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Friday, February 25, 2005

The break-in....

Came home to a surprise this afternoon. As I turned the corner near my apartment complex, I noticed that my bathroom window was wide open. Most apartments built since the 1970s here, and for that matter almost all "modern" public buildings, have awning-hopper type windows that are hinged at the top and open outward. In addition, all have a hook mechanism along one side that prevents the window from opening very far. But in this case the window was wide open and as I looked in I saw that it was more than merely a gust of wind that did this. I entered the flat to find a number of things scattered on the floor in my living room, including this computer. Checking out the door again I realized it had been jimmied open with a screwdriver.

A little detective work goes a long way, and given the fact that it was a bit chilly outside but not so much so inside, it was evident that whoever was in the flat had left just recently -- and rather quickly. Nothing was stolen; or I should say, I was lucky nothing had been stolen. My computer set-up in this small flat is so elaborate, and the wires so tangled, that the culprit was obviously baffled by the complexity of it all. It also seems like the would-be thief had been trying to do all this with a pair of "makeshift" gloves -- or at least I assume that's why I found two of my sweaty gym socks scattered around the wiring (either that or this was someone with a very strange fetish).

It's also clear that something scared him/her/them away, and that whatever it was was blocking their exit through the front door. Tossing all my toiletries off the ledge in front of the windowsill, this amateurish burglar stepped from the loo to the ledge and with a forceful push on the window broke through the latch to the bushes just outside.

It is also obvious that this was a crime of opportunity by some frazzled kid who happened to find the main door to our building open and picked on my flat because it was the first he came across. This was an individual in mental disarray. Sitting a few feet from the computer and in clear sight was a small stash of money -- a few US dollars (which even I would've passed up given the current exchange rate) but also a more reasonable sum of euros (which can be used in some places in Belfast, but definitely could be cashed in at any local bank, and of course spent on an evening out in nearby Dublin). I guess it would have been much easier for the thief just unplug my small TV and walk away without much notice. But I can imagine that the challenge of this nice little laptop was just too much to pass up, and I picture him running around the apartment trying to figure out how to avoid leaving fingerprints and then stumbling across my dirty laundry basket with the gym socks sitting on top. It is almost laughable -- ok, it is in fact very laughable since I was lucky and lost nothing to this idiot.

I believe this is the first time I've ever been victimized this way, and I have to admit that (as they say) I now feel more vulnerable. After all, even if this particular person is a jerk, someone now knows that there's a pretty fancy laptop sitting in this ground-floor apartment just waiting for a less inept thief to come along at another opportune moment. It ain't the Northern Bank, but it might seem attractive to some enterprising trainee for a local paramilitary group.... (Hey, you have to start somewhere!)

As it happens, I've recently been offered the opportunity to move to another flat in the same area, this one on the very top floor of the highest building in this complex of apartments. What made the possibility so attractive was the thought of working at my computer while watching the seasons change in Belfast. Two of my QUB colleagues now occupy that flat and are about to move into a newly purchased home, and I immediately went into "vulture mode" to see if a move would be possible. The Queen's University Estates office, which operates this group of apartments, said the move is possible, but I delayed making a decision because the move seemed like so much bother since I will be staying in Belfast only through the summer.

But tonight I'm rethinking my position, and may soon find myself hauling all my Belfast-worldly possessions up to several flights of stairs to get a new perch that is not only more secure but comes with a view. I guess there are silver linings behind some of those Belfast clouds....
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