One place, two misfortunes…

09 +00002013-05-07T19:26:07+00:0031 2012 § 10 Comments

Goodbye purse...
In preparation for the weekend festivities, I paid my customary visit to the local farm shop. Situated about three miles from my house, it is a genuine establishment of the genus (i.e., it doesn’t sell tights or sliced bread). It has rather a wonderful selection of local foods, including organically-farmed meat, local cheeses, dairy products and fresh produce. There is also a delicatessen that sells pies, cakes and ready-made dishes from the shop’s own kitchen, as well as more exotic items from further afield – continental sausages and Parma ham, for example, and unusual oils and vinegars. There is a small kiosk between the shop and the delicatessen which opens in summer to dispense Yorkshire-made ice-creams. A recent innovation has been the Thursday morning appearances of the ‘fish lady’, a peripatetic fishmonger who has made an arrangement to park her van next to the shop to sell an impressive variety of fish freshly caught off the east coast. Sometimes she has edible seaweed for sale; it is a particular family weakness.

This is my favourite type of shopping and I realise that, so far, I’ve made it sound pretty idyllic. To strike a more discordant note, the shop has also been the scene of two dramatic episodes in my life, one of which also involved a crime.

The first event happened about six years ago, when I had just finished some work and was in a hurry to prepare for a self-catering holiday due to start the following day. I made it to the shop for provisions about ten minutes before closing time, leapt out of my car, and promptly fell flat on my face. I’d managed to park on the sleeping policeman that encourages drivers to slow down before they reach the car park. I injured my right arm quite badly and had to persevere with many months of physiotherapy before it worked properly again (it still protests if I carry heavy bags). I mention this mishap lightheartedly, though, because I remember it chiefly for teaching me a lesson about language. My doctor at the time was German. Although her professional English was pretty flawless, her understanding of idiomatic terms wasn’t perfect. I spent a good ten minutes having a thoroughly cross-purpose conversation with her before she suddenly burst out, “Well, what was he doing, lying in the road?” I realised with some shame that I had misled her into thinking that I had tripped over an actual, flesh-and-blood copper lying down in the shop’s driveway (perhaps even one under the influence?!)

The second event was darker. It happened at the beginning of the second week of Wimbledon last year. As is my custom during Wimbledon fortnight, I’d got up very early in the morning in order to fit in a day’s work before the tennis started. I was also worried about the fact that, mysteriously, I’d completely lost internet access. I was therefore probably not paying proper attention when I visited first the delicatessen and then the main shop, hoping to make my purchases quickly so that I could tune in to SW19. However, I did notice that, aside from two elderly ladies who were examining packets of bacon, the only other people in the shop besides myself were an ill-assorted couple pushing one of those big buggies with three wheels. I couldn’t see the child inside it: despite the fact that it was a hot summer’s day and we were indoors, they had the apron of the buggy fastened as high as it would go. If there was a child, it made no noise. I say that they were ill-assorted, because although the woman’s glossy black shoulder-length hair persuaded me at first that she was in her twenties, I realised when they came closer that she must have been nearer fifty. The man was much younger – I’d guess not more than thirty. He was slightly-built with sandy hair. She was quite buxom.

The shop has three aisles. It did strike me as peculiar that, whichever aisle I was walking along, I kept on meeting this couple coming towards me. They didn’t appear to buy very much, but each was carrying a plastic basket containing a few items. They made it to the check-out just before me. I met the woman’s eye, and she responded to my smile with what I can only describe as a smirk. What was even odder was that when the cashier, seeing a small queue forming, requested that a colleague open the second till, the man adroitly slipped across with his basket instead of allowing me to go next. The couple paid and left the shop quickly. It was at this point that I realised that my purse was missing.

I asked the cashiers to call the couple back in, lock the doors and call the police (this from my training as a bookseller), but they were totally flummoxed by the whole thing and, by the time they’d taken action, the couple had long gone. I subsequently discovered that, although the shop has CCTV, it does not reach the back area where the fridges containing produce stand. I had spent some time looking in these fridges and conclude that my purse must have been taken then. So the couple were probably professional thieves.

I can’t prove that it was them, of course, and the police were simply impatient when they discovered that there was no concrete evidence of the theft. I knew immediately that they wouldn’t try to pursue it. What I lost was relatively trivial: about £40 in cash and an almost new Radley purse that had been given to me as a present; plus my credit cards, of course: I spent a dismal afternoon making sure that they were all cancelled, instead of watching Federer, as I’d planned. I can testify, however, that the damage caused by theft goes much deeper than the loss of the stolen items. I felt as if I’d been personally assaulted and it took a good three months before I felt able to return to the shop.

You could say that it was mostly my fault. I’d travelled the world without being robbed and then let down my guard just three miles from home! It was a hard punishment for a moment’s absent-mindedness. I’ve said this before in a different context: theft is a despicable crime.

Tagged: , ,

§ 10 Responses to One place, two misfortunes…

  • Jo Carroll says:

    It only takes a second! Someone took advantage of a moment’s inattention to nick my camera in Vientianne. It wasn’t the camera that bothered me as much as the photos – and knowing it will be probably be sold to someone taken in by its lovely shiny blueness but now knowing it needs a charger.

    But I was fine – and I’m glad that you are, too, though it does take time.

    • You’re right, Jo – it was very quick and obviously skilful. I’m so sorry that you lost your pictures; I value those, too, because they cannot be replaced and memory alone is (well, for me, anyway!) inadequate in capturing the detail of a place or scene. I’m glad that the theft had no lasting effect… though I expect that memory excels on that front! 😦

  • vallypee says:

    Christina, you have my heartfelt sympathies. I lived in South Africa for twenty years, fifteen of those in Johannesburg, the so-called crime capital of the world. We had our house broken into twice, but I never felt the personal violation there that I did when my purse was stolen from my bag at Rotterdam station, when my bag was stolen from above my head on the train to Brussels and when a thief smashed my car window while I was driving in Brussels and again stole my bag. In two years I had to report my passport missing twice. The British consulate staff were not amused. But then neither was I. As you say, a tedious time reporting cards and documents missing, but above all that sense of personal assault. Horrible. I understand theft in Africa. It is driven by need. I don’t understand it in Europe. It is all too often organised, professional and, yes, despicable. Oh yes, and our old Toyota van was stolen in January this year, also in Rotterdam. The joke is that this one is probably in Africa now, serving as a taxi. Hmm, it seems your story sparked something off in me there. Sorry 😦

    I love the story of the policeman sleeping in the road, though! What a charming idea 🙂

    • It does trouble me a bit that I trigger unpleasant memories in other people! I can well understand that you were ‘sparked off’; I think that, with so many such horrible experiences, you are quite restrained! I’m surprised you didn’t go into ‘rant’ mode! Your empathy is obvious and I hope that you will understand that it is powerfully reciprocated. I remember that you also mentioned the theft of a bicycle too; you have had far more than your fair share of theft.
      I do try to adopt a sensible approach to caring for my property, but a determined thief seems able to capitalise upon those moments when we are distracted. 😦

      • vallypee says:

        Haha, Christina, bicycle theft is part of life in Holland. I’ve had eight stolen altogether! I’ve been through all the emotions on that front, mainly because of the inconvenience of being denied my main mode of transport in this city. But I barely even think of that in terms of theft. The point is that in the harbour, you either have to leave your bike ‘parked’ on the shore, or carry it on and off board every time you use it. As I don’t have the strength to do that, I’ve always accepted the risk of leaving it locked to a bike rack on the quayside. It’s a risk that is uninsurable because at some point, you (and the insurers) just know your bike will be cut free with bolt cutters and you will lose it. But eight is rather a lot, I grant you. One reason for never buying a new bike while you live on a barge. C’est la vie.

      • ‘C’est la vie’ is the resigned response of someone who has had far too many thefts. Eight! I had always thought of Holland as a bike place, like Oxford and Cambridge, but on a national scale, and (perhaps naïvely) assumed that, because most people seem to have one, they don’t covet those of others! My son tells me that bike theft is rife in both O. and C., so I’m on a steep learning curve here! I think you’re right – a serviceable old pair of wheels is less likely to ‘be disappeared’! I know that, when we go on holiday with bikes on the roof rack, my husband uses a very thick plastic-coated cable and bike locks to prevent their loss. As you say, it’s the inconvenience of all of this which is a pain.

  • carol hedges says:

    How unpleasant! And as you say, leaving a very nasty aftertaste. It is the loss of faith in humanity that also hurts, I guess. The discovery that there are people who genuinely do not care about the feelings or possessions of others nor about the others themselves. These are usually the people who are the first to get indignant when something similar occurs to them or theirs!!!

  • Hap says:

    I feel for you. It’s always unpleasant when we find that there actually are people out there who are perfectly willing to prey on us. I had my pocket picked in the lobby of my hotel in Hong Kong. On R&R from Vietnam, it was my second day, and I was so excited that I wasn’t paying attention. He/she/it got a couple of hundred dollars and all my identification. It was more an inconvenience than anything else, having to deal with police in an unfamiliar society. Ah well, we live and learn.

    • I’m very pleased to welcome you here, Hap! I said earlier that it bothers me to be the trigger for unpleasant memories; I’m sure that you could have done without being reminded of that nasty experience – apologies! I did enjoy your anecdote, however!!! Some R and R, though!
      Thanks again for visiting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading One place, two misfortunes… at Christina James, crime novelist.


%d bloggers like this: