It was late November 2021 and the 2nd edition of the Salon de l’Escalade (Climbing Show) had just finished in Villeurbanne, near Lyon.
A friend had helped out with transporting all the gear for the CAC stand we had run (thanks again to all who helped with the stand and those who popped by and relieved us of some of said gear) and now it was time to pack it all back up again.
We were all pretty tired after a busy week-end, so I suggested it would be easier for the friend if we stashed the gear locally so he could get home without what is a massive detour to my place. As it happened, my daughters’ flat had a garage that was empty at the time and, what’s more, pretty much just around the corner.
We unloaded the van, job done, wine o’clock!
So, CAC gear safely stowed in a nice dry garage, waiting to get picked up at some point.
Since it wasn’t in anybody’s way, and there were no events coming up that I needed it for, I didn’t give it much thought for a while. Then, not long before Christmas, I learned that a friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s a knitting freak and had lost her hair, so I thought she would appreciate a lovely stripy CAC beanie, which she absolutely did, see the attached photo of her wearing it.
However, dear reader, the beanie in the picture didn’t come from the gear in the garage…
I had messaged my girls asking them to pop down to the garage and get me a beanie as I knew we still had a couple left after the Salon. After an age, they messaged me back asking if I was sure I hadn’t picked up the gear… because the garage was empty. I’ll readily admit my memory’s a bit hazy at times, but I would know (my ageing back would remind me) if I’d hauled a bunch of T-shirts into the car and then up the stairs and under my bed at my place.
The lock on the garage was quite fiddly for sure, and it would seem it either hadn’t got locked properly after one of the girls’ friends had parked there, or someone had managed to pick the lock. Either way, the result was the same, the gear was gone.
On my watch. I felt sick, angry, upset all at once. And incredulous. I mean, there were 6 Ikea zipped bags and a large cardboard box.
This would have taken some time (and boot space) to shift. You would think they would have looked inside first, realised there was no commercial value, and left it alone, right? Wrong.
I reckoned that once they DID realise this, they would just dump the stuff. I tried reporting it to the police online, but the service was booked solid until after the new year.
Thinking the trail would be cold by then, we gave up on the police report idea. An insurance claim seemed pointless too – especially since the gear wasn’t technically mine – plus we couldn’t be sure the garage had been locked properly in the first place. We resigned ourselves to having lost it.
However, this would mean a loss of earnings for CAC in terms of projected future sales of the gear we’d lost, AND we had no stock to sell in the future.
I certainly couldn’t afford to compensate CAC for the whole shebang, so we launched a GoFundMe campaign to restock. Quite a few people contributed, some very generously indeed, you know who you are! We love you!
Just as the GoFundMe campaign was due to wind up, mid-June 2022, I got a message from Helan on Messenger. Now Helan, if you don’t know, is the lady who lovingly packs up and sends out your CAC orders, who politely answers your questions on Facebook and emails and generally has been an absolute star since our founder John Ellison talked her into working for CAC. Maybe you thought CAC was a big organisation, but no! We’re deliberately compact and bijou, to keep our overheads down and give as much as we can to beat the disease. However, I digress.
Back to the message from Helan. “I’ve just sent you an email, I think you should take a look,” she wrote, cryptically.
To my astonishment, she had forwarded an e-mail from the Lyon police department, from a certain Major at the 3rd arrondissement’s commissariat to be precise, which read as follows:
I’m a french policeman.
Today, we have find many many T shirts CLIMB AGAINST CANCER in a box in LYON.
They are probably stolen.
Do you know if your association has been the victim of a theft in France in the last months ?
Thanks for your answer
Please answer me asap by mail first !
Adorable! But more importantly, unbelievable!
I immediately phoned the Major, we had quite the chat, and I sent a confirmation e-mail with as much detail as I could provide.
Having established who I was in relation to the charity and what had happened, we arranged for me to go into the commissariat to make a complaint (after all) and pick up the gear.
After which I spent the entire morning on a cloud, with bouts of head-shaking, sniggering, or muttering ‘I don’t believe it’ (or similar but non-PG expressions).
The following week I spent a very enjoyable hour or so in the company of the Major and a couple of downright hilarious detectives, who took my statement and then led me to a storage room where ALL of the CAC gear was waiting. Intact, undamaged, all of it. 6 months almost to the day after we had written it all off.
You couldn’t make it up. In fact, I’m not!
So how did the French police know to get in touch with our little charity, I hear you ask? Elementary, my dear Watson, our website address on the T-shirts!
They had discovered our gear in a lockup along with a bunch of other stuff while investigating a series of robberies, opened up our bags, saw the address on the T-shirts, went on to the website, picked up the e-mail address and got in touch. They even helped me load the gear into my car… putting the service in public service!
Wait, there’s more!
I contacted the people who had donated to the GoFundMe campaign, explaining we no longer needed to replace the gear, and offering to refund their contribution. Every one of them said we should keep the money as a donation. A double thank-you to them.
Don’t you just love a happy ending?
NB. Sadly, Caroline lost her battle with cancer on May 17th 2023. We send our heartfelt condolences to her family.