Thursday, March 25, 2010

A day out with a gunman, a bag snatcher and a railway trespasser..

Being a freelance writer can, at times, be a bit lonely. Most of my time is spent tapping away on my laptop at my desk at home. It's great that most of my writing is about other people because I get to talk to interesting people most days but there are days when it's just me and the keyboard. I very much welcome days that take me out and about, meeting people so was very much looking forward to yesterday. With a couple of coffee meetings during the day and a social gathering of fellow freelance journalists from the Journobiz forum in the evening, I spent most of the day going backwards and forwards in and out of London. I knew it would be hectic but it turned out to be a bit more eventful than I'd bargained for.

Over Christmas, the UK security alert status was set to severe, meaning we are, apparently, very likely to experience a terrorist attack at the moment. We were given that information, not to ruin our Christmas and fill us with a sense of fear that 2010 will see another 7/7, but to let us know that we all need to have our wits about us. A 'severe' threat level tells us to be on the look out for anything suspicious and unusual and be ready to respond quickly. Transport hubs and stations are always high up on the list of potential terrorist targets. After 7/7, a lone suitcase made us feel uneasy at the very least. Now, I'm not even sure I would notice. We so quickly become complacent. So much so, it would seem, that even when sat in Starbucks outside Victoria Station, witnessing police rushing around evacuating and blockading an area surrounding a bus, I was more interested in knowing what was going on than getting the heck away. Even in these times of high threat, my curiosity far outweighed any fear. Even when two police officers came in and told us that there was an incident involving a marksman on a bus just opposite us, people were keen to carefully gather their belongings and put coats on before legging it. We've become so close to false alarms that my thoughts were that someone was about to become very embarrassed to find their lost rucksack at the centre of such a circus. It wasn't until I got home that a good old google search revealed that a few feet and a panel of glass was separating me from a man wielding a gun! Thankfully, the police were quick to get the situation under control but it could have been a lot worse. I have to admit, the fact we are on a state of alert suggesting a terrorist attack is likely completely slipped my mind, even though I was in the middle of what could have been that very event unfolding.

The threat of terrorism isn't all we Londoners have to think about as we go about our daily business. Another we are constantly being warned about is pickpockets and bag snatchers. I like to think I'm pretty careful on this one. I hold my bag close to me on public transport and am paranoid about my iPhone - I constantly check it and keep my hand on it when I have people crushed against me on the tube. Yep, I'm vigilant about this one...until I'm deep in a heart to heart over a glass of wine. I was having a lovely evening, meeting up with fellow writers I've met on the Journobiz forum. One of the things I find so amazing about this group of people is how much we encourage and help each other, sharing contacts and helping each other with case studies. Freelance journalism can be a lonely game and it's fantastic to find colleagues and friends among others sitting at home bashing out words on the keyboard. Someone had just shared a useful contact with me and I was keen to scribble it down straight away. I was sitting at the end of the table and my bag was right by my feet. Or was! How on earth someone managed to sneak up to our table and steal my bag without any of us noticing I don't know! We searched and searched but it was gone, together with my cash, card and ticket home. My overwhelming feeling was one of total embarrassment with having to rely on people I'd only just met bailing me out so I could get home. They were fantastic and, of course, I'd have done the same. I lost £30. Not much in the grand scheme of things but that's a lot of Primark clothes and Lush goodies to my two girls and would have got William 5 of his treasured Thomas engines. Worse is the fact that someone took my stuff. The bag I chose for myself, my diary, a magazine, a notebook (empty thank goodness) and a pen. Worthless to them and, no doubt, slung in an ally in Richmond somewhere by now, but my personal things. For once, William's situation and my need to be within easy reach of his carer, saved the day. The thief didn't get the main prize - my iPhone was safely on the table!

I felt really bare going home with no bag at all and had a bit of time to feel that way too. London had one more thing to throw at me. All trains from Victoria to East Croydon were delayed...because of a trespasser on the tracks in Brighton!

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