On Being Mugged

Lying flat on my back, with a man standing over me screaming, “Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you,” I should really have realised that I was being mugged. To be honest, I don’t think I did, even then. Call me slow, but it was all too much of a shock. After all, I’ve lived around here for thirty years, and walked this same route through the park, day and night, for as long with never a problem before. Besides, the man standing over, screaming expletives, had just a moment before been poking fun at his own inability to find the way to the tube station. The world had slipped and turned sideways, leaving me on my back.

My parents live a few minutes’ walk away from me. On Friday evening, I’d gone there to do some writing to escape the frenzy of noise at my own house as the children played, and played recorder, with their amazing recorder teacher Catherine Groom. The writing hadn’t gone particularly well, but my mother – as typical an Italian mother as you could hope to find apart from her ability to render pretty well any food group inedible – had given me two carrier bags full of the contents of the regular food parcel my uncle sends over from Italy – Italians are, of course, rightly convinced that it is impossible to find edible food anywhere north of the Alps (he may also have had to eat my mother’s cooking when he was younger, and has taken pity on his nephews). I had a pack with my computer on my back, and far more money than I usually carry in my wallet, as my mother had also given me money towards my children’s Christmas presents. Leaving their house at 6pm I could have taken the short route back home along roads but instead I turned right, to take the slightly longer route through Arnos Park. I’ve walked through the park hundreds of times and never had the slightest bother, so I thought nothing of turning off the lighted section of pathway that bisects the park and walking along Pymmes Brook, with the arched vaults of the Piccadilly Line viaduct running alongside me.

Walking along the path, I realised I was being followed.
Walking along the path, I realised I was being followed.

However, as I neared the turning over the bridge that would take me under the railway line, I realised that there was someone behind me. I hadn’t seen anyone, so where had he come from? My radar twitched, I glanced round, but he wasn’t closing, and I turned over the bridge and checked back. He hadn’t followed. I went on, under the viaduct and started up the path towards the park exit. He still wasn’t following. Must have been a commuter walking home through the park. I relaxed a bit.

But then he called me.

“Which way to the station?”

I stopped and looked back. The man had emerged from under the viaduct.

Now, the path to the station lay along this side of the viaduct, up past the tennis courts, so, as one does when giving directions I went closer to point to him the way to go.

“I’ve been going up and down looking for the station,” he said, smiling.

“If you go that way, past the tennis courts…” I began.

Then, the world tilted, and I was lying on my back with the man standing over me, screaming. I don’t think I even understood what he said first time round. The switch from a smiling request for assistance to snarling aggression was just too quick.

Here’s where my backpack came in useful. Because it is semi-rigid, it cushioned my fall, and it was probably one of the reasons I was back on my feet very quickly. I have no memory of getting back up again, but however I did it, it was fast enough to avoid being kicked when down.

“Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you.”

His vocabulary, which had before been perfectly adequate, was now rather limited.

I’d like to say that my mind assumed a crystal clarity, that everything slowed down and I carefully weighed the options available to me, but I didn’t. The thought of giving him my wallet did briefly flit through my mind, but it didn’t stick. I did remember that I was carrying quite a lot more money than normal – in the usual course of events all I’d be able to hand over is change.

“Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you.”

I wanted to tell him something like, your soul will rot in hell for this – a better man than I might have found some chink into his conscience, a promise of divine vengeance to waken the fear of divine consequences, but all I managed to say was, “That’s not very nice.”

The mugger, for such he was I now realised, continued on the same track.

“Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you.”

Scratches on my left shoulder show he tried to grab me – and pretty hard too, since I was wearing a thick coat and a jacket – but I don’t really remember shaking him off. Marks on my right shoulder indicate that he did throw a punch or two, but I must have blocked them without thought – the karate training I did when I was younger finally proving useful.

The useful part of this face to face, apart from making sure he didn’t land anything on me, was the good, long look at his face it gave me. So, I can safely say, he was not what I expected a mugger to look like at all.

My mugger looked about forty, thick set, in the region of five foot ten, with a London accent – a builder type. Given the practised way in which he’d lured me closer through asking directions in a friendly, indeed self-deprecatory, manner, he must have done this many times before, relying on the shock his victim feels at the sudden, terrible, change from friendliness to screaming aggression to ensure that the money is handed over quickly. In fact, if proof were needed of his age, it’s the fact that he demanded my money, not my phone!

This was where the shopping came to my aid. Falling over, I had dropped the plastic bags. The mugger decided that I wasn’t going to simply hand over my money and, however he worked out the relative advantages, came to the conclusion that fighting me for it wasn’t going to work.

“What’s in the bags then?”

This might be overly judgemental, but I don’t think he had read The Hobbit, so he won’t have known that Gollum made the same mistake with Bilbo. I knew what was in the bags, and decided to leave four packets of parma ham, two bottles of olive oil, a Panettone and two new pairs of glasses (my uncle is also an optician) to him, while I turned around and left. Besides, picking them up would have left me with no way to fight back.

But I didn’t run. I definitely wasn’t going to run. The bastard hadn’t beaten me, he hadn’t got my money or my computer, and I walked out of the park at my normal pace, without looking back at that pathetic piece of human scum once (although I did listen keenly in case he ran up behind me).

I live just up from the park. I got home, wired from adrenaline and fizzing with anger. My wife and children weren’t back yet – they’d gone round to see friends nearby – so I dumped my wallet and my computer, picked up a mobile, for a minute considered my replica Lord of the Rings sword but settled on a cricket bat (an antique signed by Don Bradman, no less, so something I really didn’t want to hit anyone with) while cursing the fact I didn’t have a baseball bat to hand, and set off back down the road to the park.

I wanted my stuff back, and I wanted to hurt that bastard. I called 999 as I went, and was told police would be along shortly, and to wait outside the park entrance. If I’d had a baseball bat, I would have gone in, but with only my precious Don Bradman bat, I waited. The police were fairly quick, about five minutes, but I made a few homeward-bound commuters very nervous as they passed the strange, dark man loitering by the park entrance with a cricket bat in hand.

With the Rapid Response Team in tow, I re-entered the park. Sadly, the mugger had gone, but we found the Panettone and the two pairs of glasses, and the glasses that I’d been wearing when I was mugged, which fell off when I fell backwards.

Then, my wife and children arrived. Harriet, for those who don’t know her, is the most wonderful wife in the world and, when we were engaged and I had a sudden attack of cold feet, I dreamed that night that I’d won the National Lottery and thrown away the ticket. She’s also as brave as a lion and a trifle excitable, so when she got home to find me missing, had rung my parents and learned that I’d left half an hour ago, she immediately realised something must have happened in the park. She turned right round and set off, with the children, to find me, imagining the worst.

Harriet was so relieved to find me, safe and well, that she immediately screamed at me, “You stupid, stupid man, I told you not to walk through the park at night.” She had too.

The sad part of this is that I’ve now had to promise never to walk through the park after dark again. I was lucky – the mugger didn’t have a knife.

As to my thoughts and feelings towards him, at the moment they veer between contempt for a man who is so hapless and hopeless that he can’t even manage to properly mug someone whom he took completely by surprise, to a certain pity for his hopelessness. Could I pray for him? Could I forgive him? Yes, relatively easily, in between adrenaline-spiked spasms of anger. Forgiveness is relatively easy towards such an abject example of mankind. I’d find it much harder to forgive him if he were a better man – but it would be all the more necessary then.


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