One night last week I was walking along City Road on the phone when something bumped into my shoulder, so I turned to see two people with helmets on, on a moped.
First instinct was that they were cutting across the wide pavement to skip the lights (people do worse to avoid London traffic), but then I noticed that they had a hold of the phone in my hand. It wasn’t until it was dragged out of my hand and they’d driven away that I yelled out, and a few seconds to figure out I’d just been robbed.
Picture me as the guy in the brown coat in this video, with look of “wait… what?!” on his face:
Now, I’ve had my phone pickpocketed a few times, but it’s been a while since I’ve been robbed. The last time I was a maybe thirteen, on the tube when a big guy just stood over me and told me to give him my phone. I looked around the carriage. There was a middle-aged man in a suit on the far side of the carriage who clearly saw and heard what was happening but was very clearly not looking over at us.
So I gave the guy my phone. It was old and shabby, and he looked at it critically before putting it in his pocket. Then, we were between stations so there was an awkward few minutes where the guy didn’t really know what to do. We both looked over at the man in the suit. He said nothing and did nothing. The mugger asked me where I was getting off.
I told him, but couldn’t figure out why he was asking, so carried on telling him where I was going. It was the cinema, to see a film about... He cut me off. He would get off first, and I’d stay on. So made his grand getaway with my rubbish phone. Good for him. The middle-aged man didn’t look at me when he got off a few stops later. I wonder if he ever told anyone about that. I doubt it.
I’m lucky, a lot worse happens in London all the time, and with backups and cloud storage, a stolen phone is nothing more than expensive and annoying. You need to arrange where to meet in advance and be on time, with no way of changing the details. And I’m too reliant on Google Maps, well into the habit of checking when I’ll be there or the best route for no reason even when I know where I’m going. And I’m constantly listening to podcasts or audiobooks on my phone, or taking pictures of things to send to people.
But I’m a relentless optimist. Every time I’m without a phone, it reminds me how much I love it in little ways.
It makes you more present in what you’re doing. Travelling across town last night, it was nice to have thinking space. You never get that if you pass the time with podcast voices in your ear. And no phone means no distraction when you’re with friends. You listen, rather than simply hearing that people are talking and waiting to talk yourself.
Another odd upside to getting robbed is being reminded just how nice people can be. The police officers that came around to take a statement, Dan and Dean (yep, really) were a friendly comedy double act, even if they could do absolutely nothing about it. Even if they saw it happen, the police aren’t allowed to chase mopeds in case criminals fall off and they get blamed, apparently. Oh well.
But everyone was nice. The woman in Sainsburys helping me set up an old phone with a temporary sim card because I’m an idiot even gave me a pack of LEGO stickers and made me feel like a little boy. It was so great. And everyone who sent me messages asking if I was okay (I was) and asked if there was anything they could do (there wasn’t).
So while I go online and spend way too much money on a replacement phone so I, I’m in a good mood. The past few days of technological simplicity and nice interactions have warmed the happy spark in me. A reminder that even in London, where people get so busy with the unimportant elements of life, we can be nice to each other.