Magazine article The Spectator

Sunday Worship

Magazine article The Spectator

Sunday Worship

Article excerpt

I've given up shoplifting for Lent and feel ever so noble about it. I'm not stealing with the zeal of a convert. It was about time. I was becoming so accustomed to half-inching stuff that the excitement had entirely gone. Now I get more of a thrill from walking out of a shop with everything paid for, and a valid receipt to prove it than I formerly did walking out with my pockets stuffed with loot. I used to scoff, but now I can see that law-abiding respectability is a worthwhile high in itself.

And because I no longer see myself as a petty thief, I've noticed a marked improvement in my interpersonal relationships.

I'm a better person. What the next step will be, after the thrill of paying for everything at the checkout has worn off, I couldn't say. Drugs, I suppose.

My self-promise to not-steal faced a stiffish test last Sunday. Most Sunday mornings, along with thousands of others, I worship at a huge superstore that sells anything and everything at knock-down prices. It's the sort of place where you pick something off the shelf, a screwdriver set, say, costing 99 pence. You show it to your companion and say, with a mixture of indignation and jubilation, 'How can anyone make and sell this for that?' A mental image of sweaty-faced Asian children, too small to see over the workbench, labouring their innocence away in a dingy sweat shop, is conjured up in both your minds.

Fortunately, it's a rhetorical question.

Almost everything defies explanation these days. The issues are either too complicated or are part of some elaborate but undefined confidence trick. And in any case wasn't our own economic lift-off powered by child labour? Well, now it's their turn.

Sorry, guys. You toss the screw-driver set in your shopping basket. Or, if you really want to be cynical about it, you steal it.

The store is built to look like a fairy-tale castle, and, just like a fairy-tale castle, it stands at the end of a wooded valley. I've heard people say that we're all middle class now. But you've only got to shop here on a Sunday morning to realise what nonsense that is. Superstores specialising in end-of-line goods and seconds are few and far between round here, and on Sunday morning the place is packed with old, prematurely aged, clinically obese, ill, illclothed, disabled, careworn, self-consciously poor people and their children.

Last Sunday you could hardly move in the store and the queues for the checkouts were longer even than usual. …

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