Early Summer 2006, cont...
So, Bink found herself a seat on the train to Croydon, on her way back to the Royal Bethlem Hospital Anxiety Disorders Unit at the end of her second or third weekend at home, improving every week as she so wonderfully was.
Having muscled her absolutely ginormous suitcase, containing everything in the world she cared about, into the luggage space: favourite clothes; presents of sentimental value from us; books she was looking forward to; most valuable of all by far, the benefits form she had spent so many painful months filling in, which would shortly be worth a fortune to her…
A few years ago I was returning from giving away the prizes at a school Speech Day on the other side of London. It was after ten at night. I was biking home from the station. I don’t often dress smartly, but because I’d been the star-turn of the day, I had my silk tweed suit on; a hat which I’d had specially made to match my taupe suede boots; and my handbag and gloves, both of which I’d somehow miraculously managed to find in the same very-difficult-to-match taupe leather.
Being Cambridge-raised, I bicycle everywhere. Being Cambridge-raised, at a civilised and leisurely Cambridge pace. Not the screamingly scary lycra speed with which Ben could outstrip the HS2. And as I turned musingly into our street at slightly more than strolling tempo, a man appeared from nowhere, running alongside my bike.
Hello, I thought.
The CCTV later showed him, clocking me as just the easy target he was looking for in order to give chase. The police not very tactfully said, seeing this grainy, black-and-white, serenely hatted and booted person in a tweed suit, riding a sit-up-and-beg Pashley bike with an enormous basket, in a contemplative manner in the middle of the night: perhaps he thought I was older than I was.
And because I was such an easy target, before I’d had a chance to pass the time of day with him and ask if he’d like a cup of tea as my house was just around the corner, he made a grab for my bag. You got it. My matching leather bag which went with that very difficult shade of taupe. Which also contained my matching suede gloves, ditto.
You never know quite how you’ll react until you do.
I screamed and yelled so loudly I brought someone running from the next street, a good quarter of a mile away. In language which wouldn’t be allowed many hours after the watershed. Nor, come to think of it, in an exclusively male, particularly seedy and disreputable Rugby club.
Which I was broadcasting widely throughout the whole of Bedford. Perhaps this is the point at which to explain that I trained as an actor before I was a writer. The single most important thing you learn at actor-school is how to make your meaning clear, and very loud indeed. My meaning was pretty unmistakable. And I went on making it audible for quite a long time after the mugger had hot-foot it a heck of a lot faster than he had given chase.
Which was just as well.
Because I was so effing-and-blindingly-angry I would have smashed his head against the pavement and gone on jumping on it in my so-hard-to-match suede heels. I was still seething and shaking with rage long after the tardy British cops turned up and kept asking if I was all right and did I need to sit down or anything. And would I like counselling?
I was so furious I even overcame my usual prosopagnosia, thanks to which I often don’t recognise my own offspring in broad daylight, in order to give four pages of such detailed description – based on a a split second’s view during which I’d been cursing his head off – that they said they could have picked him out of a crowd of hundreds.
The reason for my rage?
Because. It. Was. So. Utterly. Pointless.
I understand some people have a lot less than I do. The very first time I ever had anything nicked (I left a very good heavy-duty household torch, supplied by my mother, outside my friend Griselda’s house during her Hallowe’en party to which we were instructed to bring a light) my mother said philosophically, “Someone probably needed it more than we do.”
I get that. I don’t want to be greedy. Some people may need what I’ve got, even more than I need it myself.
But he didn’t need my taupe handbag which matches my hat and boots, did he? Nor the taupe suede gloves in it.
I never carry money: I’m like the Queen. (Well, in that respect, anyway. It’s possible that there the similarity ends. Though I suspect we also share a fondness for matching-hat-and-gloves.)
I don’t even carry keys. I don’t carry anything, of any use to anyone else whatsoever. Maybe a delicate hankie, which he could have used if he was upset.
Which I got the impression he quite possibly was, given that our relationship ended even faster than it had begun, without even a goodbye.
I know exactly what would have happened next, if I’d given into his whim and handed over the item he so evidently coveted. He would have examined it in disgust, and thrown it over the next hedge. With my kid gloves in it. I would never have seen either item again and it would have taken me another ten years’ searching on eBay to have found such a good match.
And he would have gained. Absolutely. Nothing.
Except the gaol sentence he should and would have got, the detective assured me, if our laws about the use of CCTV footage on social media weren’t quite so squeamish.
(A similar thing happened last year. Someone who was working for us pinched the diamond earrings my aunt left me. And then rather foolishly bust up with the boyfriend who had egged her on to sell them. Who then shopped her to me. Which meant that all she got out of the operation were the drugs her boyfriend made her buy; a debt of several hundred quid at the pawn shop after the police recovered the same; and a lost job. She, too, would have got a custodial sentence – not her first – except that I wouldn’t press charges after her mum rang me in tears. I do know what it’s like, being a mum. Tough job, sometimes.
Now, if she’d used it to fund her own start-up, I could have seen some sense it in.)
The other thing that made me even angrier – a very great deal angrier, in fact – than the utterly futile inconvenience inflicted by my brief acquaintance’s chosen profession, is that I really could have been older and more vulnerable than I was, and quite badly physically hurt at being pulled off my bike, and even more mentally distressed by the experience, and possibly unable to leave the house for years afterwards out of fear.
Counselling or no.
I could have been someone like Bink, perhaps, who suffers from Anxiety Disorder and has enough to cope with already.
So back to the early summer of 2006.
The next time Bink noticed her suitcase, was as the train was pulling out of a random station in between Oxfordshire and Croydon, and she saw a bloke tugging it off the platform after him.
As with my mugging, she was able to give a very precise description, having seen him sitting across from her in the compartment. As with mine too, his features was caught very clearly on CCTV, as he was lugging Bink’s case. As with mine, there was absolutely nothing he took that could possibly have been of any use to him or anyone other than the owner of it.
To whom it was extremely valuable.
Not least because it contained three months’ work in the filling in of those blasted forms. Which took her even longer to do the second time around, because she was so distressed and demoralised.
Meaning that utterly pointless theft cost her close on a thousand pounds.
And all her favourite possessions.