That Time I Was Nearly Robbed At Gunpoint

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

“You’re going to have to shoot him,” I said, “And I still won’t have any money.”

These fateful words came out of my mouth as I became rather agitated with a gunman who was holding my friend against the wall.  The gun pressed hard at the back of his head.

Probably the worst thing anyone can say about a friend and that is what Dave was, but I could think of nothing else.

This moment was pivotal and at that moment it was certain that I would probably not have that friend anymore in any event.

It remains a huge regret and shall remain with me forever.

Bromley was a safe place to grow up.  Petts Wood in particular.  It oftentimes felt like nothing happened.

By the Summer 1997, I had my Commer camper (with auto sleeper conversion) and it was well-loved and well-used.  I used to pick up all my friend in order that we might hang out since although I was working as a Locum and spending lots of spare time at the Churchill Theatre, my friends were all students.

We were able to get up to mischief, go to parties, the cinema or even pop up to Brick Lane for a Salt Beef Bagel.  The Commer gave us choices.

Anyhow, we had been to play pool at the American Pool Club at Bromley North, opposite the Beech Tree which was a favourite haunt.

For lots of different reasons, mostly to do with mum and the work I was doing with addicts, I did not drink alcohol and was perfectly able to have a good time drinking a Coke.  More about that another time no doubt.

Anyhow, on this night we had wandered outside since all of my friends smoked and so as we walked outside, I left my empty pint glass on one of the picnic tables outside the pub and we all huddled in a circle on the pavement chatting away, having a good time.

I had been working at a hostel for refugees in Stockwell and still was in that hyper-aware state which comes from working in always challenging sometimes dangerous environments.

I noticed two lads, a bit older than us walking on the pavement towards us.  It was clear that they were not going to ‘walk around’ us and I just knew that a confrontation was imminent.  I stepped across the group, turning 180 degrees and had my back to the wall, I was now looking out towards the road.  I felt safer.

When the adrenaline starts to pump, time slows down and I noticed that one of the young men had indeed walked in the road and got back on the curb, whilst his friend had loitered back, a meter or so from us.

Then it began.

“Give us all yer money”, he said.  Pointing a handgun at us.  I am not too good at gun brands, but it was black and the type where the top part slides back and forth as it is fired.

I watched as all my friends took turns to hand over what they had, turning out pockets and purses and putting everything into a bag held by the second man.

I even heard someone say “Hold on, I think I have some more money here.”

In my mind, this seemed ludicrous since what they cannot see, they do not know you have.

I was quite vexed for two reasons.  I had £15 in my pocket and I had to wait another two weeks before I would get paid on the 25th of the month.  I also had my mobile phone which enabled me to get my work.  I was determined that the robbers were not going to get either the cash or the mobile.

Then it was my turn, the gun was pointed at me.

“Put yer money in da bag.” the chap said.

“I don’t have any money” I replied, trying to keep as calm as possible.

He shouted at me, and shot into the air, which scared my friends and made our friend Kelly scream.  She said, “Just give him whatever you’ve got Lloyd!”

The gun was pushed up towards my face, which made me automatically look towards the right to avoid it.  In fact, this was good news since it enabled me to justify my position.

I pointed at my empty glass on the picnic table.

“I spent the last I had on that drink there.” I said.  “If I had money, I would be inside drinking another pint, but I haven’t got any money”.

This was the moment, the gunman grabbed Dave and forced up against the wall, putting the gun to the back of his head.

He said, “Give us yer money, or I’ll do ‘im.”

At that moment, I knew that having lied to this person twice already, it will do no one any favour, to tell the truth now.

“You’re going to have to shoot him,” I said, “And I still won’t have any money.”

By the orange tinge of the sodium street lights, I could see the agitation on the man’s face.  It was a dangerous gamble, but it had paid off.  They both ran off down Farwig Lane, towards Grove Park direction.

I remained calm, took out my mobile and called 999 to report the crime to the police, to give a description and hopefully get my friend’s things back.

Dave looked at me like I had mortally wounded him.  “You’ve got your mobile?”  he said.  “Well, of course!” I replied.

The police arrived, and the perpetrators were long gone.  The police did spray paint a little circle around the expelled shell casing which had landed in the road nearby.

We were given a crime reference number and told that we could all be on our way.

I suggested that we all go into the pub, get a last drink and steady our nerves before going home.

“What do you mean?”, Dave looked at me incredulously.  “You have money on you?” he said.

I explained my logic, flawed as it was and we did all have a half glasses of whatever drink before I dropped them all back home.

We were invited back to the police station at Bromley North to look at a folder of mug shots a few days later, but I failed miserably in recognising anyone.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight.  I am unsure if the gun was real, but the shell casing definitely was.  I do not know if blank-firing guns expel shells.  It certainly was a loud bang when the gunman shot in the air.

That is to the best of my recollection what happened and having been in a few situations at work where there was violence, I am not too surprised that I remained as calm as I did.

That was our training, to remain calm, whilst thinking quickly, speaking clearly and demonstrating active listening.

I did all those things and lived, but following that night, Dave did not really come out with us.  The blame for that lost relationship rests with the two criminals and me.

Despite looking back to reminisce as this blog testifies, I am a great fan of looking forward.  There is nothing that can be done to undo the past, but it is good to reconcile it.  To apologize when an apology is due.

Dave, I was a bad friend, and for that I am sorry.

Note; I have since connected with Dave on Facebook and apologized to him.  He was magnanimous to suggest no apology was needed and that for whatever wrong I had committed that night, I am forgiven.  To him, I am indebted and grateful.

Would you like to know what I am working on now?