Day 26 of 80 — Theft

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 26 : Theft

Moving from Brussels to London is like moving from a tiny friendly village to a big scary city. You can’t afford to be too innocent in London, you have to keep on your guard, as I learned the hard way : in my first year in London, my bike, my bag and my saxophone got stolen from me.

My beloved soprano saxophone, the one I had since I was sixteen, the one my grandmother helped funding, got stolen in Charing Cross Road after a jam session. The police told me it happened a lot in that neighbourhood ; apparently, some people specialise in musical instrument theft around music clubs.

My bag was stolen at a café. I freaked out big time when I noticed it had gone : I was in central London, alone, and felt completely helpless. Upon realising what had happened, the people around me got organised to give me some support : one bought me a hot drink (for comfort), one gave me a fiver (to get home), another some practical advice (who to call, what to do next). This all helped me pull myself together and I stood up to get home. On the way, I popped by my favourite pub (which I’ll tell you about on another day). I know the regulars there, and they, too, were extremely supportive : immediately, a double G&T was in front of me (for strength) and a friend lent me some more money (for survival until I got a bank card again) ; they talked and joked and made me feel a bit better about the whole thing.

But when my bike got stolen, I lost it. My loyal red Brompton, stolen in the daytime by the National Gallery ! As it is a fold-up bike, I normally take it inside with me when going anywhere in London, from shops to theatres : it fits nicely in the cloak room. Not at the Gallery though ; I was refused entry for “security” reasons, although no one seemed to be able to explain how exactly my folded bicycle was dangerous*. So I locked it outside the Gallery, where I had been told to lock it. An hour later, it was gone. That was the last straw. It hit me really hard, and I started wondering if London was trying to tell me something, if I should take the hint and go home. And then, something wonderful happened.

My friends said no. They forbade me to go home. They said they would go to Belgium and get me back here if I did. And they organised a fundraising gig for me ; we weren’t that well-organised and did not raise that much money, but in many ways that was not the point : all the people I cared about came together to organise something, to support me, to cheer me up. And it worked. So if ever you feel small and helpless in London, look again ; in the jungle of this big city, there will always be some friendly faces, and strangers ready to help.

*For the record, I’ve also been refused entry to the National Gallery AND the British Museum when carrying my saxophone. That, too, is apparently a security threat…

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