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Bastards: a cautionary tale

So, I got my laptop nicked.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already be weary of the trials, tribulations and swearing that followed.

I hadn’t backed up – I have two separate external hard drives, but both had stopped working.  I know I should have backed up online (or in the ‘cloud’ if we really must) but I never seemed to have time to sort out the best way of doing so.

I was in the Jolly Butchers last Wednesday.  I was filming for a TV programme, and after that it was Emma Cole’s leaving do.  Emma has made the beery reputation of the Butchers, and now she’s defecting to the Spotted Dog in Brighton. (Brighton, you are lucky to have her.)

At 6pm I put my laptop bag down beside Emma’s chair. At 10.05pm I went back to it, and found the bag thrown under the table, with no laptop in it.  I know the timings because I spent the following day watching CCTV footage from two angles, and saw myself do these things.

I also saw a photo shoot to celebrate the Butchers being named ‘Beard-friendly pub of the year’, and a giant panda emerge from the toilets and go outside.  But even though the party table was in the middle of the screen from one of the security cameras, I did not see anyone go under the table, pick up a laptop, or put one in their bag.  At no point is the table left empty – there are always at least three people – people who were part of our crowd – sitting down at it.  You’ve got to admit, these bastards are good at what they do.

And I’m stupid.  Really, really stupid.

Look at those timings again: I left a very expensive laptop with every single piece of writing I’ve ever done, all my music, my accounts, all my photos, alone for four hours in a public place.  For half that time I was standing outside the pub.

I’m only writing this now as a cautionary tale, because I’m not the only person who is this stupid.

The Jolly Butchers is a lovely pub, one of my locals, and there’s rarely a time when at least some friends aren’t in it.  I feel comfortable there, as comfortable as I do in my home – that’s what great pubs are all about.

But without taking away from that, this comfort lulls you into a false sense of security.  You extend your trust to cover everyone in the pub.  You start behaving as if you are at home.  I wasn’t the only person to leave my bag unattended that night (I wasn’t the only person whose bag was tossed).  Every time I’m in this or other pubs, I see bags on backs of chairs with purses and valuables in them. I see phones left on tables when people go to the bar or toilet.  I see jackets hanging with wallets in them.

And when I’m out of the pub, I see poster campaigns from the police like the one above, which is currently running all round London.

You never think it will be you – but eventually it is.

As the poster shows, thieves look for the easiest lift they can get.  If you make it easy for them – if you INVITE them to take your stuff, as I did – it’s hardly surprising if they accept the invitation.

So I’m writing this to everyone who goes in pubs, who loves them, and feels relaxed in them enough to chill out and forget you’re in public: don’t be the person who makes it easier for thieving bastards than everyone else does.  Just keep your stuff with you, and out of sight.  It sounds boring. It sounds nannyish. It makes you think of things you’d rather not think of while you’re enjoying yourself.  But it’s absolutely necessary.

Oh yes, and do back up your computer.  Religiously.  Don’t keep putting it off like I did, because shit WILL happen.

Right! Now to start my new book from scratch…



John M

You have my sympathies – I had a laptop stolen a few years ago in a burglary and lost a fair amount of stuff too. Hope that you can sort out as much as you can.

I've since signed up to Mozy for online backup – good value for the peace of mind it gives you.


I feel for you Pete. I've been the victim of house burglary on four separate occasions, and car twice.

Still, those posters gall me. Yes, I realise they are common sense, and it's good advice. We have similar posters here in New Zealand. What gets me is that they imply that if your stuff is nicked, it was your fault for showing it off. "Can't have nice things, there are scumbgs about".

Imagine the furore if someone produced a similar poster warning women: "Here's how rapists see you! Make sure you cover up! Don't tempt them!"


Pete Brown

Thanks everybody.

Anyone thinking of getting more cautious: just been advised to back up online with Crashplan. Just installed it, and it backs up automatically online. After a trial you pay a certain amount per year but it looks really good.


I would recommend installing hidden tracking software, e.g. Undercover http://www.orbicule.com/undercover/index.html

They run in background and once you activate it and thieves use your computer, it rather secretly collects all the vital info, takes their pics with webcam (if there is one) and sends them to you. There have been cases when stoles laptops have been recovered this way.

Rob Nicholson

Even backups to external hard drives in your house are not good enough. Sure backup to hard drive once a month BUT store it somewhere else in the meantime in case of acts of god and burglary. Won't help Pete now though… but ask everyone you've emailed stuff to recently to email it back.

Jeff Pickthall

Go through the CCTV again and look for anyone who circles round the pub appearing to be looking for their friends. They don't necessarily do the nabbing themselves but pass on info about unguarded items to their waiting accomplice who then comes in and faffs around taking coat off, moving furniture etc to distract people while one or the other lifts something. We found that at busy times the local tea-leafs would tour the bar doing exactly that. What they didn't know was that we had an informer who was tipping us off about the identities of local recidivists so we could be vigilant.

The offers still open to have a go at fixing the kaput laptops.

HardKnott Dave

I have no crucial data on my laptop. I did however leave it in The Rake whilst I was listening to some bloke in BrewWharf, can't remember his name, give a rather excellent presentation on some publication called "The Cask Report"

To my utter amazement my laptop, when I returned, was still where I had left it 2 hours earlier.

You probably didn't really want to know that.

Seriously, bastards is too nice a name for these people.


Crashplan is really good. Sadly, almost nobody (myself included) ever starts backing up properly until they've felt the pain of lost data, lost photographs, lost work and lost memories.

You have my sympathy.


You have my sympathies!

Almost the same thing happened to my daughter a year ago. At a work celebration at the Crown and Two Chairman in Soho, she had her bag under the table with several others, and there was a group of her work friends around the table the whole time. When it was time to go her handbag and her boss's handbag were missing. To this day they find it impossible to imagine how it could have happened unnoticed. The scumbags are indeed very good at what they do.


Got on a bus from Reading after my holiday exhausted after the long journey,whilst paying the driver someone bumped into me, an accomplice then stole my rucksack from near my feet. Sad to say lost a brand new laptop only four days old, a tablet PC one month old, passport, digital camera with all the holiday photos on it, £40 cash,MP3 player and headphones, hard disk drive, brand new spectacles and other items. Looking at the small print on the holiday insurance it showed: loss of one item per person, maximum claim £150 and £100 excess. Some evil people out there, didn't even dump the rucksack with my passport spectacles and photo cards from the camera.


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