Lavapies Olympics (1) bag-snatching relay

olympics1

I have been fortunate enough never to have been a victim of this, the first of the Olympic sports of Lavapies, though I hear that a sporting handbag relay is a frequent sight in the neighbourhood. There is always something picaresque happening in and around the plaza, so it pays to have your eyes peeled and your ears pricked at all times.

When I say I have never had my bag snatched in Lavapies, this doesn’t mean that I have never been robbed or mugged in Madrid. In fact, if you’re not robbed in your first few months here then you can’t truly consider yourself ‘in’. It’s like a brusque frat-boy initiation rite.

Once, on the tube at rush hour on the way to work. 4 euros in my purse, choke on it, gypsy scum! Once, in the stairwell of a seedy hostal in Tirso de Molina in the late eighties. After stepping over junkies in the doorway, we were followed by a charicature of a scrawny gypsy Rose Lee, clutching at me and moaning ‘money, alms for the poor, help me, for the love of God, help me…’ while her other hand filtched the purse from my pocket. Once in the Retiro, sat on a bench with my boyfriend, just collected tickets and travellers’ cheques for our trip to the UK. A well-dressed arab apporached with an unwieldy map and asked for directions. My bag was on the bench beside me, the handle looped round my knee, until we were momentarily distracted. Once, a year ago, at the cashpoint in Tirso de Molina- jostled by two teenage Romanian chav girls who never even flinched when I unleashed my inner Amazon- ‘You will not touch me again, whore bitch!’ shove, ‘if you touch me again I will break your face!’ They robbed me of 300 euros right under my nose and I didn’t see them take the money. Once, a couple of years ago, in a shoe shop in Calle Mayor just off Sol, an area with the highest number of thieves per head in Europe. I put my bag down to try on a shoe and the fucking Borrowers made off with it invisibly. In the blink of an eye, you could say. Once at a street café in Serrano, bag on the floor by my feet, hassled-looking man approaching asking which way to the bus-stop.

Well, I could go on but it would be so dull. You see, from where I’m sitting, I’m far more likely to be mugged outside the neighbourhood than in it. I have never been threatened, pick-pocketed or even followed near my house. They always say you are safest in the thick of it, honour among thieves and so on. Madrid can be a mean city, let’s face it, it’s a European capital. But I am from Nottingham, you can’t scare me. I’ve wrestled with fat slags at closing time in dank victorian alleyways, I’ve held my own in chip shop queue brawls, I’ve repelled hordes of feral children unarmed and alone. And I think you can see this in the way I walk the streets. Nottingham girls are made of tough stuff, pride of the Midlands, we’re bred on pork pies and cross-country runs. I can hold my own in a changing room cat-fight, I went to an all-girls public school, what do you expect? I have respect in the Hood. Nobody’s going to be snatching my bag in Lavapies any time soon.

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