“My mobile will not work once I’ve reported it as lost.” His inference as to my honesty couldn’t have been made clearer.
It was 1.30 am and the lad slouching in the back of my cab had lost his brand new Blackberry as it slipped unnoticed unto the back seat.
Stopping to fill up with diesel on my way home I had found his property and then ignored its incessant urgent ringing as I was driving home. Once in a position to legally talk to its owner, it transpired that he regularly mislaid his firm’s phone, and if he should mislay this one, he would be shown the door.
“Can you deliver it later today?” I explained this was Sunday, and not only was I unprepared to work 7 days that week, I had a lunch engagement, while giving him the address where he could find me as I eat my Sunday dinner.
His surprise was palpable as I opened the door of the vicarage for him, insisting that a contribution to the church roof fund, for the inconvenience caused to our friend, the vicar, wouldn’t come amiss.
Mobiles seem to be the most common property left in cabs these days, and usually they can be reunited with their owners easily without going through the rigmarole of London’s lost property department.
Go back 15 years and returning property to its owner was an elaborate ritual between the hapless cabbie and the Metropolitan Police.
“Does anybody know where the lost bloody property book is?” Were usually the first words spoken by the constable, clearly annoyed at this civic duty of recording ‘Property left in a licensed taxi’. Next not one but two sheets of carbon paper had to be found and carefully aligned within the book’s pages everything HAD to be in triplicate.
The offending property was examined in forensic detail before recording. An elaborate lick of the pencil’s end and a bored sigh, the process could begin. DCI Jane Tennison gave suspects an easier ride. “Name?” “Badge number?” “Cab plate?” “Journey undertaken by the property owner?” “Time of journey?” “Date of journey?” – Never admit that 48 hours have elapsed before handing in the aforementioned property, you faced a stern reprimand.
Each item’s description committed to paper in triplicate you signed and dated the record. Next a plastic evidence bag had to be found from within the stationery cupboard and the property with the appropriate page from the book ceremoniously sealed within.
You walked out of the police station after 30 minutes clutching a slip which informed you that a reward was yours for the asking should the property be claimed.
Three months later you could get your ‘reward’ when you reluctantly entered the portals of the Public Carriage Office, a brutalist white building with memories of the days when an appearance would induce a loosening of one’s bowels.
You then proffered the little slip to the man behind the counter, who judging by his size and demeanour, was used to being treated with respect.
Your reward was carefully doled out onto the counter which had a small slot in it, just about where your left elbow now rested. Its inscription read ‘Police Widows and Orphans Fund’.
The parting gesture from the man behind the counter, looking at you with an unblinking stare, a look that they had taught him at Hendon Police College, was to tap the counter close to be charity box, its inference couldn’t be clearer.