I had been doing an interview for Den of Geek
in a hotel behind Shepherd's Bush rubbish old W12 shopping centre and was now walking over to the Westfield to get some groceries in. I was, as per usual, on my iPhone, checking up on what had happened on Twitter in the previous hour, not really paying attention to anything that was going on around me.
Suddenly a deft hand grabbed at the phone and snatched it out of my unsuspecting hand. It took a moment to register what had occurred. I'd been looking at my iPhone and now I was looking at my hand. Though to an alien race the human hand might be the more impressive gadget, to me my own human hand was a lot less interesting than a tiny machine that could tell me what 150 near acquaintances are up to in 140 characters of less.
I looked up and saw that a man on a bicycle was quickly cycling away with my beloved iPhone, the very iPhone that had shown off on 5 News last week. Ah hubris, thy name is Herring.
Could he not have ripped out my heart and stolen that instead? It would have caused me less pain and consternation.
I suppose I reacted within a second though it felt like it took an age for any emotional or physical response. I was surprised and disgusted, I felt despondent and foolish. Most of all though I was aware that I was watching my iPhone disappear into the distance.
I made a vain attempt to chase after the perpetrator. But he was on a bike and had a head start and I was on foot and haven't been going to the gym enough. To be fair I don't think I would have been fleet of foot enough to catch him had I been twenty years younger and being trained by Olympians.
I gave it a go though, my heart already bereft, my brain already cursing me for being a dolt. But it had been around midday and there were loads of people around and even though I am aware that such things happen, it was unlikely that I could have anticipated it. I take very good care of my phone, almost to a paranoid degree and in fact never bother with insurance as I am so convinced of my own obsessive desire to protect it. But aside from always holding on to it with a iron grip and attaching it with unbreakable wire to my wrist (which would probably have caused me to lose a hand today) there is not much you can do to stop someone coming up from behind with speed and dexterity and just grabbing the thing from you.
I wasn't thinking about trying to get a description of the man and even if I had been I doubt I could come up with much. I had only really seen him once he'd gone past. I knew that he was black and I think he was dressed in black with a black beanie hat. But I was too shocked and too angry and already too deeply in mourning to try and get all Crimewatch on this. In any case my heavy heart knew that there was no way that I would be getting that phone back. All was lost.
My beloved iPhone was disappearing out of sight. If I believed in God I would have made a contract with him there and then that if he could strike down this robber and give me my phone back, I in turn would give Him my first born child as recompense. I love that phone more than my unborn children, or any living breathing thing. How could he do this to me?
The bike was accelerating away and I was running shouting "Stop him. Knock him off his bike! Stop that guy!" But no one did a thing. With hindsight I now realise that from their perspective a white man with a Hitler moustache and his arm raised out in front of him at shoulder height was chasing after a fleeing black man and encouraging people to halt him in his tracks. Of course they weren't going to do a thing. I am surprised no one tripped me up.
I ran for fifty or so yards, but I was still outside the entrance of the W12 and he was well passed the BP garage in the distance. His audacious and dastardly act had been a total success.
I felt sick, but had resigned myself to never seeing that phone again and decided to head home to ring O2 and block the number. I wasn't going to bother reporting it. What was the point? The police could only shrug and tell me there was nothing to be done.
Yet a few metres further on there was a police van and five or six police officers dealing with something on Shepherd's Bush Grey. A man in a white van had seen what had happened to me and was informing the cops about it, alas just a few seconds too late. Had they seen him cycling by they might have been able to give chase. The police called me across and I was fully expecting them to give up the ghost on this one, but they quickly started taking a statement, asking me about what the man had looked like and which way he had gone. I was still too shocked to have much idea. He'd either gone up the Goldhawk Rd or down the Shepherd's Bush Road. Surely they couldn't stop him. But they were determined to try. They were radioing other units trying to give a description of the guy - though alas my only clues that he was "black with a beanie hat and on a bike" I felt was not going to be specific enough to lead to an arrest.
"You never know," said the policewoman I was talking to, "We have officers on bikes. We might get lucky."
They were surprisingly concerned and helpful, especially as they were in the middle of dealing with something else. "I'll have to hand you over to my colleague," said the policewoman, "I've got a bleeding dog in my van and we need to get him seen to." It was literally a dog that was bleeding - I think another dog had gone a bit crazy and started attacking it. This is life in Shepherd's Bush.
A policeman took over as the van drove away and started taking notes. I hadn't been thinking about my moustache as I'd been a bit distracted, but suddenly I wondered what the police must be making of me. They dealt with me like I was a normal member of the public and not a mentally ill Nazi, so I have to admire their unjudgemental professionalism. Unless of course it was the moustache that had convinced them to take this rather trivial incident so seriously. Maybe the police are all fascists. Or maybe people in uniform just can't help but respond to the Fuhrer's moustache.
Or maybe the police force are actually, in the main, hardworking people who are actually committed to doing their job and catching criminals.
That one isn't as much fun, but I have to say whatever their motivations I was massively impressed that they made such an effort over an apparently lost cause. Maybe my phone would find its way back to me.
The policeman who had taken my initial details told me that there were some other officers on the way who would deal with the complaint. I have a feeling that this is a common crime in the Bush and that they are trying to do something to stop it. Within minutes an unmarked police car pulled up, flashed its lights and I was taken across the road to talk to the non-uniformed cops.
I had to get in the back of the car and give all the details again and they told me that we were going to have a quick drive around the area to see if I could spot the man who had done this to me. I knew that this was an impossibility. I really hadn't seen enough to judge and was now even slightly doubting the few things I had thought I'd seen. Did he even have a beanie hat? I had only really seen him from the back. All I knew for sure was that he was black and I felt mildly uncomfortable sitting in the car with a Hitler moustache, with that being my only piece of information.
I couldn't say how tall he was, whether he was light or dark skinned, what his bike was like or even how old he was. Was he stocky or slim or athletic? I didn't know. All I knew was that he had my phone. Plus the little boy inside me was a bit excited to be driving around in a police car. Was it worth the loss of my priceless and irreplaceable phone (neither of these things are true) to have this excitement. I confess I was already thinking, "Well that's Warming Up in the bag" and also wondering if I might be able to write an article of routine about the incident. I had not been harmed in any way and it's certainly true in my job that whatever doesn't kill you, however humiliating and upsetting, is potential material. Although I felt humiliated to be defeated by this crafty stranger, I was already consoling myself with the fact that despite the inconvenience and the slight fear he might look through the contents of my phone (if he wasn't scared off by the Hitler screensaver) and find out Andrew Collings phone number and ring him up and tell him his mum is a fucking idiot (actually that would make it all worthwhile).
It's not like I want to be robbed or get into fights or arguments or tricky situations, but it's weird that I can get some compensation in return. It has to at least make an amusing anecdote for "Hitler Moustache". I will make back more than the Â£250 I had lost quite quickly.
I also felt a slight amount of admiration for the man who had done this. It had been a skillful and risky manouevre. He plucked that phone from my grip like a bird diving into the sea and catching a fish. And there was the danger that he could have mistimed it or I could have held on too tight or managed to grab him or catch him or that someone might have sent him smashing to the ground.
If I looked at it objectively it would be hard to sympathise entirely with the ostentatious man parading around with his expensive gadget and not at least empathise with the dispossessed individual who like a modern day Artful Dodger relieved him of some of the unfairly distributed wealth that he was displaying.
I have to admit that I was also wishing that I had caught him and pulled him off his bike, or that someone had invented an application for the phone in which you could cause it to explode by remote control, severely injuring the thief (and I now know that if you're on mobile me you can track the phone and remotely wipe its data, but that isn't enough, I wanted him to hurt). I replayed the scenario where I got the better of my nemesis and where I humiliated him the way that he had humiliated me.
So I was torn between woolly liberalism and Daily Mail style vindictiveness. Whilst also aware that I was probably going to make more money than him out of this encounter, money which I would spend on buying the newer swankier version of the iPhone that I had been coveting. Who are the real thieves in this so called society?
I am a lucky, lucky bastard and sometimes I also get away with daylight robbery, making off with hundreds of pounds just for talking crap.
And if I am honest, in my younger days I did indulge in some very petty shoplifting. So maybe this is all just karma.
And unfair karma because as a writer I can benefit both from confessing my own sins and describing the sins that have been done unto me.
This all still hurt and I was still annoyed, but here I was cruising the streets in a police car, with a Hitler moustache and the power to claim that anyone I happened to see might have been the guilty one.
The policeman asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a comedian and he laughed. I also told him that they'd be able to recognise the phone quickly as it had a screen saver of me as Hitler "Ha ha, nice one!" he laughed. Was he appreciating the joke, or beginning to understand the reason for my tache. Or was he just a fan?
All kinds of interesting questions were coming up. All good fodder for the show.
We had no luck in spotting the guy, though there was absolutely no way I could have done so, unless he'd been holding up the phone and showing everyone the picture he might have found on it of me on holiday, working on my laptop with no clothes on, in which you can see part of my genital region (and I am sure many of you would pay good money to see that - so if he hasn't already wiped it I'd advise him to set up a web page of such content).
The policemen I was with were laddish, but likeable and had once been on TV themselves in some documentary, although they said they didn't like it as they'd had to watch what they said (I think they were concerned about swearing rather than declaring their allegiance to Hitler). They were making a concerted effort to help and I was grateful for this, perhaps because it was so unlikely to lead to anything.
They parked up outside a shop of the Green that sells second hand phones and told me that most of the guys who do this crime will live locally and simply go home, change their clothes and then come and sell the phone at this shop. It seemed crazy that they knew this was going on and couldn't do anything about it. It was all part of the game though and I sensed that the police found all this as much fun as in my heart I was doing. I genuinely appreciated their time and effort, however futile.
They decided there were too many policeman around for the thief to risk coming out and there was indeed an enormous amount of officers around today, making the thief's Robin Hood style escapade all the more impressive (I like to think he was stealing from me and giving to the poor and if you think anything else then you are a racist). Then a call came through that they had stopped a man matching the description on the Goldhawk Rd. I couldn't believe this was possible as I had given them so little and there must be a thousand men within half a mile who they could have suspected. But then I almost got my money's worth there and then as the driver switched on his flashing lights and drove through the traffic up to where the man was being held. It was like it was my birthday. I was genuinely thrilled. My life is so dull that this gave me some meaning. I kind of wonder if the thieves and the police of the Bush should get together to give people a "Being robbed and driving round in a police car" experience. I think I'd have paid Â£250 for this. Then the thief and the police could split the money and everyone would be happy. It would be especially good if at the end of it all the thief was introduced to you, gave you back your phone and said, "No hard feelings. Hope you enjoyed it!" and gave you a hug. I would definitely have paid Â£250 for all of that at this moment - especially once the phone was gone. The irony is, of course, that I would pay more for the return of the phone than the thief would get from the phone shop (if that is indeed where he went). If he'd just came up and said "Give me fifty pounds and I won't steal your phone" I might have given it to him. Who knows?
We finally got up to the Allied Carpets shop where the suspect was waiting. I was supposed to look through the window and see if I could identify him. Even though I clearly wouldn't have been able to.
I had said that the man was black with a black beanie hat. The man they had stopped was indeed black, which twenty years ago would have been enough for a conviction, but his beanie hat was blue. The police had got so close. If that innocent man had had a black beanie hat he might be rotting in gaol right now. I felt a bit sorry for my part in having this poor man's day interrupted.
"I don't think it's him," I said, though by now I wasn't even sure that the man who had robbed me was even black, so blurred were the details in my head, "You could always ring my number and see if the phone rings" (if they heard the Virgilio Anderson song then they'd have their man). But the policeman told me that he'd have been searched already. I thought that that was a bit off. I felt sorry for my part in ruining his day.
The policeman drove me home and told me that the crime would be followed up and CCTV footage would be checked and I'd get a call in a couple of days. Except I couldn't because I didn't have a phone and don't know my home phone number as I never use it. So I guess they'll email me.
It had been an exciting and upsetting start to the day. I was ultimately sad and a bit shaken by it all. It made me nervous and suspicious for the rest of the day. It's a shitty thing to do to someone, even though in my case I can cope with the loss (even though it's worse than a relative dying) and afford a new phone and spin the story into something else. It's no excuse for people behaving in this way and it's horrible that it changed my view of the world, like an evil version of art.
But when I discovered that to buy the latest and most snazzy iPhone is going to cost me over Â£530 I did start to think about the lack of parity in our society. If you were walking around holding Â£500 then you'd expect to get into trouble and it must be tempting for the magpies who are capable of pulling off this crime to take advantage of dolts like me who are dumb enough to walk around in this way.
I decided to change my home insurance so that my new phone will be covered and would remind those of you who have stuff to be careful in the way that you use and display it, whilst suggesting to those of you who haven't that you might want to invest in a bicycle and practise your snatching technique.
But wear a crash helmet instead of a beanie hat because your victim might be more agile and tasty than I am and send you crashing to the floor.
I know it's odd to make light of all this or to see the positive amongst the negative. It did largely make me unhappy and unsettled and violated and ruined my day. I am lost without my phone (though luckily I had a spare pay as you go one knocking around so can still keep in touch with the world, if not Twitter and the internet!). But I only lost a thing, not a person or a limb. And whilst I am planning diabolical ways that I can confront the next person who does this (I am planning on learning to use a boomerang or attaching my phone to my reinforced trousers with industrial strength wire), I do find myself in the odd position of having more to gain from this loss than most other people.
And I can't wait for the swanky new phone I am going to get.
My clouds tend to have a silver centre.
If any publication is interested in me writing an article about this for them, then please get in touch. You've got to pay me at least Â£540 though. Then I can taunt my enemy with the fact that I am two pounds up on the deal!