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London's Lost And Found

I left a humble umbrella on the London subway last week. And I got it back, yesterday, thanks to an extraordinary service - unique to this city - which has become the very envy of the world.

The Lost Property Office in Baker Street is living testimony to the honesty of my fellow citizens. It is also proof of our forgetful nature.

Last year, for example, we left 32,268 books on the capital's buses and trains and taxis -- everything from Shakespeare and the Bible to Jackie Collins and Bob Woodward. But each one of them was handed in, taken to Baker Street, logged, shelved and lovingly stored until the rightful owner turn up to claim it.

Every day 700 new objects are abandoned on the city's transport network. Some of the items are very strange indeed. There was a lumpy fabric, for instance, found in the luggage rack of a big red London double decker bus. Inside were two grinning human skulls. An absent minded university professor, who called them Bill and Ben and used them for his lectures, eventually arrived to collect them.

Even the bits you thought you could never forget go missing. Detachable body parts are high risk items. There is a room full breast implants, artificial legs, arms and hands waiting to rejoin their rightful owners. There are also a large number of funeral urns, containing the cremated remains of the dearly departed. But instead of leaving the subway in the company of relatives, Uncle Bernard's ashes now gather dust on the shelves of Baker Street.

And therein lies the problem. People assume that if they stupidly leave something on a train it will be picked up, pocketed and lost forever. This lack of faith in the honesty of human nature means the Lost Property Office has a huge stock of items still waiting to find their way home. Including several hundred sets of false teeth, a harpoon and a stuffed puffer fish. They even found a full size casket left on a late night bus. Maybe the occupant got out and got lost someplace else.
By Ed Boyle

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