At first we thought we were the
victims of a strike by defecating birds.
We were strolling in a waterfront park in Stockholm, a city built on a Baltic
archipelago, and a haven for sea birds of every kind. Just as a flock of gulls wheeled overhead,
cawing raucously, we were spattered by a foul-smelling, olive-coloured
A couple walking behind us,
evidently fellow-tourists, came to assist us with an offer of perfumed paper
towels. They were Latinos, from Mexico I guessed. They even helped wipe the stuff from our
clothing. How kind, I thought. And then, suddenly, we both twigged. They had been altogether far too
solicitous. Moments after shooing them
away – and I mean moments – M suddenly realised that her gold necklace, a
family heirloom, had gone.
“We’ve been mugged,” I exclaimed
incredulously, and plaintively. “What a
pair of idiots we are! How could we have
been so naïve, so stupid?” (I can now
say gullible, but puns were out of order at the time.) At least I still have my wallet.”
But when we returned to our hotel
room, I realised that I, too, had been robbed.
The wallet still contained every credit card, but all the currency notes
had gone – about £100 and a similar amount in Euros I think. Curiously, the Swedish crowns had been left.
This meant that the mugger had
removed my wallet to extract the ready cash and put it back again. The logic is impeccable. When I felt my wallet in my pocket I did not
think to open it, which meant that I would not immediately raise the
alarm. Not that it would have
helped. No sooner had we grasped the situation,
the thieves had disappeared, as if into thin air, or perhaps into the water.
My outraged response was tinged
with admiration: how fucking clever these people are, like those magicians at
cocktail parties who pick your pockets for amusement. But then how unworldly we had been to offer
such an easy mark. The theft itself had
been an unpleasant experience, and the loss of the necklace dispiriting to say
the least, but we quickly put both behind us.
Far more unnerving than the relinquishing of valuables, and far more
nagging, was the collapse of self-esteem, the undermining of confidence. That lasted for days. It rankles still.
Anyway, we made a bland statement
by telephone to a police clerk (who spoke perfect English) and then spent an
hour or so at the nearest police station elaborating our description of the
incident, before signing a statement.
The policeman who prepared it was polite but institutionally diffident,
like policemen everywhere. “I’m afraid you’re not safe anywhere in the world these
days, not even in Sweden.” He mentioned, with a shake of the head, that
street crime in Stockholm,
mainly perpetrated on tourists, was rising alarmingly. “Like your country,” he ventured, “Sweden has an
‘open door’ policy. The bad elements
walk through it along with the good.
They come from everywhere.”
Having no wish to pursue that
line of conversation, I nodded understandingly.
What was all over our clothing,
he explained, was not bird poop, but some gloop tossed or squirted from a
canister. It smelled of curry. “It’s a new, how do you call it, modus
operandi,” explained the policeman.
“Clever, and very effective – you were not to know.” (After two washes, it still has not come
out. Add two pairs of trousers and two
shirts to the loss column.)
“Get Wallander on the case,” I
suggested. He laughed. “Ah, you watch
the show. But I’m afraid even Mr.
Wallander wouldn’t catch these two.”
Stockholm, I had promised M, who had never
been there, would be a delightful city.
I may even have mentioned that it was also a safe one. It remains delightful, but it is now tainted
The rest of our Swedish trip, by
the way, was delightful, the weather perfect, even in the northern region where
we were spent most of our trip. One day
we will return, though not, perhaps, to the city that proudly hosts the Nobel
awards ceremonies and Mexican bandits.