5 Sep 2017

'Two parts perspiration, three parts desperation and the rest hope'

From Nights, 7:12 pm on 5 September 2017
Paul Cowan, Lost Property Office, Transport for London

Paul Cowan, Lost Property Office, Transport for London Photo: [www.flickr.com/photos/riggzy/8851993551 Flickr / Thomas Riggs]

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Photo: Wiki commons

Every day millions of people travel on London’s trains, tubes and buses and every day they leave thousands of items behind.

Most end up in Transport for London’s lost property depot, which is run by a New Zealander, Paul Cowan.

Since 1933, the depot has been on Baker Street - just down from number 221B, the home of Sherlock Holmes.

“You walk inside and it’s a complete eclectic mix of anything people could carry on transport.” says Cowan, who has run the depot for seven years.

Working there, you eventually you become accustomed to the "lost-property scent" which is seemingly universal, he says.

“It’s two parts perspiration, three parts desperation and the rest of it is hope.”

Each day, 1,200 new items arrive at the depot from local stations where they’ve been kept for a couple of days and at any one time, there’ll be around 70,000 items on the shelves.

Currently, they’re looking after two 42-inch plasma TV sets, a microwave and a bar fridge, Cowan says.

“You get this wonderful image of what the person was doing and what happened when they lost the property.”

Cowan says the job has made him less judgmental and difficult to shock.

“Yeah, seen one of those, seen one of those… Ooh, what’s this?!”

While a lot of the property may have low monetary value, you can’t know what is trash or treasure, he says.

Perishable items get dumped straight away, but everything else is kept for three months at which point it becomes ‘legal property’.

After the three months, anything containing personal information is destroyed and most of the rest is donated to charity, he says.

The depot’s mascot Eddie – a once-lost giant gorilla in a Hawaiian shirt – has been there as long as Cowan.

“What sort of party was that? I just wanted to part of it.”

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