It took me 18 years to learn to ride a bicycle – or at least that’s how old I was when I finally got the hang of it. As a result of that, I’ve never learned the agility that youngsters often do. You know the sort of thing: never putting a foot down while stopped at lights, weaving through narrow gaps and riding no hands.
So when I’m trundling around London on my Brompton, I envy that kind of riding when I see it. And I saw it the other day in Camden – but only when it was too late…
I was stood at the roadside near Camden lock, checking directions with Google maps on my iPhone. Luisa and I had been christmas shopping in the market. We were going to Dingwalls to see American singer songwriter Jim White (no relation) and we don’t know where it was. And as I focused on the screen it suddenly disappeared.
The phone was plucked from my hand with such dexterity that I didn’t feel a thing. I looked up to see the thief – on his bicycle throughout the exercise – was heading down the road and turning left. I cut across the corner to give chase but he was already disappearing into the distance. I ran as fast as I could be soon had to give up the chase.
My hoarse cries of ‘Stop Thief’ were pointless as the only people near him were two younger accomplices pedalling merrily along behind him. My wife Luisa added her voice to the chorus and a few people then gathered to offer help. But the damage was well and truly done.
I didn’t get a proper look at the thief, as it was dusk, but he can’t have been more than 15. He was riding without lights – to avoid being seen of course. As a modern day Artful Dodger, I suspect he sped off to hand over the spoils to his 21st century Fagin. A stolen iPhone is probably equivalent to lifting a silver pocket watch in the 1800s.
As well as being jealous of the loss of my beloved phone, I was also envious of his highly skilled and rather nonchalant riding style. I reflected that if I ever tried to take up a life of crime on my Brompton I’d have to stop, fold it up and then chain it to a lamppost first. Only then could I begin attempting to liberate someone from their phone…
Now I wanted to an excuse to buy the new iPhone X anyway, but I wasn’t entirely happy about this particular reason for doing so.
More urgent than replacing the phone was wiping its memory and making sure the credit cards on apple pay could not be used. Luisa guided me to a pub with Wi-Fi and a beer soothed my spirits as I tried to figure out what to do. I tried to log in to my account on Luisa’s Samsung (a hateful device I normally can only bring myself to touch wearing rubber gloves). I must have been in mild shock because I couldn’t even remember my password. After much fiddling, and vital help from my tech savvy son and daughter, the iPhone had been remotely wiped and bank cards disabled. Normal life could at last resume – albeit at a low-tech level.
The following day I discovered that the rarity of the new iPhone X meant that I was going to be without a mobile for several days. Could I cope? The enormity of the loss to my normal way of living and working was going to be a challenge.
But you know it was strangely liberating. Luisa was very pleased – as she no longer had to share my attention with the phone. I criticise others for this, but having our phones in front of us for perpetual pointless fiddling really does kill face-to-face conversation. When I finally got back on the telephone line, I was amazed how few calls I had missed. It really is true that we don’t phone each other as much as we used to. Everyone communicates via text, email or social media.
I’m not convinced that this ‘voiceless’ communication culture is such a good thing. You can easily get into a row by text, email or twitter. And your intemperate impulses can be a cause of real embarrassment – can’t they Donald? Nothing beats a proper chat – picking up on the subtleties of the interaction and stimulated by real dialogue. So I hope I’ve learned something about the value of real communication from a few phoneless days. I now have my new iphone – but it’s spending a lot more time out of harm’s way in my pocket. And it won’t be interfering in my conversations quite so often.
One other serious, and rather different, thought has crossed my mind about this minor theft.
If I lived in the USA and owned a handgun, as so many Americans do, what would I have done then? Well, as peace-loving as I claim to be, the thief had got me really angry…. Angry enough, I suspect, to want to stop him getting away – by any means to hand.
So if I had a gun, would this ultimately mean that I would have put a bullet in his back as he sped off? Would murder be a fair punishment for a minor piece of very skilful thieving? It wouldn’t be, but when we are angry and have no time to think, we all do foolish and potentially evil things. We even think we are right at the time, but the courts would rightly take a very different view. Long may strict gun control keep us from the temptation to take the law into our own hands.
Luisa had the last word on the theft.
Secure in the knowledge that I’d calmed down enough to see the funny side, she said. ‘Just like you, I often have to check directions at the roadside – but you know it’s strange, no-one has ever tried to steal my A to Z’