Yesterday we drove down to inspect our new house in Wells. That's Clare, my mother and myself. Everything was fine: we pottered around the cold, empty rooms, discussed the building alterations we're going to make and started the boiler.
As we were planning to leave to visit the carpet shop, Clare said innocently:
"What's that box under the window ledge, next to the front door? Look, it's got a funny red button at one end."
I took a look - it's certainly mysterious - and like an idiot pressed the button. There followed a hideous cacophony in which we couldn't hear ourselves think. Outside the house a siren blared and lights were flashing.
We had no idea what to do.
We looked at the alarm panel. There was no off-switch (obviously! Think of the burglars!). In desperation I remembered I had programmed into my mobile the number of the previous occupier's daughter who had been handling all their arrangements. Miraculously she answered:
"Yes, I can hear it. I'm sorry, my parents never used the alarm in all their years at the property. They would have no idea how to turn it off. I suggest you call the manufacturers. Best of luck."
Her amused tone merely added to my angst but her suggestion was nevertheless good. I walked into the heart of the auditory inferno and entered the alarm company's number into my mobile, trying to ignore the assault on my ears. By some miracle an engineer called back just a few minutes later.
"Basically I can't help you," he said, "but there is one thing you could try," and he gave me a four digit code, "That's the factory setting."
I punched it in: no "enter", no hash. The house went quiet.
The engineer was impressed. "It's amazing how many people never change the default setting," he commented, "Makes a mockery of the whole point of having one of course."
Yes, and how grateful I was.
All the time the house was screaming its pain into the neighbourhood not one single person came to investigate, not one prowler pulled up. So much for panic buttons.