16/1/12 (The gloomiest day of the year)
Fifty years ago England was a different place; there were penalties, there was shame and social oblique. In those dark and distant times, alive in the memory of only a few, TV pundit and panel game star Isabel Lady Barnett committed suicide after being caught stealing a tin of fish from her local shop. One Proff Joad, a popular broadcaster lost his whole career, popular and academic, after being caught without a ticket on the underground.
The accusation of theft no longer brings with it great shame, in fact it’s the norm. Last Sunday our church held its annual charity auction of our advent calendar. This was made of paintings done by local artists, a somewhat truncated affair this time as four of the paintings had been stolen.
Last year we had all the lead from the roof lifted. Outside the church there is a mournful notice pinned to a tree showing a drawing of a stolen tortoise. It joins the numerous notices lining our streets showing pet cats, usually ones with good thick coats, eager looking dogs, and fashionably lop eared rabbits, all vanished from their gardens into oblivion. Coarse fish are stolen from our rivers, and I’ve just heard news about the grave of a poodle being smashed apart as there was a rumour that it had been buried in an expensive collar!
London is now more than ever a place of strangers and thieves but this nonchalant attitude towards honesty seems to be nation wide.
It seems that teenagers regularly shop-lift and their parents now regard it as a bit of a lark. Or perhaps they are at it themselves. Some £4.4 billion worth of goods was stolen from British shops last year, and prosecutions for shoplifting are rising.
Something called the “Global Retail Theft Barometer” estimates that British shop-keepers losses add £70 to the bill for every man, woman and child in the country, compared to £65 in France and £50 in Germany.
In picturesque, law-abiding Henley, where many people go to escape from the crime in the Great Wen, a wealthy TV chef has just been nabbed for stealing from Tesco’s self-service checkout machines. Fishermen on our coasts can no longer leave their lobster pots on the harbour or they will be snatched, even if empty. A friend of mine in rural Staffordshire, a former farmer, who has advanced cancer managed to chop some wood for his stove last week. It took him a lot of effort but he relished any chance to do physical work. When he went to collect the logs they’d gone. One of his neighbours did it, he could tell by the tracks of his vehicle in the mud.
If you want to keep it, nail it down, keep it in doors, put up CCTV and only take your dog to the park accompanied by heavies.
This is England; a soft touch, a place of kind prisons, un-paid fines. Our institutions are racked with cupidity and peculation at every level, and externally we are being overwhelmed by barbarians whose custom it is to steal. I once used to think that the “barbarians” must be allowed to come, but now they’ve arrived life is somehow degraded for everyone.