The other morning as I walked up my road on the way to the bus stop, a woman pulled up in her car and stopped me. “Excuse me,” she said. “Do you live here?”
Nervous that she had outed me as a North London fraud, and was about to declare that I wouldn’t know a superfood smoothie if it bit me on my non-yoga-ed arse then send me packing back to the suburban homestead from whence I came, I said, “Yes. Yes I do.”
“Which road do you live on?” she demanded.
“This one. In that house there. The red one with the Carlsberg can in the plant pot.” I realised shortly after the words left my mouth that I’d just disobeyed the first childhood key rule of successfully being alive; namely Don’t Tell Strangers Where You Live. I don’t remember the picture books ever including an extended section on Not Pointing Out Your Exact House To Strangers When It Is Apparent You Have Just Left It, but then kids aren’t that stupid. Had she offered me sweets I probably would have taken them too.
“And do you find the area safe?” she asked. Aha! Brilliant. This wasn’t, then, the world’s least surreptitious burglary, but in fact an invite to my favourite activity: raving about how great my neighbourhood is. I am a Highgate evangelist. I an wax lyrical for hours about its leafiness, comparative quiet and abundance of good pubs, friendly dogwalkers and families who look like refugees from a Boden catalogue. I even have a special speech prepared for people who think London is hostile and impersonal, all about how the corner-shop staff know our names and sometimes I wave at people in the street, just for the heck of it.
“Yes!” I told her. “Yes, it is safe! It’s safe and peaceful and full of lovely, lovely people. I’ve lived here for three years and never witnessed any crime, ever! I walk back home at 4am and don’t even flinch if a fox jumps out! I mean, sure I hold my keys through my knuckles, but that’s just he accessory of the modern woman isn’t it? The only hostility you get round here is maybe if you recycle the wrong sort of Tetrapack. AND my neighbours who I’ve never even met sent me a birthday card! Move here! Move here! Move here!”
The lady thanked me and retreated before I could whip out my pom poms and my Rah Rah Highgate sandwich board. But that very afternoon the universe laughed in the face of my enthusiasm, and I BECAME A VICTIM OF CRIME. Suddenly my lovely neighbourhood went from Balamory to the Bronx. What’s more, it was one of the bitterest crimes of all: I was scammed by children. In Starbucks.
Being the generous-spirited person I am (and having just spent a shameful amount on a hazlenut soy ponceaccino), when big-eyed children came to my table asking to be sponsored on a 5k run, I gave them a whole fiver, fresh from my overdraft. For three minutes I felt the warm, fuzzy glow of philanthropy. Then a wiser woman than I noticed it was an odd time for charity collecting, being 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, and suddenly it all got very dramatic as the thieving ragamuffins were confronted by a doubtful herd of yummy mummies, Cath Kidston bags a-swinging. They shrieked, the kids ran, I sobbed quietly into a biscotti.
But now, worse than the loss of the fiver, I am haunted by the knowledge that I told a woman to buy a house here. I practically turned her into the hands of Fagin's gang. Let's just hope she's not duped as easily as I am – or that she really was a burglar in the first place.