Column: November 24, 2010

I WAS shopping. More specifically, I was waiting while somebody else shopped, which is not the same thing, as I was essentially purposeless. A dangerous state.

I wandered into the man creche, ie, the technology department, too warm in the big coat which I could not be bothered to remove, and started fiddling with things I would like to own but cannot afford, black, shiny things for producing content which I would never get round to printing out or uploading in any case.

And there was a lovely camera there. One of those new digital SLR ones with HD video. I think I actually drooled. I certainly had occasion to stroke my chin, which reminded me that I hadn’t shaved. I fancied that I looked rugged, but I probably just looked like a terrible old scruffbag who hadn’t had a shave.

Ginger and grey bristles covered my lower face, for I am afflicted with UGC – unexpectedly ginger chin. I do not understand how this happens, as the rest of my hair is a greying brown.

In any case, were I to forego shaving, it would look as if I had bought a novelty half Adrian Chiles, half Groundskeeper Willie mask and that would be rubbish.

I took my hands out of my old jeans, loosened my scarf and touched the camera, like Harry Potter choosing a wand. It felt so right in my hands. I picked it up. This was quite difficult, as the supermarket had attached the camera to the display with a powerful electro-magnet, but I was more or less equal to the task.

I looked at the underside of the camera. I don’t know what I was looking for. There were slots for things down there. But it was academic as I didn’t have enough money. Reluctantly, I attempted to put it back in its place.

I have to say that this was a singularly inappropriate time for the alarm to go off.

Really, what sort of alarm fails to go off when the item is removed and starts blaring when it is put back? If that is not a powerful disincentive for thieves to have second thoughts, then I don’t know what is.

It was at this point that I realised how this might look to the casual bystander. I am not mad. As a young reporter, I spent a lot of time in magistrates’ courts, and had I seen a red-faced unshaven man in scruffy jeans, a straggly scarf and a big coat in the dock accused of shoplifting, I would not have bet on his acquittal.

I looked up. I was surrounded by store employees. Either that, or there’d been a special on polyester trousers at Primark. I prepared my all-purpose excuse, something along the lines of “It wasn’t me. A scary duck did it and ran away” and waited for the inevitable.

But it did not come. There were half a dozen store employees within collaring distance, but none of them came to admonish or apprehend me. If anything, they turned away from me. I took my chance and scarpered into ink cartridges. I watched over the shelf. The alarm was still crying out.

And I realised that this alarm was even worse than I thought. Not only did it sound at the exact opposite of the time it should, it must do this several dozen times a day, so much so that, instead of prompting staff into battle-readiness, it just made them tut a bit and hope for somebody else to turn it off. 

It was the Gillian McKeith of alarms.

Eventually, a middle-aged assistant with a jingling ring of keys did the honours. She looked daggers at me. Embarrassed, I turned and started playing with something, anything.

In this case, it was one of those new tablet computers. I started a film playing, and discovered that those things are quite loud. But it was locked and I didn’t have the password. As gunshots echoed around electricals, I became desperate. I picked it up to look for a volume control.

This alarm sounded at a much more appropriate time. I dropped the tablet and legged it. This is how criminals are made.

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