Honestly, who’d be a burglar now?


It’s the burglars I feel sorry for. Many of them face being wiped out by this crisis. With everyone penned inside, there simply aren’t the opportunities there were before the virus struck.

Some may well have to retrain as online fraudsters. Not all have the technical skills necessary to be a really good scammer, but at least they can work from home. I’ve heard a number of ministers being interviewed and none has suggested that burglars are exempt from the need for social distancing.

I suppose others might consider branching out into mugging — but that can be pretty risky if the nation is in a mood to put troops on the streets. Those who are still tempted to try their luck at housebreaking must remember to wash their hands after touching stolen property.

Times were already getting harder for burglars. All those online doorbell camera kits like Ring, that allow you to see and speak to potential intruders on your phone while you are on the beach, haven’t helped.

(Although, in truth, I’m a little sceptical about this. Your savvy burglar may wonder why they can hear seagulls when you are claiming to be unable to answer the door as you are in the toilet. From wetrooms to jacuzzis to Japanese loos, the modern bathroom has enjoyed some exciting innovations, but very few come with seagulls.)

Anyway, things are tough for housebreakers. As self-employed operators, they are not yet covered by any of the government’s rescue schemes and there must be some doubt as to whether even a new package will be sufficiently extensive to help career criminals.

The plight of burglars occurred to me as I reflected that we all need to think about those less fortunate than ourselves in this crisis. Those of us able to carry on working from home and whose house is not too cramped are the lucky ones. We all need to remember those without our advantages, but I admit there are possibly more deserving cases. Then again, if everyone goes for the more obvious recipients of sympathy, someone has to think of the outliers.

Perhaps there are some virtual burglary games they can use to keep their hands in for the big score once restrictions are eased. The internet has, after all, been the one saving grace of the crisis. Which brings me neatly to the reflection that we are at least blessed by a connectivity that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago.

The idea of this period without the internet does not bear thinking about. My sister (who is self-isolating), my mother and I arranged a three-way evening call over dinner last week, although to be fair it was not a total success. We spent most of the conversation explaining how Google Hangouts work and urging my mother not to keep pressing the screen.

It can be disheartening. A good friend in lockdown in the US showed me a kitchen freezer the size of my spare room. But we are all going to talk much more to our friends and just perhaps come to appreciate seeing them in real time once we are sprung from our homes.

In the meantime, however, we are all grateful for Skype, Hangouts, FaceTime, Zoom and all the other ways of connecting. As we get into the teeth of lockdown, these conversations may be one of the few things that stop us turning into Jack Nicholson sitting at a keyboard and typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Actually, I’ve assured my wife that I won’t be hacking into the bathroom door with an axe. For one thing, she’d make me fix it — and for another, the seagulls would get out.

There are other small joys. Watching the little green truck move imperceptibly across the Ocado waiting page is almost like a dose of mindfulness and considerably less exhausting than yoga. The frisson you feel every 15 seconds at seeing yourself move from, say, 5,068 to 4,975 is deeply special. That’s a significant incremental improvement over quite a short period of time.

There’s something rather zen about watching your progress. It would be even better if there were any delivery slots at the end of it.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley or email him at [email protected]

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