November 19, 2003
Distraction thieves

Just another ordinary bus journey home. Reflecting on an incident that occured at lunchtime today. I’d heard so much about it over the last 12 months or so - but had never experienced it first-hand until today …

A guy who works for me at the office decided that it was time for lunch. He’s half-Vietnamese, half Korean. But he’s Australian through and through. I jokingly reminded him that the Australian flag has a UK flag embedded into one corner. He informed me that it was there to remind Aussies who the colonial perpetrators were. We both laughed. He asked if I wanted to go lunch. I agreed. Over wandered another colleague - a Greek Cypriot chap - who asked the same thing. He joined us on the way to the lift. Along the way we spontaneously picked up another colleague - a spritely Asian (UK Punjabi) girl from the Ops team. So - that made four of us. We decided upon an upmarket pub in an upmarket “cafe” style square in a corner of the Hammersmith Broadway shopping centre. It’s called “The Old Trout”. Just two minutes walk away. I haven’t had a “pub lunch” in a long time - nor, in fact, any sort of proper “sit-down” lunch for a while so was looking forward to it. To some extent - it was the idea of “bangers and mash” that enticed us all. The multi-cultured spontaneity of socialising is what I love about my workplace. Our office is truly a melting pot of mixed-up cultures and backgrounds. English, Scottish, French, Greek, German, Romanian, Indian, British-Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Chinese, New Zealandish - and also Chinese-New-Zealindish, as well as American, Canadian, Irish, Irish-Canadian and Spanish - to name just a few.

Diet Cokes ordered, from bottles - not the post-mix stuff out of the tap - we placed our lunch orders and got seated at a table in a relatively quiet area of the pub. Indoors but not far from a door to the outside patio sqaure area. About quarter-hour later - the food arrived and we tucked in - each in turn first pouring on the ketchup in liberal fashion. Conversational chatter starting with talk about wasp infestations, and then about the boring-ness of boiled peas. (Some came with the sausage and mash you see.)

And then - about halfway through the lunch, out of the blue - arrived what looked like a beggar. Seen this type before many a time. Distinctly Kossovan, Bosnian, Albanian or Macedonian. Forgive my overt stereotyping here - but given the well-known refugee mix in this part of West London - it had to be someone from that area of Europe. He was half-unshaven - shirt hanging out of trousers, bedraggled and dirty overcoat and greasy-looking hair. A few metres away were two middle aged women associates - bright headscarves and holding baby-like bundles. He thrusts what looks like a copy of Ms.London magazine opened on a page rich in text and no pictures - onto the table we were at - practically touching the dinner plate of the Greek Cypriot colleague sat to my right. And he muttered something in some foriegn language that none of us understood. My Greek-Cypriot friend was slightly startled by his assertiveness.

Remembering in a split-second flash something that our “Security Team” had warned so many times about in numerous global emails in recent months - I shouted to my Greek-Cypriot colleauge: “YOUR PHONE!”. He was equally startled by my yelling. As was the so-called “beggar”. My colleague immediately pushed aside the magazine being held by the beggar - and grabbed his mobile phone - which was lying on the table adjacent to his dinner plate - and for a few seconds was being cleverly concealed by the beggar’s magazine. The beggar - realising that his cover was literally blown - left through the patio-square door in a hurry - and his accompanying women-folk friends followed him rapidly.

When they were gone - I explained to my colleagues that we had just experienced an attempt at classic “distraction theft”. The chap who thrust the paper onto the table had done so in a premeditated, targeted attempt to conceal my colleague’s mobile phone - which was an easy target of theft lying on the table - whilst we all had our hands full with knives and forks at our dinner-plates - and had pretended to ask for a translation or something of the words on the paper. In the meantime - the way in which he was holding the paper was such that he would grab the phone from underneath and then walk off in the hope that none of us noticed that he had stolen the phone - hopefully after we ultimately declared that we didn’t understand what he wanted. When he realised that we were wise to this - he shamefully walked off in a hurry. I was tempted to go after him and shout a volley of abuse and threaten to call the police or something - but common-sense restrained me: I didn’t want to risk the possibility of him coming back to pull a knife on us - or tip tomato ketchup all over us - or whatever. (This sort of vengeance act has happened before by unsuccessful thieves and pickpockets in Hammersmith.)

So - the moral of the story is DON‘T leave your mobile phone lying on the table next to you when you’re having lunch in a public place! And beware of anybody who comes up to you thrusting a piece of paper or newspaper or map onto your table. This is a well-known method of distraction - and if it works - chances are that you won’t know until much later that something of yours has been stolen! Be warned!

Anyway - whilst we finished off our lunch I was thanked several times by my other colleagues - who I could tell were visibly shaken by the whole incident. I coolly and calmly continued eating and gloated in my “coolness” as well. I was the hero and I was loving every minute of it! I reminded them that I ALWAYS kept my mobile phone in the inside of my jacket pocket - and I also proudly declared that NOBODY IN THE WORLD would want to steal MY phone. “Why not?” they asked. So I proudly pulled out my mobile phone from the inside of my jacket pocket and held it up for them all to see:

My mobile phone: Big. Old. Ugly. More like a weapon than a phone!
Who would want to steal one of these?!!!

We all laughed loudly! They understood perfectly why!

Posted by jag at November 19, 2003 10:11 PM

heh - great story! I’m going to be watching for that trick now!

Posted by: Lisa on November 20, 2003 07:19 AM

Thx Lise - yes funny ending though - I’m still laughing at that bit!

That trick is very common in summer - when the warm weather encourages people to sit at outside tables for their lunch or early evening drinks. Practically EVERYONE puts their mobile phones on the table! Easy targets.

Posted by: Jag on November 20, 2003 09:05 AM

I’ve seen many of such guys hanging around in Hammersmith Broadway & the adjoining subway that leads to Fulham Palace Road.. but never before I have realised that those guys are one of this kind. Lucky that I haven’t lost anything!

btw, the pub you mentioned.. is it the one opposite Tesco?

Posted by: Chakra on November 20, 2003 09:25 AM

Hi Chakra - yep - that’s the pub right opposite the small Tesco!

From what I experience, the subway between the Broadway and Fulham Palace Road is mostly “guarded” by the chaps selling “the Big Issue” so - you’re pretty sure to not get accosted by pickpockets down there. Most of this sort of crime takes place inside the shopping centres and also at the very busy traffic crossing on the front side of the Broadway near the King Street and Shepherd’s Bush Road junction.

Posted by: Jag on November 20, 2003 09:30 AM

Having read through the review of the pub and its food in the link that you gave, I’m surprised that attempted robbery wasn’t the only misfortune you had.
However the ideas of bangers and mash makes me very hungry and it’s over an hour to lunch yet! One of my rituals when returning to London on visits years ago, before family and kids made it too expensive to even contemplate, was to lunch on Cornish Pasty and Baked Beans at a pub in Covent Garden. The food was appalling but it gave me a very comforting feeling of having returned to my roots (though most of the time I don’t miss them or Cornish Pasties a bit).

Posted by: David on November 20, 2003 10:23 AM

Hi there David - yes: when I read that review I was rather surprised myself! I would have to say that it’s nothing like that! But I would have to agree that this is not a “traditional” pub at all. Even though it sort of pretends to be one.

Ahh: Cornish Pastie and baked beans! A fantastic combination. Something I haven’t had for a very long time.

I would have to agree with you: no matter how apalling the food might be - if the venue, the environ and the state-of-mind is right - then it sure does taste good!

Posted by: Jag on November 20, 2003 09:13 PM

U do believe in “Old is Gold” huh???

Good work on that… I am sure there r more interseting methods to steal.. Care to tell us???
I dont have to worry about it (having no cells at all)

(P.C.: Why do i need to put an email address to post)

Posted by: sat on November 21, 2003 10:51 AM

Hi Sat - yes - sometimes I do follow the “why fix if it ain’t broken” philosophy.

I’m not sure I can change Movable Type to not require an email address. Apologies for that!

Posted by: Jag on November 21, 2003 05:37 PM

In true gadget freak style, Who wouldn’t want to steal you’re big, ugly, old phone. I for one wouldn’t mind at all!

And the 02 pic is cute :) Why can’t we post comments on it?

Posted by: Amrita on November 23, 2003 08:19 AM

Amrita: OK - so a few gadget freaks out there might want to steal it - in which case I would use it as a weapon to fend them off!

Re the pic of Sidney Opera House: well I thought it was funny - given that O2 logo appears on the shirts of the England rugby team most of the time - and esp. now that England have been crowned champions at Rugby World Cup final in Australia!


The reason for not allowing comments on that picture is that I only want to keep the picture there temporarily. Will be removed tomorrow.

Posted by: Jag on November 23, 2003 10:27 AM

aww…I think your phone is LOVELY! It’s so…um…uncool that it’s.…cool. That’s what I say, anyway. You must have big pockets, to keep it in, though

Posted by: sue on November 25, 2003 11:12 PM

Why thanks so much Sue! I now have a growing fan-base for my phone! And I agree that it’s cool because it’s so “uncool”. And as for the size of my pockets - I would have to admit that I either only store it in my inside jacket pocket - or else I hold it it my hand all the time. Not possible to keep it in my trouser pocket for any length of time.

Posted by: Jag on November 26, 2003 12:06 AM
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