Tonight I received a panicky phone call from J, who is staying in my friend's house while she is away on holiday. J has very little English, and relies heavily on sweeping arm movements and lively sound effects to make himself understood - not the best combination when using a phone in a very noisy place. "Alan call!" he said, sounding agitated. "Who is Alan?" I asked, struggling to understand why he should be ringing me from what sounded like an amusement arcade, and why he was making such a portentous announcement.
"Alan call!" he repeated, excitedly, adding a sound which clearly conveyed his increasing stress and, possibly, mental breakdown; none the wiser, but picking up his obvious distress, I asked where he was, and was he all right, then realised that the noise in the background was the house alarm. Of course: Alan call, alarm ringing.
Now my friend has never used this old alarm in the year that she has lived in the house, and for all I know, doesn't even have the code for it, but I tried her mobile anyway - to no avail, as she is larking about in deepest Devon, and has to drive to the next town to get a signal. So off I went to soothe the housesitter and the cat, and possibly prevent neighbours from calling the police, then to wait for the fairly standard 20 minutes before the alarm switched itself off. 20 minutes is about as long as one can last before wanting to scream and throw bricks at someone - I know this because Bacteria Gardens has a long history of alarms going off in the small hours, and 20 minutes is just right for being woken so thoroughly that you can't sleep again for three hours and have to think that house-sale plan through yet again, in close, fulminating detail.
Except it didn't go off, and I texted Charlotte asking her to ask her Handsome Young Policeman if he knew how to disable a rogue alarm. Well, you'd think they'd teach them that in police school, wouldn't you? But he didn't; Charlotte advocated a hammer. After 50 minutes of aural agony, during which time the neighbours in my friend's rather snooty street didn't bat an eyelid, not even the really crabby one next door, I rang Lesley, she of the wheelie-bin arsonist tendencies, and asked her if she knew what to do. This was a long shot, as Lesley is having one of Those Days - she tried to return my stepladders today and found herself halfway along the street carrying her own ironing board - but lo! she did! Old and decrepit alarms are included in her rich and colourful archive of near-disaster experiences. J followed her advice, took the control panel apart, pulled out some gizmo attaching leads to the back up battery, and the ghastly racket stopped at once. We wept with joy and gratitude. Next time Alan calls, I shall be out, and he can leave a message.