I heard it while I was walking to the 'Open Gardens' event.
You know the sort of thing. They happen all over the place these days, so that in the summer you can hardly set foot outside your front door without tripping over an 'Open Garden'. I usually avoid them like the plague because the cost runs way above the modest two pound entrance fee by the time you've bought a cup of tea and a slice of somebody's special chocolate cake, a couple of strips of raffle tickets, browsed the second-hand books and the bric-a-brac, and guessed the weight of the largest potato you've ever seen in your life. Then there's all the chat. Making small talk with random folk you happen to meet in somebody else's garden is not really my idea of fun. Not on a precious Sunday afternoon, anyway.
I decided to stroll along to this particular 'Open Garden' because it was within walking distance, less than a mile away, and for some obscure and inexplicable reason, I simply wanted to see the garden.
Of course, there were no other walkers. Everyone else had more sense. They all glanced at the sky, noted the black clouds overhead and got out the car. I, being a bear of very little brain, elected to walk despite the sky. I rather enjoy a solitary stroll along country lanes, although this particular solitary stroll was somewhat ruined for me.
It was as I walked along the lane that runs between the wheat field on the left and the hedgerow bordering the woods on the right, that I heard the car alarm. Only faint, but irritating none the less. There's nothing more designed to shatter your illusion of a rural idyll than someone's car alarm going off in the distance.
As I walked towards civilisation in the shape of the 'Open Garden', the shrill of the alarm grew louder. Clearly I was walking towards it. By now I was becoming intrigued. Why didn't someone turn the wretched thing off? To my certain knowledge it had been going for at least ten minutes. As I turned down the street where the 'Open Garden' was situated (it was a corner property, a sure sign that the garden was opulently extensive) I realised that I would soon discover the cause of what was by now a clamorous screech.
Several houses before the corner, the noise was so loud and painful that I almost covered my ears. I stood for a moment outside the offending property, but no car was visible. I soon became aware that the car issuing the scream for attention was locked away in a garage. Even more intriguing. Were the owners away? Did the next door neighbours have a key? If so, why weren't they doing something?
Then an even more disturbing scenario occurred to me, probably as the result of too many crime dramas on television. What if someone was in the car with the garage doors closed, the engine running and a hosepipe stuffed through the window? I stood on tiptoe to see whether I could spot any exhaust clouds issuing forth from under the garage door, but I wasn't tall enough to see over the hedge.
I dithered, uncertain what to do. Should I bang at the front door and risk looking a complete idiot? Should I ring 999? Should I disturb the neighbours? In the end, I did what any concerned citizen would do. I kept my head down and continued on my way.
I reached the 'Open Garden', but the sound of that car alarm was still ringing in my ears – and in everybody else's I should think, since it was only a few houses away – but nobody else was paying it any attention whatsoever. I wandered round the garden, bought my statutory tea and cake and raffle tickets and what not, and chatted with the folks milling around.
I brought it up subtly. “That car alarm rather disturbs the peace, doesn't it?”
Everyone I spoke to had the same reaction. They all looked astonished.
“Hadn't noticed it,” they said, with glance at me as though I was a little weird.
That was when the rain started to fall. Within seconds it was coming down in buckets, so we all trooped into the house, much to the politely hidden distress of our hostess. But with the garden effectively closed, people soon began to make their excuses and leave. I made a beeline for a couple who live in my street, and begged a lift home.
I thought no more about the car alarm until next evening, when I was watching the local news on television.
“A man was found dead in his garage yesterday evening,” began the newscaster, with a suitably sombre expression.
My heart plummeted. This was my fault! If only I'd followed my instincts and rung the emergency services or called a neighbour, perhaps we would have been in time. How could I ever forgive myself?
Actually, I forgave myself in about ten seconds when I realised the story wasn't in our village at all.
And the car alarm? I later found out it was caused by the family cat being shut in the garage while the family went out for the day, so no harm done to anyone. Except perhaps, the cat.
The moral of this story? Since they are universally ignored, car alarms are a complete waste of time.
Alarming, isn't it?