To be printed 17/02/11.
It's the been the funnest online game for grown-ups since Google Street View was launched. Indeed, the next logical step is surely to combine the two, and allow us to find our own house on the map and discover someone robbing it.
Yes, I refer this week to the launch of police.uk, the new online crime map service - otherwise known as shitletsmove.com. A neurotic's gift, the site lets you type in your postcode and find out how many crimes were reported in your area in December. It also breaks them down into different categories, which is helpful, because then you can play your neighbourhood off against your friends' like Top Trumps. "45 burglaries? I've got 135 on Violent Crime, BOO-YA…"
The trick they're missing is having a little pop-up of Kirsty Allsopp, in a guise not unlike the Word paperclip, to say "It looks like you live in a crack den. Why not move to a plusher neighbourhood with not so much murdering?"
But if it doesn't cause you to sleep with a hefty frying pan under your bed (or a Le Creuset casserole, depending on your postcode), the site will do the opposite and provide some nice reassurance. Or, even better, an opportunity for gloating.
My postcode in Muswell Hill, for example, had 499 crimes. Is that a lot? It's more than you'd want, I guess, but then part of me is glad it's a substantial number. Nobody wants to live in a wussy neighbourhood, after all. Live somewhere with no crime and one day everyone might snap and rise up in mutiny. You just know Balamory is ripe for some bloodshed.
So it's not until you start comparing with other people's postcodes that you really get any perspective. It's comforting, for example, to know that as I have moved further out of London during the last five years, I have also significantly decreased my chance of being hacked to pieces with a crowbar round the back of Budgens. In Camden Town, where I was nestled safe in the halls of residence bosom for my first year in the city, the number is an eye-watering 1665. Of which 526 are the vaguely unnerving "other crime" - knowing Camden I imagine these are largely the crime of dying one's hair pink and wearing an ironic 'iPod' t-shirt while sucking a cannabis lollipop, but it's chilling all the same.
From there I more than halved my crime threat in one swift move by shipping out to Highgate (681), and then on to my current road, cotton-woolly by comparison. But the real surprise was that my family's postcode in Tarring, Worthing, had 358. That's only 141 more than my street in Big Bad London, where the streets are paved with syringes and a stranger's just a rapist you haven't met yet. My flatmate's village in the Cotswolds, just to bring a little more perspective, had 1.
So what have we learned, kids? That you can't tell what crime might be just around the corner. That the Costwolds are safer than Camden. And that maybe my hometown isn't quite as wussy as I might lead people to believe.