I was interested to read that police recorded more shoplifting offences in the year ending in March than they have since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard in 2003. The trend was unique among other diminishing types of hands-on thieving, single-handedly driving up the number of ‘property crimes’ reported in England and Wales, according to a study published by the Office for National Statistics.
For a blissful moment, I was back in the heady days of Pop Sox and Labour landslides – the light-fingered calf-country of my 1970s provincial working-class girlhood – and as if surprised in adolescent self-abuse, I felt a blush creep up my ears and my heart skip a beat, as I recalled the splendid, sordid thrill of it all.
Shoplifting was what we had instead of sexting. It wasn’t as much fun, obvs; despite what other middle-aged hackettes may harumph about kids sending each other dirty pictures, I think it looks tremendous fun, and often wish I was young enough to indulge. We of the Fourth Estate are an incorrigible lot, but from all the metaphorical lorgnettes the lady columnists peer down, you’d think they’d never looked in a mirror unclothed when in their prime and smirked ‘Whoah – get a load of that!’ If I’d had a smartphone back then, I’d have been plastering pictures of my 15-year-old self all over the show.
I probably use the word ‘parasexual’ too much; Googling it along with my name, I came up with a number of things I find to be so, including feuding, being monstered on the Internet and having a mate cancel a social engagement at the last minute. But shoplifting is parasexual, make no doubt about it; the anticipation, the antsiness, ending in the sharp stab of joy on completion.
Before you’re actually having sex, it’s a tempting glimpse into the scary, exhilarating ride that awaits you and once you’ve stopped having it, it will do as a substitute; senior shoplifting is often seen as a cry for help – even more so when those concerned have been beautiful and/or famous and now must get used to living lives more ordinary. Film stars from Hedy Lamarr to Winona Ryder have been caught helping themselves to a five-fingered discount. From the time Steve Strange was in court after a ‘shoplifting spree’ involving cosmetics, women’s clothing and climaxing in the tragi-comic carrying off of a £10.99 Teletubbies doll, he seemed marked for an early end. Like love-bites and Maoism, shoplifting is something which needs teenage swag if it’s not to seem pathetic.
From being the best in my year, I have become a scourge of shoplifters, on the look-out for them five mornings a week at my volunteer job in a charity shop. It feels strange for someone like me to be a poacher turned gamekeeper in any area of life. But if we cling too hard to the comforts of our youth, we risk becoming game – and that’s far sadder a fate.