As the chains disappear from the high street, 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 hold 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 19-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 before repackaging them, trudging up to the post office, waiting an hour in a queue because it is the only post office in a 10-mile radius, 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 that the British Retail Consortium has released new figures on retail crime, which cost £1.6bn last year. That’s a lot of pairs of shoes.
Shoplifting is the most common retail crime – 83 per cent of all incidents. But, more alarmingly, one in 20 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 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. In other words, while some shoplifting is organised crime (stealing high-value stuff to sell on), an increasing number of thefts are people stealing food or nappies.
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?
Can Daniel do no wrong?
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 11. 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 the Sundance Film Festival, he found himself questioned 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.