Although I usually find overseas travel exciting, my equilibrium was easily shattered.
At London’s Waterloo Station I was buying a train ticket to Woking, Surrey. My search through my
soft floppy handbag for my brown travel wallet suddenly became frantic. Breaking out in a cold sweat, I realized both my wallet and passport had vanished!
I had spent the previous night at my Cousin Ann’s in Finsbury Park and was heading to Woking to see old friends I’d made when living there for three years in the 1980s.
It slowly dawned on me that I had been robbed in the early-morning crush of commuters on the Underground. The car I’d ridden in had the low curved ceiling and inward-facing seats which have probably been in use since the system opened in 1863. As the car lurched and swayed, I had been focused on the wheeled suitcase at my feet and keeping my balance while hanging onto a strap.
Impossibly, someone standing behind me must have gently slipped his or her hand into the tote bag clutched firmly under my left arm. Reaching into the floppy Italian handbag folded in the bottom of the tote, the thief must have expertly extracted my travel wallet without my noticing a thing.
Being October 2011, my cell phone didn’t have the ubiquitous status it now enjoys. There were no credit cards or Apple Cash in a digital wallet. Thank God I still had my Oyster Card in my jeans pocket so I could return to Ann’s by tube without money.
Once there, I searched the room where I’d slept and found nothing. Luckily, I had photocopies of my bank and credit cards in the bottom of my suitcase, so I phoned the financial institutions in Canada to report that the cards were lost. Ann kindly lent me 300 Pounds sterling in cash for my upcoming expenses.
I went to the Canadian High Commission (not Canada House inTrafalgar Square) and began the process to obtain a temporary passport. I was scheduled to fly home in only three days. After the briefest conversation with an agent, I was told, “The office closes at one o’clock. Take the form with you, get your photo taken, and come back tomorrow to submit it.”
The convenience store beside the High Commission took expensive passport photos in which I looked drawn and tearful. The photographer explained that about 75 people a week lose their
Canadian passports and need his services.
Eventually I caught the train to Woking. Without a birth certificate or any proof that I was Canadian I needed to fill in names and phone numbers of four people “anywhere in the world” who could vouch for me – who would say that I really am Patricia Butler, Canadian. Four Woking-based friends were happy to do so, thank goodness.
The next day I went all 26 miles back to central London to submit my application. A security guard outside the High Commission had organized the crowd into lines: #1 Canadians needing help; #2 applicants wanting to immigrate to Canada, so I joined line #1.
“Prove to me that you are Canadian,” he said harshly.
Embarrassingly, I began to weep,“How can I do that when everything’s been stolen from me?” I pawed through my handbag and pulled out a little phone book. “Here’s my home phone number in the
front. The Toronto area code is 416. I have nothing else to show you.” He admitted me to the building where I then submitted the application.
A day later, back to the High Commission for the third visit to pick up the temporary passport. I’d wasted so much of my precious London/Woking time attending to this document that I could
only spare a ten-minute stop at Westminster station to gaze at the tower clock with Big Ben. That was the extent of my touristy doings because my Woking hostess had organized a luncheon for me.
These few days were tacked on the end of a 2011 solo tour I’d taken through Eastern Europe. While on the continent I had religiously carried my passport, cards, and cash in a zippered money belt tucked into my pants or skirt over my stomach. Yes, it looks a little rude to be prying into the front of one’s pants when accessing money, but it is a practice I will now follow when visiting all big cities.
At Heathrow airport Air Canada accepted the photocopy of my American Express Aeroplan card and let me use the Maple Leaf Lounge. At Pearson airport the Customs Officer was so fascinated by my white temporary passport that he never asked me if I had anything to declare!
A full two years later, a package arrived in the mail. Inside was the brown and pale pink leather travel wallet that had been stolen! Slightly grungy looking, it was accompanied by a letter from a London Underground employee explaining that it had been found on the tracks. My original passport was still tucked inside – displaying my mailing address.
The thief kept only the 590 Pounds sterling cash I’d been carrying. I no longer carry so much.