Hands off my handbag!

 A cautionary tale…

woman's hand carrying handbagTwo years ago I walked home in the unexpected warmth of an October afternoon, taking a small detour to see the beautiful red leaves of a Virginia creeper covering a high brick wall.

Round the corner a lad pedalled down from the top of the hill on a bicycle that seemed too small for him. He called out to me and, while I was trying to work out what he had said, he mounted the pavement in front of me, grabbed my handbag and, with a wild war whoop, zigzagged off down the road.

For a split second it felt like a playground prank – surely he was going to throw the bag back at me?

I chased after him as he accelerated down the hill, wailing: “My phone!” and I yelled at a man walking from a couple of blocks away: “Stop him!” but it was hopeless – the thief vanished into the maze of streets with my bag and all its contents. Even though the police responded within minutes to a call from the other pedestrian, there was little chance of finding him from the squad car.

Fortunately, I had the keys to my house and car in my pocket so was able to go home and cancel the bank cards, one of which he had used to order £44 worth of pizzas while I was being driven around by the police.

I felt annoyed, angry and insecure after this robbery. Could I have hung on to my bag? It happened so quickly that I let go as easily as a baby giving up a rattle, but at least I hadn’t been hurt.

From now on I would have to abandon the large handbags I loved and wear one across my body. Even so, I still felt vulnerable.

Here we go again…

The second theft was barely four months later. By this time the first thief had been caught and was awaiting trial (he’s now in prison) so I was feeling a little safer, but still being more careful.

Now wearing a bag (satchel style) I couldn’t fit in the reading book I needed for a train journey, so put it in an old Liberty print shopping bag with a document folder and an umbrella. I was treading carefully after a recent light snowfall and noticed the man walking up the hill towards me, sensibly muffled up against the cold, with a hood and balaclava hiding most of his face.

Why was I surprised when he snatched my Liberty bag and ran off down a side road? This time I tried to hold on to it but there was no chance against his strength. It was almost funny, knowing that the haul would be completely worthless to him.

Third time unlucky

Earlier this year a third bag was stolen from our house. It was found the following morning by a woman walking across the park, the purse close by and emptied of cash and the only bank card it had contained. There had been nothing else of any value in this bag, just a printed out email which enabled the finder to contact me.

In a way I got off lightly this time – just £50 gone and the inconvenience of replacing one bank card. It was a shock to realise that the burglar must have entered our home when at least one of us was there and we have now become much more security conscious, double locking the doors from the inside when we come in. I also don’t leave my bag in such an obvious position in the hall any more.

Sadly there is nothing unusual about being a victim of crime. Women are more vulnerable; our bags carry our lives. We don’t have inside pockets in our coats for our phones, purses and the rest of the stuff necessary for survival.

These days I take the bare minimum with me if I’m walking or using public transport, working out what I’ll need for that day. It’s probably better for my posture that I’m not lugging a heavy bag around, but I’m not inclined to thank our local criminal element for saving my back!

Nicola Billington

About Nicola Billington

I live in South London with my partner and dog, and in between teaching and practising the piano, preparing lessons and walking the dog I try to make time for a little writing.