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I grew up in a tiny village where crime is pretty much unheard of: my parents leave their car outdoors and unlocked overnight and taking a midnight walk usually leads to nothing but not seeing anyone at all. Now I live in London and have, after spending two years in Hackney (which isn't exactly a crime free zone), moved to Streatham (Lambeth) a while ago. I live right on the high street, so I didn't think much could happen there. How naive am I? According to statistics, Lambeth is crammed to the brim with flashers and mobile phone robbers. Oh dear.
This morning I went to the Post Office round the corner. As I walked in, I noticed that five people were walking out suspiciously fast. 'Oh well, I thought, maybe they're closing soon, I better get in'. I hadn't even got through to the main counter yet, when I heard voices. 'Money', they said, 'what do you mean there isn't any' and 'don't even think about calling the police'. It took me about two minutes to work out I had just got stuck in a Post Office robbery. Oops. I turned to the other member of staff, the one that wasn't behind the actual Post Office counter. She was sitting behind another counter near the door and looked rather petrified. 'Is this a robbery?', I whispered. Seconds later I realised that was a very stupid thing to ask. She nodded her head, rolling her eyes. 'Do you want me to call someone?', I continued. I guess that was just me pointing out the obvious. Again. The woman nodded her head again, I left the shop and walked into the next shop, which happens to be the shop where I got most of my cutlery and mugs from. 'Erm, excuse me. I think there's something going on in the Post Office next door, people are asking for money and stuff and the woman said I should call someone?'. I must have looked like a very good impersonator of, well, a question mark.
Five minutes later, the woman from the charity shop had eventually found the number for Streatham Police station (and stupid me thought you just dial 999, no matter what...), handing me the receiver. 'Uhm, hello. I think there's a robbery in the Post Office next to Safeways, maybe you could send someone round there?'. 'What? Hang on, I'll just put you on hold'. Another five minutes later, I eventually got through to yet another police person, repeating what had happened for the third time. And no, I couldn't remember what these men looked like, because I only saw their backs for about a minute. Still, trying to be a model citizen, I gave it my best shot. 'No, they were white, of kind of average height and one of them was carrying a bin liner. I think they had grey jackets'. What is it with the police that, whatever crime you're dealing with, they always seem to assume the criminals just can't be white? Another five minutes later, the, by now bored-sounding, policewoman agreed to 'send someone down there', which inspired me to sarcastically say that the two men probably legged it quite a while ago. The woman hung up. On my way home I saw a police car heading towards the Post Office (please not that the police station is precisely two minutes up the road). Now if this really was a dangerous robbery, the involved parties probably left the scene half an hour ago. Great.
Now I do see that the police are probably understaffed and badly funded...still, most of what they're doing seems to involve demonstrators, hitting them with sticks or stopping 'suspicious' vehicles. In the meantime, my Post Office got robbed. And I'm worried that the 'two white males with grey jackets and a bin liner' saw me calling the police and are waiting for me outside Safeways...