Look After the Pennies


Thieves will prearrange and plan meticulously, meet at the shopping centre and split up.

In 1516, a man called Thomas More (now Sir Thomas) wrote a book. Years down the line, More’s book would go on to radically influence our view on society and social activity. The book is called Utopia

A utopia, or a utopian society, is defined as, ‘an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’ (the key word being “imagined” because it’s safe to say that a utopian society doesn’t exist in the world today). Such a statement can therefore be applied, we’re afraid to admit, to London. It’s the same wherever you go. You get the wool pulled over your eyes by glossy brochures and imposing billboards. Bikini-clad females and men squinting alluringly; families in streets as clean as the Queen’s front room with smiles plastered across their faces to suggest idylls of wonderment and peace. An obvious selling point, of course. And one that draws in the tourists like a well-aimed piece of bread in a duck pond. Take away the beer goggles, though, and you’re left with one thing: reality.

Without naming and shaming, some regions of London are real holes. We’re not afraid to admit that because if London was a perfect place, the idea of a utopian society would be a lot more tangible.

So now, we’d like to play the part of Captain Obvious and highlight ways to keep your stuff safe from grabby fingers in some of the standout situations you’ll find yourself in around London.

On the Underground

You’ll hear this announced on the Tube a lot, but don’t leave your bags lying around at the station. People will consider them suspicious, dangerous, even potentially explosive. Keep baggage in your hands/strapped to your body/worn on your back at all times in an area of public transport like a station or airport.

When using the escalators at an Underground station, especially if you’re standing, it’s the ideal time for someone to slip a hand into your bag or pocket because your body is static. Combat this by walking up or down the escalator, or swing your handbag round to your front so you can see it. Alternatively, stand slightly side-on so you have better peripheral vision of any sneaky fingers.

On a Tube train, if you’re standing for any part of the journey and you have hand luggage, stick it between your feet to keep it in sight and safe. Wearing a backpack on the Tube makes you a vulnerable target. If you can get a seat, lucky you. Put hand luggage in your lap for extra reassurance, and so as not to get in other people’s way by having it on the floor.

In busy shopping areas

Big shopping centres in London are prime real estate for beady-eyed bag-snatchers. They’ll prearrange and plan meticulously, meet at the shopping centre and split up. Beware of people following you around shops or between shops.

Make a day of shopping with friends and fellow travellers. Being in a group, regardless of your location, is always the better option. You’ll be more inconspicuous and less vulnerable.

This might sound like a long shot, but beware of displaying too many high-end, quality brand shopping bags. A lot of expensive baggage indicates a lot in your back pocket and bank account.

If you’re using your phone on a busy shopping street like Oxford or Regent Street, thieves will see you holding a fifty pound note to your ear. Be discreet when using a phone, even if it means holding it awkwardly by cupping your hand around it to hide its appearance.

At sight-seeing hotspots

London museum and places like Trafalgar Square always attract a good, densely populated crowd. Since Trafalgar's outdoors the chances of unwanted company is even greater as well. Places such as this demand that you keep all credit/debit cards or loose cash in front pockets. The crush of the crowd, behind jostled this way and that, is the perfect mask for thieving fingers.

Keep your camera around your neck on a rope. Holding on down by your side might put it out of sight but most thieves are savvy enough to concentrate exclusively on what’s in a person’s hands.

Be conscious when actually taking a picture of something, too. Your attention will, of course, be focused on subject matter, but make sure you don’t wander away from baggage you’ve just set down to get a better angel, or lose sense of who’s around you.

We’d like to finish by stressing that, while the city is chokingly dense and chaotic, most of these are rare examples of crime in London. But, in case of emergency, just dial 999 for police, ambulance and fire services. Check out our page of useful numbers for other details.

Main image Flickr credit: Images_of_Money