The takeaway of terror
A delivery of stalking with a side order of fear was on the menu for me...
Someone was playing pranks on me, and I wasn't finding it funny. Two eggs had been thrown at my lounge windows. ‘Flipping yobs,' I grumbled, wiping off the mess.
But as I did that, I spotted a load of big bricks on the grass. Someone must have hurled them over! Later that day, I grumbled to my son Andrew, 42, about it.
‘It'll be kids messing around,' he tutted. ‘They'll get fed up of it soon enough, though.'
After I got off the phone, I put my feet up in front of the TV - and the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, a man was standing there.
‘Your Chinese takeaway,' he said, holding out a bag of silver foil trays.
‘Wrong house,' I smiled. ‘I haven't ordered anything.'
He scratched his head in frustration. ‘Look, a takeaway was ordered for this address,' he huffed. ‘There's a bill to pay.'
Clearly, he wasn't going to admit his mistake. ‘Fine,' I snapped, paying him and slamming the door shut.
Suddenly, the phone rang, making me jump. ‘Hello?' I said. Silence. Fear shivered through me as I put everything together. The eggs, the bricks, the takeaway, now this silent call. Someone was targeting me. But who? Why?
‘Leave me alone,' I shrieked, hanging up and pulling out the cord. Then I ran to the front door and drew across the bolt.
Taking deep breaths, I tried to pull myself together. I wasn't going to let some silly teenagers get to me. I'd always loved my two-bed semi. It was my dream home for goodness sake. I'd lived here for 15 years and it'd been in my family for three generations.
It held so many memories. ‘If walls could talk,' I'd chuckle to Andrew.
It was the one place I always felt comfortable, at my happiest.
I got on really well with my neighbours, too. Diane Hayward, 47, and her hubby Michael, 49, had two kids who I'd babysat for three years, five days a week. I'd never got paid, had done it because I loved it.
‘My kids have flown the nest,' I'd told her at the time. ‘It'll be my pleasure.' I'd only stopped recently, as my daughter Katherine, 40, had gone through a divorce and needed me to look after her children. I didn't have enough time to look after Diane's kids, too.
So with a heavy heart, I'd had to tell her. ‘Oh,' she'd said, her face falling. ‘It's a shame, but I understand.'
I hadn't seen Diane in the month since. Next time I bumped into her, I'd have to invite her round for a coffee.
Actually, that was a good idea. I could catch up with her, and ask her if she could keep an eye out for anyone suspicious hanging around my house...
The following day, I went outside and found my washing was soaking wet. Someone had chucked water all over it.
‘This is absolutely ridiculous,' I fumed, pulling the dripping wet clothes off the line.
As I turned to go back inside the house, I saw the curtains twitching next door. It was Michael. He was glaring at me. Glaring like he hated me.
He didn't have something to do with this, did he?!
No, that was crazy. Okay, he'd always been a bit odd. Whenever I saw him, he'd avoid making eye contact, never so much as uttered a thanks for looking after his kids. But that didn't mean he'd do silly, mean stuff like this. I was letting my imagination run away with me.
Still, over the next few months he always seemed to be nosing at me through the window, or peering over the fence.
‘I think Michael's behind all this,' I confessed to Andrew.
‘Mum, just try and ignore it,' he insisted.
Easier said than done when takeaways turned up at my house a good few times a week. Then there were the silent phone calls - sometimes I'd get 20 in one day. It was scary.
One day, Diane turned up on my doorstep. Maybe now I'd get to the bottom of things. She could barely meet my eye. ‘Michael says I can't talk to you any more because of what you've done,' she seemed to tell the doorstep. ‘It's your fault we've got into debt.'
‘Wh...? I-I helped you for all those years,' I spluttered. She mumbled an apology, then scuttled off.
How dare he? I'd got all this grief for saying I could no longer be their unpaid babysitter?! Fine. Now I knew who was doing this and why, I'd ignore them and they'd get bored eventually.
It made no difference. Before I knew it, months had turned into years. And it wasn't just the takeaways that turned up now, either. Michael would order dozens of taxis in the middle of the night.
Five years on, I was at breaking point and put on anti-depressants. Every time the phone rang, I jumped. A knock at the door had me trembling in fear. Even the thought of a takeaway pizza or curry made me feel physically sick.
‘Why is he doing this?' I cried into my pillow. I was on edge the whole time, just waiting for him to strike again.
I'd called the police numerous times and was keeping a record of everything in notebooks, so it was a relief when Michael was eventually handed an ASBO.
He was told to stay away from me. Finally, I'd be able to relax in my own home.
Then came a knock on the door... ‘You ordered two tons of coal?' a bloke asked.
Not again. ‘Sorry, I've got a gas fire,' I explained.
Michael still wasn't done, though. Next, he had a skip delivered. Then Andrew's car got pelted with stones! ‘I can't cope any more,' I sobbed to him. ‘I feel like I'm going mad. My home feels like a prison.'
‘Hey, I'll move in with you for a while, Mum,' he soothed. ‘I can't bear to see you like this.' Michael was ruling my life. Some nights, he'd prank call up to 40 times. I'd sleep in the day when I knew he was out at work as a gravedigger, and keep my lights on all night so he'd think I was still awake.
It was only when I started talking to another neighbour, Jill Thomas, 65, that I realised I wasn't alone.
She lived on the other side of Michael. ‘He's been tormenting us for years,' she admitted.
I listened, horrified, as she told us he'd sprayed mud over their disabled daughter Rachel, 41, as she sat in her wheelchair. Then he'd called her all the names under the sun.
‘I can't believe it!' I gasped. But I felt relieved, too, that it wasn't just me Michael was picking on.
We joined forces, and Michael was finally arrested in March this year. Appearing at Newport Crown Court, we heard he'd breached his ASBO a massive 19 times. He was given a 12-month sentence for making silent calls to the Thomases - he'd made 100 over a 24-hour period!
He was sentenced to a further four months for ordering the coal and taxis to my home, and two more for making hoax calls to Gwent police.
After 10 years of being persecuted by him, I was free.
Since then, Diane and the kids have moved away. We've now got a lovely couple living next door. But I'll think twice about being such a good neighbour in future.
Patricia Jones, 67, Machen, Caerphilly
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