Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, la la la. Yes, I was born and brought up in London, albeit by parents originally from Germany, but London still has a place in my heart, and I treasure my memories of growing up there and going shopping in Oxford Street with my mother and my two sisters to get new clothes for each big Jewish festival.
And so, when my husband and I spend our summer holidays in France we generally fly back to Israel via London, where we stay at a hotel overlooking Russell Square in Bloomsbury, enjoy fish and chips at the local pub “The Friend at Hand’ and try to catch up with friends as well as taking in some exhibitions in the wonderful museums and galleries which abound in London.
This year’s visit started with a bang, the sun was shining and we had been invited to tour the House of Lords by a sitting member who had attended the LSE at the same time as I had, but had gone on to have a stellar career in the law, eventually being made a baroness. She had seen my articles about life in Israel in the AJR Journal and contacted me last year, when we visited her in Oxford. Because parliament had been ‘prorogued,’ i.e., suspended, by the Prime Minister, the place was deserted apart from a few security personnel. Nonetheless, we were taken around the opulent building, parts of which date back to the thirteenth century, while much of it was restored in the nineteenth century after a fire. We felt very privileged to be taken around by our friend, who also treated us to a lovely meal at the Wolesley restaurant.
Another friend, a non-Jewish former head-teacher whom we had met in France and happened to mention in passing that she had taught maths at the Lubavitch school in North London, invited us to visit an exhibition of self-portraits by contemporary artists at King’s Place. This was an exciting new venue for us near King’s Cross which hosts all kinds of artistic and cultural events. The self-portraits were chosen from entrants to a competition held in the framework of the Ruth Borchard Art Collection located there. The name of Ruth Borchard rang a bell with me, and sure enough, she was originally from Hamburg, my father’s home town, and I had met her daughter here in Israel. Small Jewish world, once again.
Planning to buy somethingfor myself and possibly my granddaughters, I set off down Oxford Street and entered the hallowed halls of Marks and Spencer’s Marble Arch branch. While I was trying to find trousers in my size I noticed some women jostling the trolley I had taken in the hopes of easing my burden, and where I had foolishly put my bag while I searched for the right pair of trousers. I apologized, assuming that I was disturbing their search for clothes, but it was only a few minutes later, when I went to the fitting room to try the trousers on, that I noticed that my bag was open and that my purse was missing!
Omar, the burly security officer took me in hand and, seeing my distress, brought me a chair and a cup of water. Apart from that, however, there was little he could do. The security cameras did not focus on the area where I had been. He told me that this sort of thing happens all the time, and that thieves are known to work in all the stores along Oxford Street and elsewhere. I can only say that they are very professional, and the actual theft of my purse can have taken only a minute or two. I can remember the harsh face and dark eyes of the woman to whom I apologized, but that’s no good to anyone. We reported the details of the theft to the police, cancelled all our credit cards and wrote off our cash loss as the price one pays because I had not been sufficiently on my guard. Luckily, no physical harm was done, my passport and phone were not touched and so I suppose I can consider myself lucky.
All the same, it’s as well to remember that London is not all bright sunshine and green parks, there are vile people everywhere and one should be on one’s guard at all times and especially in crowded places.