Looking back, I don’t think it was a conscious decision to turn my back on the outside world, it just became a gradual realisation that I didn’t need to leave my home. Why venture out into the big bad world, when I had everything, I needed right here at my fingertips?
Let’s start with the essentials.
Air to breathe: Well, that’s easy because air is everywhere even inside.
Food to eat: In the past, this meant a trip to the shops, picking things off shelves, paying at the checkout, and lugging your shopping back home to unpack and store. Now all you need is a computer or smartphone, coupled with an account with one of the major supermarkets, a credit or debit card, and bingo, food, and other household goods delivered to your door!
Entertainment: Let’s start with sports. A subscription to one of the satellite channels brings you wall-to-wall football, cricket, rugby, tennis, and all sorts of motorsport. One click and you can save unwatched games for later viewing. Movies: a monthly payment to one of the many streaming services brings you an abundance of films from all over the world. Similarly, there are documentaries, shows, and drama series right here in your living room. Forget queuing for tickets, and buying overpriced food, and I certainly won’t regret not sitting next to some idiot who munches popcorn throughout the show.
Communication: Well, I’ve never really been the gregarious type, so I don’t miss not having any face-to-face company. I do have a son living in Australia, and we swap the odd message via email every few months, but I have no desire to fly halfway around the world to visit him, and besides I detest his wife. We tried a video call once, but I could see her in the background, and that put me off all video calls, so the occasional email would have to suffice.
Clothing: Buy online!
Fuel: My log burner was replenished by the lorry load of logs, bought online, and delivered two days later. Oh yes, they also delivered firelighters!
Money: Now that I am retired, I have access to a state pension, and I accrued a few quid in a private pension which leaves me with enough to live on. All paid directly into my bank account.
Religion: I watch Songs of Praise every Sunday. I sing along heartily to the hymns and say a silent prayer at the end.
Politics: I’ve registered for a postal vote, no need to trudge to the village hall to put a cross next to some man or woman I’ve never met, and have no desire to do so.
Health: Well, these days the chances of getting a face-to-face appointment with a GP are slim, so I’ll stick with a telephone call. Anyway, my health is generally good. So, no worries there.
So, apart from opening my front door to get my food and stuff, I remain cosily cocooned in my own world with everything I need to survive and indeed prosper.
That was until ‘things’ started to happen.
It was on a Sunday evening. I had been watching the football, and I was thinking about turning in when I heard some whispering. Two voices speaking in hushed tones. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but it sounded like two children having a conversation. It was difficult to accurately uncover where the voices were coming from. At first, I thought they were outside my front door, but as I opened the door, they seemed to be behind me. I turned around but there was no one to be seen. After about ten minutes of continual chatter, the voices stopped. I went to bed.
The next morning as I was having my usual breakfast of tea and toast, I suddenly felt something brush my leg from under the table. Startled, I reached down but there was nothing there. I drew back the chair and looked under the table. Apart from a blue sock, the one I had been looking for ages, there was nothing to see. I picked up the sock and placed it in the wash basket.
As I washed the dishes, I again heard someone talking. It was coming from underneath my kitchen window. I leaned forward over the sink to see who it was, but the speaking immediately stopped. I watched a cat scurry away, up and over my fence and out of view.
All was quiet for the rest of the week, and these two instances went out of my mind.
There was definitely a chill in the air, so I dragged in a box of logs from my outhouse and set about preparing an open fire. As I arranged the logs, I suddenly heard a distinct voice whisper.
I stepped back. The voice appeared to come from up my chimney! Shocked I grabbed a chair and sat myself down. Something inside me was cautioning me from lighting up the fire. I went into my bedroom and brought in an old electric fire.
I am sure that I heard a faint voice saying ‘thank you’.
Two days later the weather had turned bitterly cold, and a north wind was blowing, scattering leaves and debris across my backyard. The house was as cold as a meat store. I needed heat. Rather incongruously I found myself in front of my open grate staring at the dry logs. I ducked my head into the grate and shouted, “Am OK to put the fire on? I mean is bloody cold down here!”
I waited for a response. Nothing. I repeated my request, this time a little louder. Nothing. Finally, I shouted, “OK I’m lighting up NOW!” There was still no response. Within moments the fire was blazing, and the heat permeated throughout my little abode.
The next few days were particularly quiet. No brushing of my leg, no whispering, no demands. I carried on as normal. Eating, drinking, and watching television, as a treat, I ordered some homemade apple pies from the bakery in the precinct (online of course), and they were duly delivered by a lovely lady who wished me well.
I rarely received printed mail, apart from flyers advertising everything from a new Cantonese
‘Special Spice’ takeaway and delivery service, to Landscape Gardeners that would ‘Transform my Outdoor Space”. Those went into my recycle bin.
However, this morning I received an official-looking letter which reportedly had been sent by my bank. Now, I am always suspicious about anything that purports to be from the Government, HMRC, or a bank, as we all know that scammers are out to get their hands on our hard-earned money. So, I treated this latest missive with a high degree of caution.
The letter said that there had been some ‘unusual activity on my current account’ and I should call this number immediately. Before I picked up my mobile, I logged on to internet banking, and to my horror, I saw that two hundred pounds in cash had been withdrawn via a cash machine outside Tesco’s and there were several purchases, in-store, at various retail outlets that I hadn’t visited for years. I grabbed my wallet. I was relatively comforted to find my debit card in its usual place.
So, who could anyone have used my card? Had it been cloned? I do use internet shopping, so had someone got their grubby little hands on my details, and made a card with my particulars?
The operator on the other end was very helpful, even sympathetic to my plight. She told me that the card machine that had been used to withdraw cash was fitted with a CCTV camera, and she would try to obtain the footage and email it to me so that I could perhaps identify the perpetrator. I could by her voice that she strongly believed that a family member or neighbour had somehow got hold of my card, used it, and then returned back to my wallet. Which of course I knew was impossible.
I waited for the CCTV imagery.
The email from the bank arrived the next day. There was an image attached. I immediately opened it.
What I saw sent a shock wave down my spine.
The person using my card was … well … me! The image was dated two days ago at 2.00pm in the local shopping centre. There was no doubt that it was me. Same hairstyle, same shirt, the one I always wore with the George Cross badge pinned just over the left breast pocket.
I ran into the bedroom and opened the wardrobe. The shirt hung in exactly the place where I last left it. I felt for the badge. It was still there, fastened exactly where it always was.
But how? I returned to the lounge and examined the image closely. Was it an imposter? Someone who was trying to pass themselves as me, just to confuse me and the bank? I checked the time. At 2.00pm two days ago I was watching the cricket from my armchair. The card has been in my wallet all the time, I haven’t moved from my house for nearly two years.
With my head spinning in bewilderment, I closed the email went into the kitchen, and poured myself a large whisky.
The whisky cleared my head. First the practical stuff. I would not pursue any claim against the bank, it would be far too confusing trying to explain who was in the photograph, so I decided just to transfer what was left in my current account to my savings account which means it could not be accessed by a cash machine. That way I would keep the remainder of my money safe from any further attacks.
But who was in that image?
The next few days were quiet with no voices or other disturbances.
I called the bank
They politely informed me that they had no record of me calling them. They denied sending any emails to me, and that I must have been mistaken. All their calls are recorded manually onto a database and there were no details entered on the day in question. Whilst I was on the phone with them, I looked up the email they had sent to me containing the CCTV image.
It had disappeared.
I checked my deleted folder, trash folder, and spam folder. Nothing.
I muttered some excuse, clicked my phone off, and sat down. Almost immediately I could hear someone giggling, then chortling, and then a very loud guffaw. It appeared to be emanating from my kitchen. I stood up and dashed across the room and flung open the kitchen door.
There was no one there.
I noticed that the side door leading out into my backyard was ajar. I always kept it locked. I pulled it shut and turned the key.
The whisky bottle was still on the table. I poured a generous slug and drained it in one gulp.
I decided immediate action was needed. I grabbed my phone and began to search for fuel suppliers.
A 20-litre container of paraffin was delivered just the very next day.
I had already stacked my lounge furniture against my front and kitchen doors and then distributed the remainder of the log delivery around my living room, with firelighters placed strategically underneath each log. I had left a small gap between the kitchen door and the outside door, ready for me to begin the proceedings.
Once I had everything in place, I opened the paraffin canister and liberally splashed the liquid across the lounge and over the logs.
Satisfied that everything was set, I slipped back through the stacked furniture, lit the rag that I had stuffed into a milk bottle half full of paraffin, watched as it caught fire, and then threw it into the lounge.
With a moment's satisfaction, I saw the place burst into flames.
I then called 999 and asked for the fire service.
© Graham Crisp