I must confess to a criminal past. Yes, it is my shame to admit that I used to steal stuff. Not often, and not much, and only (usually) when necessary, but steal things I did. Here comes my sad and sordid tale.
The first thing I stole was a book called “The Walrus and the Warwolf”. I had just been to my local bookstore back in 1984 and spotted another book on the way out with a cover that was far more exciting that the book I had just purchased. So I picked up 2 copies, pretended to study them for a while, put down only one and hid the other behind my bag. And I was out the door without a crumb of shame and my soul began its rapid slide into damnation.
The book turned out to be excellent, and I took that as a sign that stealing was OK, if a little dangerous. So as an alternative to stealing I started to change price tags on things. Simply go to a big impersonal shop where the staff have no clue, find the thing you want, peel off the sticky price tag and swap it for a cheaper item. Even if I was discovered (and I sometimes was) it looked like a mistake and all that happened was they checked up the real price and I paid it. It worked a treat on books but also on computer games, which even back in the 80s were hugely overpriced.
Roll the clock forward to years as an unemployed bum in Dublin. As a way to get nice things (and as a cheap source of adrenaline) I perfected the art of shoplifting in big shops. I usually went for the cheese, as it was small and relatively expensive. I worked out where all the security cameras were located and discovered a few blind spots, usually around the tea and coffee. I even knew who the “undercover” security guard was, a hard-looking lady who spent most of her time talking to the other security guards. So with all this groundwork it was just to wander in there, wait until nobody was around and transfer an item from my basket and into the nefarious confines of my pocket. My rules were simple: take only one thing and always buy other stuff so even if the thing in my pocket was discovered, it could look like a mistake. I was never caught; but my soul grew ever blacker.
Fast forward to Stockholm in the late 90s. When my son came along, his mum and me had no money, so I became a pram-lifter. While shopping with my son I would put small items into the folds and corners of the pram, or in the small basket underneath, and somehow “forget” about them when it was time to pay. I took only baby food or nappies, figuring that even if they caught me I could sell my story to a tabloid newspaper (Penniless father must steal baby food to feed son!) and come out laughing.
Again, I was never caught, although once a person ran after me and clamped a hand on my shoulder. I almost pissed on myself, aware of the hot package of nappies under the pram, but it turned out that I had left something behind and this kind man was just returning it to me.
I was also forced, back then, to travel for free on the metro, since I could not ay for the travel card. I was caught by inspectors on the train a couple of times but I perfected a “I am a stupid foreigner” routine that got me off painlessly every time. I still do it to this day, when needed, and it has lost none of its power.
These days I do not steal much stuff, except for the odd sweet or nut in the local shop, and the occasional coffee and ice cream in the IKEA canteen. I still make a point of touching stuff displaying a “do not touch” sign, I sneak through the subway barriers even though I have a travel card just for the old thrill, and every once in a while a screw or bolt might tumble into my pocket while browsing in the hardware store.
So children, remember this important lesson: if you steal stuff when you are young, then you will always have more disposable income than everybody else, as well as a pile of great stories to tell. You will also look cool. Your soul, however, will smell like a fish carcass but hey you can’t win them all.