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Suddenly, I Realize What a Suspect Character I Now Am
Published on Sunday, August 27, 2006 by the Guardian/UK
Suddenly, I Realize What a Suspect Character I Now Am
by Ruaridh Nicoll
 

I began to feel a little itchy as I read reports of the 11 terrorist suspects appearing at Westminster magistrates court last week. The 17-year-old suspect allegedly 'had in his possession... a book on improvised explosive devices, some suicide notes and wills with the identities of persons prepared to commit acts of terrorism and a map of Afghanistan containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'.

Well, I thought, I have two out of three of those in my house. Then came a sudden horror at the vision of Special Branch knocking down my door and conducting a search. I imagined the newspaper report as I disappeared into the inner cordon of Belmarsh jail.

'Nicoll's eyrie in an old part of Edinburgh was cluttered with paramilitary equipment,' the report would read. 'There was a wealth of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.'

Take the book that sits between Jamie Oliver and Elizabeth David on my kitchen shelf, The Poisoner's Handbook. Opening it at random, I find that autumn crocuses are not only pretty, but they contain 'the very dangerous alkaloid, colchicine'. The book explains how to extract the colchicine using a coffee percolator and then kill someone with it. 'All alkaloids are more soluble in alcohol, so a target who has been drinking will experience symptoms earlier and have the least possible chance for recovery.' Alkaloids aren't very nice; strychnine is one. Actually, this book isn't very nice either. I think I'll throw it away.

Just looking around increases my unease. What is this I see on the desk before me? A stiletto I use as a letter opener, and the Bible, and there, propped against the window, is my old airgun with its broken spring. On the shelf is a book called David's Tool Kit: A Citizen's Guide to Taking Out Big Brother's Heavy Weapons. The cover shows a man dropping a Molotov cocktail into a tank which has its barrel pointed towards a woman and two children. There's also a volume called The Big Book of Secret Hiding Places, but I seem to have lost that.

There are rational explanations for all this. The books were research for a novel, the dagger is an heirloom, the Bible a superstition and the airgun a prop for the moments when I feel the need to stand in front of the mirror naked and scream: 'You talkin' to me?' But I wouldn't want these things listed in court and then revealed in a national newspaper. Hell, no.

There is another item on my desk - this computer. I wonder what terrors lie in this little black box, given the strange directions work-avoidance can take a man. But without completely humiliating myself, let's just take Google Earth, the extraordinary software that allows any of us to look at satellite images of any part of the planet and zoom in. Now, this is harmless, but in the newspaper it would read something like: 'Late at night, Nicoll had studied a number of US, British and Israeli military installations, his own house, several high-security prisons and Uma Thurman's swimming pool.'

For a more traditional take, The Times Atlas of the World could be interpreted as the possession of a man bent on global domination. Don't misunderstand me. I don't want to take anything away from the police. They can be certain of my gratitude if they have saved hundreds from a fiery hell over the Atlantic.

My point is this, and this alone: you could go into any home and find items that, once translated into court reports, would leave the owner looking suspect. I may be a little extreme, but that doesn't take anything away from the fact that we're moving towards a society where even a map of Afghanistan can be read as a sign of guilt.

I wonder if I should be thinking about a spring clean.

ruaridhnicoll@hotmail.com

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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