It was a cloudy Wednesday morning in London. Still recovering from the weekend’s hangover, I put on my grey tracksuit pants and my favourite black T-shirt (the one I never iron because of my personal superstition: If I do, it will be 3 years of worse luck than what I am experiencing currently!). Anyway, it was time for a morning bike ride along the towpath of Regent’s Canal, near Kingsland Street.
I needed to gather my thoughts. My life felt like a battle and I was stubborn enough not to let things change for the better. I was flat broke with no new job offers in sight (not that I was keen on finding any job, I was waiting for the best one to pop up). Pressure from my family and friends’ was getting unbearable. I had to put on a 24/7 act to hide things from them, which left me exhaustipated (my word of the year!). Anyway, why make effort when you are used to getting away with faffing. I chose not to give a shit anymore, not to try harder. And I was so going to stick to my guns. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate. In fact, how that Wednesday unfolded proved me right – it was a smart move to take things easy (easy as Wednesday morning!).
It was around 11 am when I noticed a pile of something distinctly shiny on the pavement. I got off my bike. I just couldn’t help staring. A brunette was standing by a shiny pile of thousands of copper coins and picking them up, one by one. I stood there in dismay gaping in silence at the resourceful girl, who soon got bored (or embarrassed!) and took her leave.
I stayed behind, thinking to myself:
What the heck is going on here?
A candid camera?
A social experiment?
Or an unfortunate drunken robber who happened to lose his swag on the way from the night shift?
Not that I didn’t feel like grabbing the cash. It was just too suspicious to take risks.
I turned around, left my bike leaning against the railing and found a good hiding spot to observe what happens next. I made sure no one could see me – I felt as safe as a Facebook lurker. The next three and a half hours was a torture and live entertainment combined in one. I saw clowns giving their pathetic performances, unaware of me watching them from a distance: it is bizarre what behaviours money can bring out in people!
I saw a group of kids playing in the pile of coins as if it was a sandbox.
I saw a boy collect a bag full of coins and struggle to get away with it.
I saw a middle-aged biker stop and grab just a few coins while on the go.
I saw an apparent slave to Instagram sporting a man bun take a photo … of his umbrella against the backdrop of the coins.
I saw a grown-up bloke taking a coin shower (but – bless him – taking no selfies).
I started dreaming up scenarios. I waited for a hot girl to turn up, pick up a coin and throw it over her shoulder into the river, making a wish (and flashing a bit too much of her neckline in the act)! How cute would that be! Or a beginner street artist who would create a sculpture out of the coins to make his first artistic manifesto.
Neither happened. But it was then that I realised it wasn’t a setup and there was no police watching.
Money may not grow on trees but it was waiting for me by the canal. I knew I couldn’t carry the heavy load single-handedly so I called my pal to come and give me a hand. He turned up around midday. By 12:40 we managed to clear the path and we made off with the money.
When we counted it, it was almost 300 British pounds of crazy easy money. I came into it with one hand down and the other picking my nose, so to speak. What a life! My only real worry was that it could be counterfeit. But my inner voice told me to take things easy and I did as I was told! I was always good at keeping my cool (or faking my cool by playing a fool, to be honest).
It wasn’t until the next morning that I saw my photos all over the newspapers and in social media… I was left gaping in silence once again… My bad … Apparently, by taking the money I brought something unique to an abrupt end.
Do I care? Oh well, … who are you to condemn me?!
Has the incident changed me? Oh well, …
Story behind the story
Jamahl McMurran, a London-based businessman and AirBnB host, and his AirBnB guest Lana Meisc, a Croatian photographer, decided to set up a social experiment. Jana had 15,000 coins (leftovers from her art installation) that she couldn’t take back home. They decided to leave the coins by the canal and film the reactions of people stumbling upon a pile of money.
Jamahl: ’I suggested putting them by the river as a joke one night over a drink . I said it pretty flippantly, as a joke. But she genuinely started contemplating it. The next day I got home and she was actually preparing to do it. We bagged up the coins and took them out and then set up the camera in my flat.’
It happened near Regent’s Canal, north London at around 9am.
Many pedestrians’ reactions were filmed and live-tweeted but after four hours of footage two men showed up and swiped them all – bringing the experiment to an abrupt end.
Jana: ‘I was gutted that those two guys came along and started taking them. I wanted a homeless person to find them or for the coins to stay there for longer.’
While people on social media were quick to condemn the two men (one of whom apparently arrived at the scene early on and then returned with an accomplice), Jamahl said it was important not to make assumptions: ‘You never know why they took them, it’s easy to make assumptions but it could have been for charity, for a homeless shelter, who knows.’