As the chains disappear from the high street, either from the hostile financial climate or from their gradual obsolescence — who needed Jessops when every phone contained a camera? — the question of what to do with shopping streets is a puzzle. No-one wants row after row of charity emporia and betting shops, but what else can muscle its way in?
I have long held the theory that eventually only shoe shops will remain, because it is simply less trouble to try shoes on, even in the face of a bored nineteen-year-old who can proffer either the right size or the right colour, but not the combination of both.
The alternative is to order shoes online, wait in for when they arrive, try them on at home, wander round your house wondering if they really fit or are just a nice colour before repackaging them, trudging up to the post office, waiting an hour in a queue because it is the only post office in a ten mile radius, and is therefore catnip to people with complex postal issues, getting some mysterious certificate of postage in case they deliver them to a skip out the back, and then realising it would simply have been quicker to go to cobbler school, and make your own.
The much-touted solution to boarded-up high streets is the pop-up shop: a temporary store selling seasonal goods or other random stuff. But opening a shop doesn’t seem very alluring now the British Retail Consortium has released their new figures on retail crime, which cost £1.6 billion last year. That’s a lot of pairs of shoes.
Shoplifting is the most common retail crime – making up 83% of all incidents. But more alarmingly, one in twenty shops was robbed last year, which would put off plenty of potential shopkeepers. It’s one thing to have to cope with light-fingered customers swiping items, but another thing entirely to be faced with someone demanding the contents of your cash register with menaces.
But by far the saddest statistic in this report is that police have reported growing instances of theft of groceries rather than, say, jewellery. In other words, while some shoplifting is organised crime (stealing high-value stuff to sell on), an increasing number of customer thefts are people stealing food, nappies, and other essentials.
Victor Hugo realised that his readers would sympathise with the hero of Les Misérables – a criminal – only if he had been convicted of a crime which we could imagine ourselves committing. Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. It is a sorry indictment of progress that the same crimes are being committed 200 years after Hugo’s story begins. And didn’t that one end with a revolution?
I am far too old, and too tall, to have the hots for Daniel Radcliffe. But he really does seem like an incredibly decent man, especially considering he has been one of the most famous people alive since he was eleven. For a start, he shows no inclination to take it easy, cackling like Scrooge McDuck at his enormous wealth.
Rather, he seems determined to strive to be good at things: a Broadway musical, a sitcom based on an obscure Russian writer, and now a film in which he plays Allen Ginsberg. Amid the good reviews from Sundance, he found himself questioned repeatedly about the gay sex scenes in the film.
In a time when homophobic bullying is still commonplace, Radcliffe said, ‘I don’t know why a gay sex scene should be any more shocking than a straight sex scene. They’re both equally un-shocking’. So not just hard-working, but sensible too.