A Scottish couple have been reunited with their backpack stolen on a train in France thanks to the detective work of a French couple, who used clues inside to appeal for international help on social media.
Colin and Anne Macaulay, who are both retired and own a holiday flat in Béziers, were on route by train from Toulouse to their flat when the bag went missing on February 4.
It contained, among other items, Mr Macaulay’s medication, a vital sleep apnea mask and a Valentine’s Day card for Mrs Macaulay - but no surnames or contact details.
Mr Macaulay has mobility issues and walks using sticks, and so another passenger on the train helped him to take off the bag and put it in a nearby bag rack.
The couple then took their seats, which were only a few rows from where their bag was.
Within minutes, Mrs Macaulay noticed the bag was gone.
“Anne got off the train and we tried to look for it, but it was gone. The staff could not have been kinder or more helpful, but they had to keep the schedule, so we departed without it” Mr Macaulay told The Connexion.
He said they did not expect to see the bag again. They began the process of calling their insurance company and, more pressingly, they had to go to a local doctor in order to replace Mr Macaulay’s medication.
But on Sunday he received an unexpected message: His bag had been found by a young French couple who had deduced the owner was Scottish by a sweet inside and appealed to a Scottish facebook group for help.
Clues to owners’ Scottish identity
Toulouse couple Delphine Prevost and Nicolas Bouisset, who both work for the aerospace company Airbus, had noticed the bright blue bag outside their building.
“We thought it had been forgotten, but the next day it was still there, it had just been moved towards the bins” Ms Prevost told La Dépêche.
She said she and her partner became curious and decided to open the bag, quickly realising that it had probably been stolen.
“The most worrying thing was that inside was a lot of medication and a respirator for people with sleep apnea,” Ms Prevost said.
They had to look for clues as to the identity of the owner as there was nothing in there that gave their full names or contact information.
They found a British Tesco Clubcard, and called the supermarket chain. However, they were told the supermarket would not alert their customer to the fact that his bag had been stolen due to ‘confidentiality reasons.’
Ms Prevost also found in the bag a box of Scottish tablet, a common sweet dessert, a bit like fudge, and tartan and other Scottish-themed facemasks, which made her think the bag owners were Scottish.
The couple decided that they would hand the bag in to the police, but as it was Saturday evening decided it was best to wait until the next day.
On Sunday morning, they started to search online to see if they could find the owner of the bag, without much hope for success.
Ms Prevost first posted a message on the Facebook group Lost & Found - Edinburgh And The Lothians to inquire about the bag.
From there, she was advised to try the Facebook page Lost Box, an online lost and found service in the UK.
She posted her message and within 30 minutes, she was put in contact with Mr Macaulay.
“Someone who is in another Facebook group with me saw the sleep apnea mask and knew from pictures I had posted on Facebook that I had been in Toulouse,” Mr Macaulay said.
“Apparently, within just 30 minutes Delphine and I were in touch.”
A happy reunion
Mr and Mrs Macaulay returned to Toulouse from Béziers on Monday (February 7) where Ms Prevost and Mr Bouisset returned the bag to them.
They then shared lunch together.
Mr Macaulay said he was incredibly relieved to get the bag back.
“Just the sighs of relief for 24 hours after. It’s mad,” he said.
“The kindness, the serendipity of it. If it hadn’t happened to me and I had read it I would have thought, what a lovely story. And it is.”
He said that a bottle of whisky, which was a present for friends in Béziers, had been stolen, along with some Christmas jumpers, but nothing major.
“Delphine and her partner have insisted that we go for dinner at their place when we are back in Toulouse at the end of the month, before we fly back to Scotland,” Mr Macaulay said.
“I hope that they can come to visit us in Nairn. They are really nice kids - they are the same age as our children.
“The reality is that although there are bad people in the world, there are just really lovely people everywhere. We have found that to be true on our travels.”
He said he thinks that his Scottish identity helped the couple track them down.
There was one facemask with a Scottish saltire, and another one that was tartan.
The tartan one is made by the My Name’5 Doddie foundation, set up by former Scottish rugby union player Doddie Weir, who has motor neurone disease.
Ms Prevost told The Connexion in a phone call that it would be amazing to visit the couple in Scotland, and that she was looking forward to meeting them again in Toulouse.
She said the Macaulays were extremely happy and touched when she and her partner returned the bag to them.
A romantic twist
The pre-written Valentine’s Day card also may have helped, Mr Macaulay said.
“I think it probably made them more enthusiastic to try to find us,” he said. “Delphine actually apologised for opening the card.”
He had bought it before leaving Scotland to go to France as he suspected he would not have enough time to get one later. He wrote it in advance so as to keep it a secret from Mrs Macaulay.
He said that the surprise was ruined, but that his wife was probably as surprised that he had not forgotten about it in the first place.
Mr and Mrs Macaulay own a small apartment in Béziers that they use as a holiday home. He said that they love the area, and love visiting France.