Unlike a lot of teenagers, I didn’t go through the ‘shoplifting phase’ that a lot of them go through. There is a reason for this which I will now share, although it is my absolute deepest and darkest confession and one which I have only ever told a few people in my life.
I can’t quite remember how old I was, but I know I was young – maybe five or six, when I did The Bad Steal. My family and I were shopping in Derby and I was loaded up with riches in the form of a £5 BHS voucher. At that age, most children’s grasp on the value of money is fairly unrealistic so I imagine I had a whole shopping basket of goodies planned.
After a look around I found the thing I wanted – a pale pink spotty pencil case which had a big bow on the corner. It was £4.99. Perfect.
But then I spotted a matching pale pink spotty fountain pen which was £2.99. I asked my older brother if my voucher was enough to buy the pencil case and the pen. He said no and told me that I would have to choose between the two things.
I wanted the pencil case and the pen. But my voucher wouldn’t cover both of them. So what do you think a sweet, innocent and very young child did next? I genuinely shudder when I think of the deviousness of my next move: I put the pale pink spotty fountain pen inside the pale pink spotty pencil case with a bow on the corner. And I went to the till with my £5 voucher, heart pounding. I was almost certain that if I got found out then I would go Straight to Jail so I knew full well that what I was doing was very wrong – but that still didn’t make me back out.
When I got to the till, the lady smiled, cooed at how cute I was and scanned the pencil case. I handed over my voucher and it was all over. She didn’t realise that there was a terrible secret stashed inside that pencil case.
Having the pale pink spotty pencil case and the matching fountain pen did not bring me happiness. Every time I looked at it, I was reminded of what I had done, which I guess was probably the first intentionally Bad Thing I had ever done. The guilt gnawed away at me for a couple of years, until I rather theatrically buried both the pencil case and the pen into a bonfire that my Dad had built and watched my secret burn away.
So this is why, a decade later, I didn’t go through the shoplifting phase that a lot of my friends went through. I think the guilt would have killed me.
I’m telling you this because I think all this is what makes it difficult for me to understand shoplifters. As a small business owner with a large shop, it is an issue that is almost impossible to battle with. It makes it harder to cope with all the many other day-to-day issues of running a shop when you have to be on high alert and suspicious of everyone all the time.
I always try to understand people’s actions but I do admit that I struggle to comprehend how people’s consciences can allow them to just take whatever they want from whoever they want. I can just about understand why teenagers do it – testing boundaries/rebelling and all that, but I can’t understand how people can reach adulthood without a moral compass which stops them from stealing. Of course it would be very naïve to not expect to have issues with shoplifters when you have a shop filled with beautiful things, but the stress of it all is a killer. Quite simply, I never imagined that the problem would be as bad as it is.
I’m glad that my crime spree ended before I had lost all my baby teeth, but I do wish that I understood a little better why people can see a shop like ours and decide to steal from us. I often wonder if they even consider how the consequences of their actions are affecting us, and what it will mean for our business and our lives.
Anyway, despite feeling completely disheartened about everything right now, I’m glad I have confessed my Deepest Darkest Secret to the world!