Just before we moved into our house, I was given a quick demonstration of the existing alarm system. I paid almost no attention. I will leave it alone, I thought, and it will leave me alone.
Two years later, the alarm remains off, or mostly off; the panel in the hall has a yellow light that blinks 24 hours a day. Sometimes when itâ€™s very dark its pulse can be felt through the whole house â€“ a faint reflection glancing off walls, reaching up the stairs. I hardly notice it any more.
It is late morning. I am sitting in my office shed when my wife comes to the door.
â€œThe alarm is doing something weird,â€ she says. I am momentarily bewildered.
â€œThe alarm?â€ I say.
â€œYes,â€ she says.
â€œYou mean the car?â€ I say.
â€œNo, the house,â€ she says.
â€œOur house?â€ I say.
â€œAre you doing this on purpose?â€ she says.
I follow her through the kitchen and into the hall. The alarm isnâ€™t going off, but issuing some kind of warning: a loud, two-note chirp that sounds inside the house, not outside. Itâ€™s more than annoying; there is something accusatory in it.
The panel is lit up, with a notification scrolling by â€“ something to do with a numbered error message.
â€œIt wants the security code,â€ I say. â€œWhat is the security code?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ my wife says. â€œIâ€™ve never known.â€
â€œMe, neither,â€ I say. â€œWait.â€ I take out my keyring, on which hangs a little plastic fob I was given two years ago, bearing the logo of the alarm company. I touch it to the panel and the noise stops.
â€œIâ€™ll invoice you,â€ I say.
This is not the end of the story, but the beginning. The alarm sounds the same warning a week later, and again I silence it with the fob. After that it begins a new cycle, going off every few nights at precisely 4.50am. I trudge down the stairs with my keys and trudge back up again, but I canâ€™t go back to sleep.
It takes no more than a week for the alarm to break me. I have trouble getting to sleep in the first place, not knowing if tonight is one of the nights I will be woken at 4.50am. Sometimes the youngest one beats me downstairs, armed with a spare fob he found in a drawer. The first time it happened, I thought he was a burglar. My heart continued to thud for a further hour.
â€œI called the alarm people,â€ my wife says. â€œThey wanted to charge me Â£260 just to look at it, so I told them to fuck off.â€
â€œDid you?â€ I say.
â€œNo, I was actually very polite,â€ she says.
â€œGood,â€ I say, â€œbecause I think they might have us over a barrel.â€ I can find no manual or online remedies, other than the suggestion that I purchase an annual maintenance contract. I begin to suspect the alarm has been remotely programmed to torture me until I give in.
â€œItâ€™s too expensive,â€ my wife says.
â€œI think the alarm might be the most expensive thing we own,â€ I say. â€œOur best hope is that someone breaks in and steals it.â€
The next day I am in a recording studio, eyes itching, when my wife rings.
â€œSo I was coming back from the shops and I saw one of their vans parked in the road,â€ she says.
â€œWho?â€ I say.
â€œThe alarm company,â€ she says.
â€œYou mean theyâ€™re spying on us?â€
â€œNo,â€ she says. â€œI knocked on the guyâ€™s window and gave him 20 quid to come in and look at the box.â€
â€œHe just happened to be there?â€ I say. â€œBy coincidence?â€
â€œWhat is wrong with you?â€ she says. â€œAnyway, he said there was a fault with one of the sensors, back door or something, and he just turned that bit off. It took five minutes.â€
â€œWow,â€ I say.
â€œWhat you mean isâ€¦â€ she says.
â€œWhat I mean is, well done.â€
â€œCorrect,â€ she says.
I am reminded, not for the first time, of the extent to which my life is made secure by the vigilance of an actual capable person. That night I sleep soundly and gratefully, until 4.50am, when I am woken by the alarm.