a young married couple might move in to the vacant house to start a family of their own. In the great scheme of things, there wasn’t a lot of changing addresses. So we were a fairly tightly-knit bunch, and we watched out for each other as a matter of course. Nowadays, these community ties are governed by a committee and called a ‘neighbourhood watch group’, but back then, it all happened naturally.
In 1967, having seen her youngest child start primary school, my mother got a part-time job. For the first time ever, our house would be empty during the day, while we children were in school, and the adults in work. So to stop any unwelcome visitors that might escape the local housewife security network, we had a lock fitted to our front door. It was the first proper lock I’d ever seen, and in my early teens, still in school, I was deemed to be too young to be trusted with a key. The lock was a Chubb cylinder lock, with a shiny brass barrel, and we didn’t need to slam the door, just pull it until it clicked shut.
I soon noticed that most of the neighbours had locks too - some had cylinder locks, but a lot had just a keyhole cut into the wood, hiding a big old rim mortice lock mounted on the inside. Back then, we were a gang of about a dozen kids of school age living on the block, and we would play in the middle of the road. Perhaps every fifteen minutes or so, someone would spot a car approaching in the distance, and we’d all stand clear until it drove past. Most of the time, during the long, balmy summer evenings, we’d work up a sweat playing tag, dashing from one side of the street to the other.
Occasionally, we might bump into someone’s open door. Most of the neighbours left their doors swinging freely, so that if someone wanted to call for a cup of tea and a chat, they could let themselves in. The game of tag involved safe spots, where you could stand and rest without being tagged - these were usually doorsteps of people’s houses, so the doors often flew open when someone ran for a safe spot, but the occupants knew it was just kids at play, and although there were burglaries then, it didn’t happen in our neighbourhood.
It’s 2010 and I’ve reached the midpoint of my sixth decade. The world has changed enormously in the last forty years. Most people these days will move at least once during their adult lives, and everyone has a lock on their front door. The thirty-odd front doors of the block where I spent my childhood are now mainly uPVC rather than wooden. There are lots of people in every town and city who don’t know their neighbours - in some cases, even the people who live next door.
Forty years ago, the only people who got burgled were the people who had things worth stealing, which didn’t include my family. Now, most families have at least one television, a DVD player, sound system, computer, some kind of games console, a microwave oven, and a host of other small, compact gadgets - easily moved, and so, too easily stolen.
Back then, housewives spent several hours a day talking to each other, while the men were in work. Watching the television during the day wasn’t an option, because programmes, on any of the three channels, didn’t start until the evening. In 2010, hardly anyone, anywhere, stands on their doorstep chatting and watching out for their neighbours. Furthermore, the rare individuals who do this are regarded as a local nuisance, and often shunned. Many adults work, and many women only stop working to bring up children. Of course, this is a sweeping generalisation, but the point is that houses are either occupied and noisy, or left silent and unoccupied during the day.
We have all come to rely on our locks more. Throughout the whole of human history in the UK we have never left so many houses unoccupied for so many hours, and never have so many possessions been kept in these empty houses without a person there to guard them. A hundred years ago, the wealthier people with valuable personal possessions often had servants in the house. Ordinary families rarely left their houses unoccupied, and poor families had nothing worth taking.
In 2010, almost everyone has personal possessions that are worth something to a thief, and almost everyone will leave their house or flat unoccupied for some hours during the week. Never before has there been so much opportunity for thieves and burglars, and the only thing that stops them is the physical security of your dwelling.
One thing that the past has taught me is that there is no way to accurately foretell the future. When I was a child I imagined that, by the year 2010, we’d all be travelling in flying cars and taking holidays in space. Any old film that imagined the future was usually wide of the mark. However, we are told that we are in the deepest recession for 80 years, and that, to get out of it, we will have to endure public sector spending cuts, increased unemployment, cuts in welfare and benefits payments, and so on. In other words, it’s going to get worse before it can get better.
There are going to be more people struggling to maintain their present standard of living, and quite possibly, more people failing to make ends meet. In economic terms, that could lead to a higher crime rate. It’s not an inevitable consequence, but it is a possible outcome that should be contemplated.
Everyone who relies on their locks should take a long hard look at the physical security they have, and whether it’s good enough to be trusted. Will you be able to leave your home unguarded? Now is the time to prepare for the possibility that thieves and burglars will become more numerous and more daring in taking away your possessions.
The most important thing to remember is that there is a huge difference between panicking and being prepared. I don’t want to frighten anyone with alarmist comments, but I do want to point out that we face difficult times ahead, and it is wise to be prepared for a bad outcome. You may have perfectly adequate security in place at the moment but, if you have doubts about the strength of your locks, and need advice on how to improve your physical security, we will be happy to help.
There are many companies and individuals advertising their services as locksmiths, but few are professionally qualified. The main qualification for any locksmith is accreditation from the Master Locksmiths Association. This is not granted without stringent tests being passed, and these tests are set by professional locksmiths, so it is a reliable indication of experience, quality of service and professional integrity. You can’t be certain that you have the right locks in place unless you can trust the locksmith that fits them, so it is very important to choose the right company.
Look for locksmiths operating from shop premises - that way, you can visit them for advice, and to view the different types of locks available. Also, if there is a problem with the work that you have done, a shop-based locksmith is unlikely to disappear from the radar like some of the mobile rogue traders featured on consumer programmes. Some of these opportunists seem friendly and charming, and may sound very convincing, but they have nothing to back it up.
You could end up paying over the odds for products that are less than adequate. If you take time to choose your locksmith, you are more likely to get what you need, not what a tradesman passes off as security.
If there is one thing that my life has taught me, it is that one of the most precious commodities is peace of mind. I value it highly, and therefore, understand that our customers want peace of mind too. If we can help with this, please call us.