Thursday, 22 March 2012

One Fell Swoop Ago

They attacked in the day and only had a small window of time. I arrived home from work and absent-mindedly bent forward to put my key in the lock. Something was wrong. Where was the lock? Having spent the last few weeks experiencing a series of malfunctions in the flat, my first assumption was our lock had broken and was being fixed. A few yells to The Boy suggested otherwise. Aside from enthusiastically meowed greetings from The Major, the flat was quiet but at first glance appeared quite normal.


It wasn't until I rung The Boy and started to look for signs of disturbance, the fact we'd been burgled became a reality. Our neighbour's lock had also disappeared but all the flats down the other corridor were in tact. Little seemed to be missing and by some miracle my grubby mac remained where I'd left it. The biggest tell-tale sign was the disappearance of the £85 in cash we'd left on the side, having only just painstakingly changed a large tub of coins a week before. Of course, if we'd not bothered to convert our loose change to notes, we'd still have the money.


Our cat-loving policeman arrived within half an hour of us logging our three stolen cameras and Android Tablet, to disturbingly tell us it would have taken our burglars a mere 16 seconds to remove the lock, possibly even simultaneously tackling the flat opposite. Despite security cameras existing in the building, the police are only allowed to check footage fifteen minutes either side of the crime. This bizarre ruling made it impossible for them to wade through the two and a half hour window the thieves had to grab what they could between The Boy returning to work after lunch and me arriving home.


It seems thieves are creatures of character and habit but ours left no evidence of their personal idiosyncrasies. Our milk was left un-drunk (apparently a favourite with some) and the broken lock discarded, rather than taken as a trophy to add to a collection of memorabilia from previous robberies. Our neighbour suffered the worst and was given the added blow of the thieves taking half the screws to his PS2, making it impossible to reassemble it.


Within three hours of initially discovering this invasion, finger prints had been taken and a new super lock fitted. As the weeks have passed, we are of course still discovering missing items. It seems our thieves knew exactly what they were doing - stealing a bag to transport their goodies, wearing gloves and avoiding easily traceable items. Theirs was the one-fell-swoop approach. In and out, causing little damage but taking high-value easily sell-able items.


Reflecting on the whole experience, I'd advise anyone moving into a new build to check where security cameras are placed and how secure locks actually are. Stemming from this unsavoury experience, I've since made a linguistic discovery and thankfully found the address book I suspected they'd taken merely to irritate me. In saying "one-fell-swoop", I had a "donkey's ears" moment and realised the phrase wasn't "fowl swoop" or "foul swoop" as is often mistakenly believed.


In Macbeth, in Act 4, Scene 3 after Macduff learns his whole family has been murdered, Shakespeare has him say: "Oh Hell-Kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens, and their damme at one fell swoope?" Years later, in 1922 James Joyce used the phrase in Ulysses: "They might be hanging about there or simply marauders ready to decamp with whatever boodle they could in one fell swoop at a moment's notice - your money or your life."


It seems one of the original meanings of “fell” comes from the Old English “fellan/ fyllan” and is related to the words “felon” and “felony”. The use of “fell” to mean “savage,” “cruel,” or “ruthless” has pretty much died out which is why so many people incorrectly believe the phrase to be “foul” or “fowl”, creating an image of a quick unpleasant act or bird swooping down to take its prey.


While I'm far from happy to have been robbed, I have at least learnt something about security from my experience and the etymology of yet another interesting phrase that is often unthinkingly used. When they come back for our insurance goodies, our villains will find us at the ready and perhaps The Maj with a discreet camera strapped to his collar.

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