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My organizer gets taken for a ride

Take my advice. If you're going to leave all your worldly goods in the back of something and walk away, make it a London taxi.

Of course I don't actually advise this at all. It's not an act calculated to make one's day more mellifluent. And, as with other un- fortunate occurrences, like, say, camping for a week in the mountain rains of Wales in a field full of tent-eating cows, or like - I don't know - joining the Army, leaving your existence in a taxi is far better as a memory than an experience.

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It only took me a minute to realize I'd left my Filofax notebook organizer in the cab. How did I not notice? Mine is a shamefully bulging Filofax. The best comparison I can dream up is a potential mother sow almost gone full term.

But if it bulges, it's also true to say that it really serves. Everything is in it.

So being suddenly deprived of that "everything" in a gigantic city and miles from home, is a trifle discombobulating. Bereft, I made my way back to where the (very pleasant) driver had dropped me. Vanished. Like the dew.

There are, in a day, about 20,000 official taxis operating on London's streets. But I realized I couldn't hail one, because I had no money for a fare. I found one standing at the curb. Its driver was sympathetic. He gave me about six phone numbers to call, but also informed me that (this being Wednesday) I was unlikely to see my organizer, if I ever did, before the following Monday. There are official processes. They take time.

At least I still had one significant item - the only one - that does not live in my Filofax (no room for it): my cellphone. But all the numbers were busy.

The ensuing saga was tortuous. I spotted a traffic warden. Asked if he knew where the nearest police station was. He had no idea. I dialed emergency 999 on my mobile phone. (Just in time: A moment later the battery went flat.)

Savile Row Police Station was nearest. I found my way there.

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And this was when I realized everyone was on my side - everyone. The desk sergeant couldn't have been more helpful. Within half an hour, all my credit cards were canceled, I'd called my wife, forms had been filled out, and I was on my way to the airline office, which was but a short distance away.

I had to wait a long time there. But eventually I was explaining to a not-quite-listening woman at a desk that I had lost my Filofax and all that was therein, including my plane tickets home. Could she supply replacements?

"Yes," she said. "Could I have some identification, please?"

I took a deep breath. "Well - no," I said, and began explaining my situation again, finishing with "So you see, I am a nonperson!" And for a split second I thought: "Amazing! This is actually rather fun. All the means I use to inform the world who I am, are gone. Past and present wiped out! Next stop, a new life on a desert island!"

How much identification we carry about! Who we are, where we live, names, addresses, and phone numbers of friends and relations and people we met once but never again, people we're married to, what libraries we frequent, our bank details, driver's license - even, in my case, the first names of hairdressers who have tidied me up over the past two decades (Kirsten, Denise, Nicola). Not to mention the registration number of a car I owned 15 years ago. Lose it all, and suddenly Big Brother is no longer watching you.

But of course he is. He is the Big Computer that knows all things. By early afternoon, my momentary anonymity had gone. I had new plane tickets. I had cash. And, by mid-evening - thanks to the honesty and determination of the taxi driver (whose name turned out to be Carl Wilson) - I had my Filofax back. A vast number of messages had been left on my cellphone from him, the police, and my wife.

The messages were increasingly urgent and frustrated, because the phone was recharging all afternoon at the Savile Club. My Filofax had spent the same afternoon waiting for me down the street at the Savile Row Police Station. It bulged as pregnantly as ever, not a thing missing.

The police gave me Carl's number. Home again, I phoned and spoke to his wife. "I'd like to thank him with a gift," I said.

She suggested a new pen.

"Right; inscribed with his name," I said. Pause. "He isn't likely to leave it in the back of a taxi, is he?"

"I'll make sure it never leaves home," she laughed.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society