The Day I Lost £6,000

How a brand new camera holster helped ruin my life for 48hrs

People ask me, on a regular basis, whether I’m happy living in Copenhagen. It’s an easy answer: yes, of course. Then they ask me why. Again, this isn’t difficult to explain, as there are so many reasons. But in today’s journal I just want to mention one reason, and that’s the honesty of its citizens.

To explain this properly we need to go back to April 2014 – the year when my photography business really started to take off. Just four weeks earlier I had shot my very first race with Sparta, who would go on to be one of my best clients. The shoot required me to follow several hundred runners around a course, which turned out to be quite the challenge. My camera equipment weighed a ton, and I was constantly hopping on and off my bike to take photos. And with each hop-on-off episode I had to take my bag off my shoulders, unclip and unzip, whip out two cameras, take photos, and then put it all back again. It was annoying.

My solution was a ThinkTank Pro Speed Belt – a belt system designed to carry individual cameras, lenses and extras. My setup consisted of two separate holsters: one for my 24-70mm (attached to a Nikon D800) and the other for my 70-200mm (attached to a Nikon D3).

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Old men and bulging stomachs

It was a strange sensation wearing the belt for the first time, as the weight shifted from my back and shoulders straight to my hips. I still threw a rucksack on, so I could take my laptop with me to the shoot, but the plan was to leave it at Sparta’s office just before the start of the race.

At 8am I hopped on to my scooter (another new purchase to make getting around the course easier) and scooted on down to catch a train. The B-Line was already full of people when I jumped on board, so I took the only seat I could find – amongst the bikes. These seats fold away when not in use, so I folded it out, sat myself down, and unclipped the Pro Speed Belt buckle (which was being challenged by my bulging waistline).

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At the next stop an elderly gent with his bike joined the carriage and I could see that I would need to give up my seat. I stood up and walked in to the next carriage where another seat had become available, and a few stops later I got off the train to catch a bus. And this is when the horror struck me.

What the hell did I just do!

As the doors closed behind me, I suddenly realised that the heavy bag currently on my shoulders was not the camera bag I was so used to carrying. My hands immediately shot to my hips, but of course the belt was no longer there – it was on the train I’d just alighted and speeding towards another part of the country!

Now, I have to admit I panicked at this stage. The first person I called was my girlfriend, as she would be able to contact the relevant transport authorities and explain fluently (in Danish) what had happened and what could be done about it. Meanwhile, I raced over to Sparta HQ to tell them the bad news, and apologise for not being able to take any photos. It was an embarrassing experience.

Next I scooted all the way back to the train station where I’d stepped off the train, and I moved like lightning. I can’t remember a time (before or since) where I’ve been forced to keep going despite being completely out of breath. Obviously the financial cost of losing the equipment was starting to dawn on me and the tears were ready to flow.

When the next B-Line train arrived I promptly enquired with the driver whether she could do anything to help. She radioed one of her colleagues, whom she thought was the driver of that particular train I was hoping to locate, and asked him if he could do a quick sweep of the train. I waited nervously for the response, but it wasn’t good.

“You’ll not see that again”

The next B-Line arrived ten minutes later, and I asked that driver pretty much the same question. His response was, “you’ll not see that again!”

When the third train arrived I went through the motions again, and his answer was even worse. He explained that the B-Line went through an area of Greater Copenhagen that was home to a refugee centre. “It was highly likely,” he told me, “that a refugee had found the camera and taken it to the centre to sell on the black market.”

He continued, “The problem was, the police weren’t allowed to raid the place, because of Human Rights, etc, etc.” In hindsight I find this highly unlikely, but at the same I was so stressed out that I was willing to believe the most ridiculous of tales if it meant finding my camera. (It was, in fact, this story that lead me to register my missing equipment on https://www.lenstag.com/)

Over the next 60 minutes I approached each and every B-Line train, hoping to eventually speak with the driver of “my train.” Naturally this did finally occur, and said driver allowed me to search the train front to back. It had now been more than two hours since my kit had been left behind, and the odds of me finding it were slim to none. In that space of time the train had driven all the way to Hillerød – approximately 40km away – and God knows how many people had had the chance to take it with them.

(For those Danes who are scratching your heads, yes I know the B-Line doesn’t run to Hillerød, but it did that weekend due to maintenance)

But during all this time I kept hope that it would turn up in one piece. And it was this hope that was keeping me from breaking down. Somehow I managed to hold it all together… until I phoned my mum.

This was the point that everything came tumbling down on top of me. I thought of all the hard work I’d put in to being a freelancer; all the low-paid jobs I’d done just to get by; I thought of my five-month old daughter and what a loser her dad was; and I thought of all the people who had supported me, lent me money, or waited patiently for me to turn the business in to a profitable venture.

The Power of The Press

I won’t go in to details about my sob-fest, but thankfully my parents were there to support me once more and told me that they’d help me sort it. I needed replacement equipment, of course, and sooner rather than later. I estimated that I needed to borrow at least 60,000 Danish Kroner (about £6,000) to replace everything, but buying second-hand was also an option.

The next day, after a restless night, I cycled in to town to meet some friends and tell them what had happened. It helped, to be honest, as I found myself gradually accepting what had happened and what had to be done.

It was during this off-loading that a clever idea struck me. Every day, thousands of commuters read the MX – a free newspaper handed out in the streets and on train platforms. With such a huge readership, I felt there was a strong chance of jogging someone’s memory. It was a long shot, but I made the call.

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Explaining the situation in English to the Danish reporter was a challenge in itself, so I was transferred to yet another who listened to my case. He dealt a small blow when he told me that a printed newspaper wouldn’t be produced for the rest of the week, as it was Easter. But, he reassured me, he would still put it online and hope for the best. I sent him a couple of photos of the belt and its expensive contents to accompany the story.

The Easter revenge of Jesus

Meanwhile, I was cycling to all the Lost and Founds in the city, asking whether anything had been handed it. I was met with the same info regarding the Easter holidays and how it was unlikely anything would get to them until the following week! I probably cried some more when I heard this.

So it was with a heavy heart that I sat down the following day – a Tuesday – and started to fill in a police report. All I really wanted was for someone to check the train’s CCTV footage (there’s a camera in every carriage, so I was 100% sure we could find out what had happened). But I was told this was only possible in the event of a real crime having been committed. This seemed totally bizarre to me; I mean, technically someone had most likely taken the camera equipment (without my permission) so surely this was theft. I know, I know, maybe they had been a good samaritan and handed it in, but the circumstances at least hinted towards a crime.

At around 10am I went in to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I had the Danish version of eBay open and was preparing myself for a morning of making offers on second-hand cameras and lenses.

As I started to pour, an email alert sounded on my phone, so casually I opened it. The subject header read, “Information about your missing camera!” Now my heart really started beating. I read on. “I’m a dentist based in Hillerød and I took the train in to the office on Sunday morning. I saw a man leave the train at Hillerød Station with your belt and hand it in at the 7 Eleven.”

Queuing for Hotdogs

Now let’s just stop right there for a minute. Try to put yourself in my shoes and imagine how that felt. Against all the odds, and after two whole days of feeling totally miserable, it was like a bright light had been switched on inside my head. I could already hear the engines roaring back to life again, and suddenly the caffeine fix I was preparing for myself seemed unnecessary.

I wrote back to the dentist straight away and got all the details from her before jumping on the train towards Hillerød. Mentally speaking it was the longest journey of my life, and when I finally arrived I rushed in to the store, where there was already a queue building for the hotdogs.

Eventually it was my turn to be served and the words fell out of my mouth in clumsy English. “Amancameinheretheotherdayandhandedoverablackbeltwithtwohugeholsters…” I breathed deeply before finishing. “Is it still here?” Oddly, the girl assisting me thought it would be funny to play a game of “I’m not sure, let me go check,” despite the cheeky smile on her face that suggested otherwise.

She disappeared in to the stock room and the door swung closed behind her. I waited.

There was a heart-warming round of applause in the shop as she reappeared with my gorgeous black Think Tank belt in her hands. Both harnesses were full and heavy, and that was enough to know that everything was present and correct. I ran around to her side of the counter and gave her a massive hug and a kiss on the cheek. The applause continued. When I turned to see their faces everyone looked delighted for me. It was a very human moment.

Updates for all

Back on the platform I took a picture of the belt and sent it to as many people as I could. The joyful responses came in thick and fast, and I suspect I had another little cry. When I got home I hugged my girlfriend and decided to take the rest of the day off. I contacted the MX journalist and told him the good news. I was hugely indebted to them for all their help.

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As for the man who handed in my camera, I have no idea who he is or where to find him. I offered him a reward via the newspaper, and via the staff at the 7 Eleven, but he never accepted it. Nor did the dentist who delivered the good news.

When I tell (English) people this story they usually respond the same way: “That’d never happen in (ENTER NAME OF UK CITY).” And sadly it’s very true.

So when you find me moaning about how Danes never hold doors open for you, or have a word for ‘please’, just remind me that none of it really matters. I like them just the way they are!

This blog post originally appeared on www.photographybymatthewjames.com