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Tony Tealeaf by Nigel Roth

In 1978, as the pedophile Roman Polanksi was fleeing justice, and Charlie Chaplin’s remains were being raced away by thieves in Corsier-sur-Vevey, another crime was taking place on the backstreets of Marylebone, in London.

This particular crime also involved a speedy escape, to avoid being captured, not for being a child rapist or a grave-robber, but for being a thief, or, in Cockney parlance, a tea leaf.

In fact, this particular thief was commonly known as Tony Tealeaf, which I thought, for a substantial part of my early teen years, was actually his name.

It sounded quite genteel, which, of course, he was. Tony Tealeaf’s brand of thievery was quite sophisticated.

It involved a snipers-eye approach to obtaining goods by way of a shopping list. That list was a work of genius, created with the consultative input of Tony’s years of experience and expertise, and was formed in a sprint, from a blank sheet of A4 to a geographically-optimized itinerary of gathering. Illegally.

How I know all this, you may be thinking, if you haven’t already gone off to grab a pen, is that it all happened in front of me, in the open, without fear, over the counter of my father’s shop.

As I sat on a stool behind the laminated surfaces and next to the shiny register, clutching a Doctor Who book, Doctor Who And The Unconscionable Invasion Of An Innocent Sovereign Nation, or something, and watched as the diminutive Tony leaned over the counter from the customer side while my father did the same from the serving side, they both looked at me as if to say that book will be more relevant one day, and began to make that month’s list.