John Walsh: So far away – and so baffled

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The Independent Online

Trust me to miss the party. I was away on holiday last week when the London riots were in full swing, enduring a punishing schedule of Duomo-inspecting, mohito-flooring and kebab-incinerating when one of my children rang from Dulwich, south-east London, to say she was home-alone and there were sirens everywhere. Should she be worried?

I explained to her that the trouble was caused by an illiterate, unemployed, benefits-subsisting army of young malcontents, raised on (I was making this up as I went along) a diet of gangsta rap and Grand Theft Auto to think you should get your hands on cars, champagne, firearms and fancy goods by any means at your disposal "or die tryin'". One way was by jumping on a London-wide wave of ferocity that was the result of a police shooting, several miles away in Tottenham.

I told her that the looters currently swarming all over Clapham Junction, Brixton and East Dulwich were driven by a need to acquire riches and goods (jewellery, flash footwear, computer stuff, iPhones) that was way beyond their limited resources. And that it shouldn't affect her at all.

"They've just turned over the Cheese Block in Lordship Lane," she said. "What's that about?" The Cheese Block, I should explain, is a top fromage emporium where the Dulwich dinner-party-throwing classes congregate on Saturdays, buying slabs of Emmenthal and Cashel Blue, orange roundels of Epoisses, chunks of goat's cheese encased in nettles. It's run by a Sikh with a wry and sardonic expression. My head briefly filled with the thought of swaggering hoodies emerging through the broken glass clutching handfuls of Bleu d'Auvergne (and remembering to get some nice charcoal biscuits.) Or hissing to each other, "Bruv, I got more Cornish Yarg than I can handle. You want some?"

I explained to my daughter that this still wasn't merely wanton destruction on her doorstep, that there was a point to it. "I think they're saying, in effect, 'We want to have what the smug rich middle-classes have,'" I suggested. "That's probably it."

"I just got a text," she said. "They've gone and trashed Hope & Greenwood. What were you saying?" Hope & Greenwood, I should point out, is a cute sweetshop in East Dulwich, done up like an Edwardian confectioners with huge jars of gobstoppers, cherry lips, humbugs, liquorice and other delights for posh tinies. The looters had smashed up the dinky sweetshop?

And it was then I realised that I didn't have the faintest clue why a platoon of violent and vengeful youths would destroy a sweetshop, to no material benefit of any kind to themselves. Except for the kick in the face ("Oi! Notice us!") it administered to the middle classes, who have never seen such people in their street; but who will damn well know about them – and talk about them – in that street for a long time to come.

The mugging designed to make you feel grateful

I was parking the car yesterday morning when a burly gent in a grubby bowling shirt appeared. He reached down into the road and held up a gold ring. "Look, look!" he cried. "A ring! Someone has dropped it! I think eet's gold!" He made a show of examining the yellow circlet, then jabbed it under my nose. "Look! Ees hallmark!"

My word, I said, this certainly is your lucky day. "Yes yes!" he went on gleefully – then his expression clouded. "Bot I wonder eef it feets." He tried to jam it over his fat index finger, unsuccessfully. "No good for me," he said, his mouth downturned like a sad clown's. "But maybe you..."

It didn't fit over my chubby index finger either, but the man made a lot of Hurrah-the-glass-slipper-fits noises and told me to keep it. "I lucky, you lucky." he beamed. "This lucky day for you."

In 30 seconds this stranger and I had been through a roller-coaster of emotions. Then I got out of the car and the mood changed. "You give me money in return," he said, with his face against mine. "I need money for coffee." If you want money, I countered, take this gold ring to the jewellers in the High Street and they'll give you a hundred quid for it.

"No good," he said. "I Polish. No document. You gif me money instead." Polish, eh? Resigning myself to being scammed once more, I dug out my wallet and gave him a fiver. "You have more money," he said. "Gif me more." How much coffee do you need? I asked. You can buy gallons of the stuff for a fiver.

Whereupon he shambled off. I still have the ring. The High Street jewellers weren't impressed. Some sort of gilt-plated nickel alloy, they said, worth nothing. But I was oddly pleased to encounter a form of mugging that works by making the victim feel grateful to the mugger rather than intimidated.

The 103-year-old nun with some catching up to do

I'm intrigued by Sister Teresita, the 103-year-old Spanish nun who, after spending 84 years closeted away from the world in the Buenafuente del Sistalin convent, north of Madrid, will emerge tomorrow to celebrate (ironically) World Youth Day and meet the Pope.

This charming lady entered the convent aged 19. The World of Youth will be a surprise to her. So, presumably, will be the airfield where the Pope celebrates Mass on Sunday, and the funny machines flying about the sky. So will allusions to the eurozone, bailouts, Twitter, Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, piercings, and Madonna ("No, dear, this is another one..."). But her meeting with the Pope should be interesting. What will they talk about? Will his PR minders have a word with her and say, "Talk about what you like, but we'd rather you didn't ask what he did in the war"? And will she reply, "What war?"