T HE BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent has this week been writing about his run-in with a mugger on the mean streets of London. A young man produced a knife and demanded that Tom Symonds hand over his iPhone and wallet and Tom, naturally enough, was quick to comply.
The story has a happy ending – Tom had an app installed on his phone which allowed police to track down the location of the device and the mugger was nabbed, pled guilty and is awaiting sentence. He was only out of jail a matter of days after having served time for a similar offence. The high jump beckons.
Tom’s vivid tale took Squinter back ten years to Amsterdam where he was the victim of a similar knifepoint mugging, previously documented in this column. But then an older, grainier memory insinuated itself in Squinter’s consciousness, one from 20 years before the canalside trauma; not a mugging exactly, but another knifepoint episode rather closer to home.
A young Squinter was full of the joys of spring, having secured the keys of his first student flat. With a copy of the Belfast Telegraph under his arm and a clatter of 10ps in his fist, he entered one of a row of some six telephone kiosks up the side of the City Hall, where the Shirt Centre used to be. Circled in the For Sale section of the paper were five or six second-hand suites of furniture and Squinter’s van-driving brother had promised to do the needful should Squinter succeed in locating furniture for his unfurnished flat.
He’d been in the phone booth some five or ten minutes when an urgent knocking erupted on the door behind him. Squinter turned to find a slack-jawed and portly man whose mushy featured rendered him of indeterminate age – 30 to 50 would be the best guess Squinter could muster – and beside him a desperately thin woman in a duffle coat with a hatchet face and long hair pulled into a middle shade so severely that half an inch of bare scalp ran up the middle.
Fat Boy pulled a face and held both palms upwards in a gesture of of offended inquiry. Squinter held up the paper with the circled ads, shrugged and turned to make his next call. He hadn’t managed to dial the number when a more insistent hammering broke out. Fat Boy was pounding the door with the side of his fist and Hatchet Face had her face pressed up against the glass. Squinter hung up, turned, opened the door and explained that a) he had a number of calls to make and b) there were some five other phone boxes in the line.
That explanation cut little ice with Burton and Taylor for no sooner had Squinter lifted the phone than they both began shouting obscenities and battering the door and when Squinter looked round they had worked themselves up into such a frenzy of indignation that the telephone box resembled a scene from
Zombie Dawn of the Dead. As men do, Squinter had sized up the opposition during this little contretemps, and had reached the perfectly logical conclusion that should it come to a pub car park-style digging match, of which the young Squinter had wide experience, then there could only be one winner. In combat terms, this guy was more Bruce Forsythe than Bruce Lee. So, adrenaline starting to pump, Squinter set down the phone, clutched a dozen 10p pieces in his right fist and turned to face his destiny…
Opening the door, Squinter let rip with a volley of expletives that made Fat Boy and Hatchet Face sound like the Andrews Sisters. Squinter had hoped the shock-and-awe outburst would obviate the need for a right hook to Fat Boy’s face, but it didn’t work that way. Instead, with a speed and grace belying his bulky frame, Fat Boy produced a flick knife which he held low, inches from Squinter’s bellybutton. Squinter took two step backwards and his spine hit the payphone hard; simultaneously, as they would two decades later in Amsterdam, his treacherous legs threatened to give way under him and his stomach and heart swiftly and violently changed places. The 10p pieces spilled noisily on to the hard floor.
Fat Boy spat out a few words to the effect that Squinter wasn’t such a big fella now, and retrospectively surveying the scene, Squinter has to say that he had a perfectly good point. Then he closed the blade with the heel of his free hand, placed his hands in his pocket and wandered off into the crowds milling around what Squinter seems to remember was an adjacent Translink ticket booth; Hatchet Face pulled up the hood of her duffle coat and followed him.
Squinter can’t help recalling the incident any time he passes the scene. Funnily enough, given the nature of Squinter’s business that day, there’s a bar there now called The Apartment. It’s furnished, Squinter’s
relieved to report.