The result is the same, in my case to the tune of pounds 150, but the process was a million miles away from the Dickensian stereotype. For a start I was not wandering around central London after some Bacchanalian reverie with the lads. I am a television producer with associates in Los Angeles, and my wife had run me into the office late one night to send faxes, make calls and generally boost the profits of British Telecom. With a diligence that my peers would barely recognise I even hand-delivered fax copies around the corner as I left for home.
This is London W1, an area where you are more likely to meet stand-up comics traipsing home from the Comedy Store than stand-and-deliver merchants, especially at 3am. I looked for a taxi along Euston Road and wandered rather aimlessly in the direction of a cashpoint. No taxis, but I did get myself pounds 50.
A few moments later a rather lopsided chap suddenly appeared beside me and started to explain in a hurried manner that his girlfriend was a prostitute at King's Cross and that her client had run her over after sex and she was now in hospital, and because I was a fair-looking bloke would I lend him pounds 5 that he would give me back if I came in the taxi with him? Or he would run me through there and then with the large knife inside his jacket, he added, almost as an afterthought.
I think my being six-foot- three and Glaswegian helped here. In a feeble attempt to buy some time I started to explain as amiably as possible that I did not have any money on me and that . . .
'Don't get all big and Glaswegian with me,' my new friend said, 'or my mate over there will shoot you. After I've run you through with the knife.'
Sure enough he had a mate who for all I knew could have been concealing a bread roll inside his jacket, but I was prepared to concede that point for the moment. I suggested that we walk to the cashpoint, thinking that if I engaged him in conversation about say, negative equity, I could garner some sympathy for my family's financial plight.
He agreed that it was a problem for us all. But then added that if I tried any more sob stories he would run me through with his knife. I was beginning to tire of this phrase. His colleague started towards us as we moved off, but my friend indicated that he shouldn't worry, we were 'just going for a walk'.
If anything gave me cause for concern it was that. In my youth in Glasgow I was introduced to a whole new meaning to that innocent statement, as my friends and I attempted to make our way home after Saturday nights on the town. At the now gone Dundas Street bus station, which was controlled by a fearsome gang, The Shamrock, 'going for a walk' invariably meant that they came back, you didn't, and that the journey home that night would not be by bus but by ambulance.
I did not have the opportunity to bring this up with my friend, despite the fact that he was walking very close to me and chatting away amiably, giving what few passers-by there were a very wrong idea about our relationship.
Our conversation touched many points. My wife. His girlfriend. My children. He agreed that being Glaswegian in London was sometimes a problem due to the association with all the drunks around Euston station. At one point I had him laughing about something - admittedly, in a rather manic, hysterical fashion - which ended abruptly with what was by now a rather hackneyed turn of phrase: that if I made him laugh again he would run me through, etc, etc.
We reached two cashpoints. He wanted to go to the one up the dark side street, the one where I knew that I was so horribly overdrawn that I wouldn't get any money but would probably get a large, gaping hole somewhere about my person.
We plumped for the one on the main road where I thought I might get away with a tenner. My friend, standing very close to me, said he would turn his back so he 'wouldn't see the pin number'. I pressed the buttons and my two companions chose to do the rest of the transaction themselves.
Pressing the ' pounds 200' option the screen flashed up that since my daily limit was pounds 200 (and I had just lifted pounds 50) would they like pounds 150 instead? They pressed for yes.
That cashpoint machines can count your money may be a marvel of modern technology, but on this occasion I'm sure we could have fitted in a quick game of chess.
The money spurted out and my friend smiled, gave me my card back, and almost said thank you before calmly walking off.
Left standing in the middle of the pavement with my spleen and kidneys still intact, I walked over to a taxi stopped by the kerb. 'Please help me', I said rather emotionally, 'I've just been robbed.'
'I've got a fare,' he replied, not even looking up from his paper. 'Fuck off.'Reuse content