Safe as Houses
15 July 2002
And when I woke up that early that morning, they'd not yet finished removing all of the sharp objects, which is how I found out what was going on. Not that I wouldn't have noticed something amiss (as shall become apparent) but I learnt the who's and the why's quicker than most. Coming down the stairs, half dead in my dressing gown I saw the last of the men in orange rifling through the kitchen drawers, presumably searching for a tardy lemon reamer or rogue potato peeler.
I coughed. One of the younger orange men jumped, nearly dropping the clattering bag he was holding. His senior shot him a filthy look then snapped to attention. With a swift vicious salute he barked "Sir, good morning, sir! Apologies for our presence sir - we should have been finished by oh-four-hundred hours, but our team contains youthful and inexperienced workers sir, not yet able to remove at full speed. Sir!"
Pulling my gown tightly around me I asked "And you'd be...?" The senior tightened his posture and salute even further and bellowed "Sir! Health and safety executive sir! Operating stage one sir, removal of sharp objects sir!" As I blinked, trying to focus on their neon shapes and perky berets, they rushed out of the house leaving me leaning against the banister. I went back to bed.
Getting up again two hours later I saw fully what they'd done. Getting into work two hours after that and seeing the unshaved members of the sales-team, I realised I wasn't alone. "Dammit Jim" my buddy Paul moaned "I had to use my Jennifer Rush CD to spread marmalade with. Chrissakes".
A week later I woke to find my dressing-gown cord gone, along with Elaine's stockings, my cufflinks and all of my spare change. "Choking hazards" muttered Elaine furiously as she boiled tea to paint her legs with, "I'll give them choking hazards". At work there were ingenious combinations of paperclips, origami folding and long, tied-together socks holding up trousers (the belts, ties and braces had gone that morning too). Rumour went round that Alan in accounts had come in a paisley-bedsheet toga and within five days we had all followed his lead; the firm resembled a Laura Ashleyfied ancient Rome.
I'd started getting up earlier and earlier, trying to catch the orange men. Thirteen days after the belts incident they came again. I was huddled in a chair in the lounge, cold cups of strong coffee by my feet. I had a volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica on my lap, the largest weapon I could find out of my reduced, safety-conscious household arsenal.
I spasmed awake as the team moved in, silent and stealthy as ninjas. Before I'd had time to raise the book above my head a flashlight beam was pointed in my face followed, seconds later, by the muzzle of a raygun. "Sir!" came the same voice as previously "we must apprehend you sir! This is the health and safety executive sir, and this is for your own good."
The men were scavenging through drawers. I lowered the book. "Matches, sir" the senior said before I could ask. "Fire hazard sir, dangerous to children. Burning babies sir. And lighters". I watched as my precious silver zippo was dropped into a sack. Without lowering the ray-gun he saluted, then left.
The next time I didn't bother with the Encylopaedia, just the coffee. When the team came in and the flashlight slid around the room there was quick gasping noise. Then an orange hand reached from the light, took my mug and poured it away. "Mugs?" I asked. "Caffeine sir" came the reply, "very dangerous, causes jitters and breakages, sir!".
The week after that it was mugs. And the rest of the crockery ("Breakages sir! Sharp pieces of pottery sir!"). Then the heavy books. Then the light books and magazines ("Fire hazard sir!") After that the removals happened so quickly that I didn't note what was taken and when.
Elaine bleakly joked about killing herself to end the constant demolition of our home and life. When she went to the medicine cabinet and found that, actually, all of the aspirin, paracetemol and sleeping pills had gone she became hysterical. I had to throw cold water over her. Using my hands - the buckets had gone a few days after the mugs. I tried to call the helpline that had been installed for those requiring assistance with their "new, safer lives" but the telephone wasn't there either. Radiation damage.
That was the turning point. That, and the rumour from Paul that in Bristol there were trials involving intravenous drips - choking hazards of eating presumably outweighing infection from needles. Until then, I'd assumed I could quietly stop it all by reducing the calories in my diet to a healthy safe minimal and slide out of it all. Elaine has been scratching plans and designs into the floor of a double-rig for the bath; both of our weights pressing down into the "safe" two inches of water for our faces to be covered.
Of course, this only works if the bath is still there by next week.