True Stories: Me and the dipper: At last, the pickpocket experience

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The Independent Online
We were sitting at the bar of a busy, reputable Soho drinking establishment. My girlfriend's handbag was lying on the floor, at the foot of her stool, well in view of both of us, when finally it happened. After four years of living in London, albeit indirectly, I had fallen prey to the pickpockets.

Somehow our villain had managed to bend down to her feet, unzip the bag, remove her purse and sundry cosmetics lying on top, re-zip the bag, replace it at her feet, and get away undetected. The man was a true artist. I still cannot quite fathom how he managed this.

However, my only real surprise is that it took so long. When I announced to friends and family that I was moving to London at the onset of the recession, what did they warn me of? Mass unemployment? Unaffordable housing? No it was, of course, the myth of London's pickpockets; so artful they could have all your credit cards from your wallet without it even leaving your pocket; so dodgy they could brush past you in a crowd and remove your watch before you could say, 'Fagin? Who's he when he's at home then?'

When I arrived, all my worst fears were confirmed. Posters on the Tube telling us to beware; that tacky hissing snake at the cinema hooking up handbags, umbrellas and other assorted goods; even Tannoy announcements at Earls Court station announcing that pickpockets constantly operate on the platforms.

But I do seem to have led a charmed life since moving to London. From the bedroom window of my first sub-let council flat in Stamford Hill, I could hear the pimps fighting over their customers. One of my neighbours regularly took the unusual step of running into her garden in the early hours of the morning armed with a camera to deter the prostitutes plying their trade in her bushes.

Almost every time I came home late I was serenaded to my door by flashing lights and wailing police sirens.

Yet often, as a naive, drunken 18-year-old, I would eagerly jump on to the wrong night bus, be woken at Finsbury Park, and have to make the hour-long trek home in my stupor, tacking from side to side on the swaying pavement, looking like a very inelegant and unstable listing galleon.

It strikes me now, four years later, that I might as well have carried aloft a gigantic banner proclaiming: 'Please mug me, I'm new here]' But it is reassuring that time has not eroded all of London's Dickensian aspects; that we still inhabit a city so similar to that depicted by one of our greatest writers.

Unseen entrepreneurs can still make a living at the expense of an upper crust too absorbed in their consumerist bacchanalia to notice. The swine.