I moved the blog I’d previously scheduled for today to make way for what I thought was going to be a merry, envy-provoking account of a weekend in
with my daughter and her daughter on the occasion of the former’s 50th
birthday. It was a lovely weekend and Paris
delivered up all the ‘April in it’ clichés. The only problem occurred after an
afternoon sitting in the sun in the Place des Vosges.
We got to the Gare du Nord in plenty of time for our Eurostar. Just as well
because, while it’s always a busy place, I’ve never seen it quite as jammed as
it was then. Taxis, cars, buses, all nose to tail, with hundreds of people
squeezing between them.
We sat at a terrasse but, as I searched for my wallet to pay the bill, I found nothing. It was in a zipped up pocket of a light jacket thing I’d been intermittently wearing and carrying. Except that it wasn’t. We went through the ‘when did you last use it?’ routines, and I knew it had been in my pocket all the time because I’d kept checking for reassurance.
It had about 70 quid and 30 Euros in it, along with credit cards, driver’s licence, etc. I supposed I’d lost it so went to find a policeman to tell him about it in case someone handed it in. I found a group of three and, as I was explaining it all to them, one made an unfolding gesture with his hands and said ‘Did it open like this?’ He then said he was sure one like that had been handed in. A terrific piece of luck, eh?
Well, no. He thought the story was that someone had seen a man running away with it, chased him but he’d thrown it away. The chaser had picked it up but the thief had escaped. We went to the police office on the station and, sure enough, it was my wallet, sans (of course) the money and credit cards.
And this is where Sod’s Law began to operate. I managed to phone my wife, explain it alland asked her to put stops on the bank cards. But then I had to get through security to board the train. (A wee aside, anyone contemplating taking the Eurostar to avoid airport-style queues, think again. Yes, it drops you in the middle of
I asked the credit card person whether it was somehow encoded on the card and he’d used electronic stuff to get it but she hurried past the question and said there’d be a fraud investigation. I won’t be responsible for the money he ‘spent’, which is reassuring, but it’s set my (crime-writer) mind going. If the thief had somehow acquired my number, it must have been at one of the 2 places I used it. Impossible for it to be anywhere else. But then, what did he do? Follow us into the Marais district? Get on the same Métro, change to the same RER, and get off with us at the Gare du Nord. Had he been following us for 4-5 hours? All great material for a short crime story but not when it happens to you.
I know it’s only money, but the experience generates that feeling of having your privacy intruded upon. I wanted to use the word violated, but that has to be reserved for the far greater problems of assault and rape. It’s really made me think of crimes like that. We read of them and naturally sympathise with and are horrified on behalf of the (mostly) women who are subjected to them. What I’ve just described is nothing, pickpockets have been around for centuries and they’ve become very good at it. It’s a trivial thing and shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as those far greater crimes. But it bites and, because you obsess with it for a couple of days, you begin to sense just how deep the hurt must go. Tiny little things I’m doing ever since then have brought the memory and the puzzlement (and, yes, the anger) about it all back. You mistrust strangers, assume hostility everywhere. It’s miles away from sitting at a computer glibly committing murders and confidently assuming you know how your characters are feeling.
Fortunately, I’m not a worrier, but if that’s how it’s affected me, it makes me realise that I’ve never before fully appreciated how devastating it must be for rape and assault victims and all the other crimes in which the word violation is justified.
For me, normal service will be resumed very quickly. For them…?