I suppose I was lucky: my mugger was polite

'I'm so sorry,' he says, brushing me down. Minutes later, when I scrabble for my purse, it isn't there
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The Independent Online

Remind me, someone, how much money the Government is pouring into the police to fight street crime. It might cheer me up. The trouble with having your purse stolen is that when you tell people about it, hoping for sympathy, all they do is cap it with a much better story of their own. Only last week, they will tell you, they had their entire life savings, which they had just withdrawn from the building society to pay for their grandmother's heart transplant, stolen at knifepoint by a blind pensioner in a wheelchair. I was lucky, I suppose, because mine was a comparatively unspectacular heist. I was on my way to Selfridges in Oxford Street when a tall man with a cap bumps into me hard.

Remind me, someone, how much money the Government is pouring into the police to fight street crime. It might cheer me up. The trouble with having your purse stolen is that when you tell people about it, hoping for sympathy, all they do is cap it with a much better story of their own. Only last week, they will tell you, they had their entire life savings, which they had just withdrawn from the building society to pay for their grandmother's heart transplant, stolen at knifepoint by a blind pensioner in a wheelchair. I was lucky, I suppose, because mine was a comparatively unspectacular heist. I was on my way to Selfridges in Oxford Street when a tall man with a cap bumps into me hard.

"I'm so sorry," he says picking me up and brushing me down. He was very polite. Minutes later, when I scrabble in my bag for my purse to pay for two metres of striped deckchair canvas, it isn't there. The galling thing is that it was actually attached to my bag with a chain, which had been neatly spliced.

"It happens all the time," said the assistant. My best bet was to go outside and poke about in the nearest litter bins because they usually chucked them away when they'd taken out the cash and credit cards. Disregarding curious glances, I stabbed fitfully at the contents of half a dozen bins with my umbrella before deciding that life was too short to risk catching diptheria from old sandwiches and rotting nappies. I didn't report it to the police, what was the point? My various membership cards would identify me if the purse ever showed up. I once found a wallet on the Tube stuffed with cash, New Zealand credit cards and temporary membership to Tooting Public Library. Instead of handing it in, which was bound to involve time and lots of form-filling, I telephoned Tooting library, explained that I had just found James Davidson's wallet and could they give me a telephone number for him. Minutes later I was giving J Davidson directions to my flat.

I thought he'd be over the moon with gratitude. It was an expensive crocodile number containing more than 300 quid, but all he said when I handed it back to him was "Cheers". Maybe he was lonely so far way from home, I thought. Remembering the traumas my own student children went through on gap years in Australia, South America and India, I asked him if he'd like a cup of tea. He said he didn't mind. My God, he was hard going. The only non-monosyllabic answer I got from him was when I asked whereabouts he came from in New Zealand. "Fuckatowy," he said. What? I said. Fuckatowy, he repeated adding that it was a small village whose Maori name had been Anglicised and spelt Whakaatoi, but the correct Maori pronunciation was Fuckatowy. Mr Davidson, I was about to say, you might do better to stick with the Anglican spelling, but whakaat, why bother.

New Zealanders are a funny lot. I have New Zealand relatives, so I should know. One of them told me about a front-page story he had read in a Christchurch newspaper which pretty much sums up the difference between street crime here and street crime there. It happened in a village in South Island. An armed robber breaks into a village bakery carrying a goose he has just stolen from a farmyard down the road. "Quick, give me everything in the till," he shouts at the terrified woman behind the counter. "Or the goose gets it."

New Zealanders, explained my relative, are gentle good-hearted people who love all God's creatures great and small. The woman behind the baker's counter, terrified for the goose's safety, opens the till and gives the entire day's takings to the armed robber. On a good day it could be upwards of £16.

Where was I? Oh yes, cancelling my credit cards after my purse was stolen. No I said, I hadn't reported it to the police. I must, the credit card people said, because they needed my crime number. The duty officer at my local police station sounded harassed. Single-handed, his manner implied, he was fighting the nation's street crime to meet Mr Blair's September deadline. Thank you, Mrs Arnold, he said. We have noted your details and telephone number. Someone will call you back this afternoon to fill in the necessary forms.

Eight hours later –that was quick, the Home Secretary's measures are clearly taking effect – the phone rang. "Kensington Police Station here, Mrs Cadogan," said the voice. "I understand you've lost your cat."

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