No, despite the season, the title of this post is not a religious message. After all, I live and work in one of the largest Muslim areas in the country and am myself Christian, and count among my friends people who have identified as everything from Hindu to Jewish, via Jedi and Pastafarian. Whether you look to Jesus for your guidance or the Great Spaghetti Monster, though, one thing we all hope to be able to do is place faith in other humans to be decent and behave towards others as we would like them to behave towards us.
When I opened the shop, I was obviously in the full glow of the fact that we’d managed to do it, to achieve this dream and be able to take it forward to become something that would help both us and other people – one small shop where it’s safe for coeliacs and the lactose intolerant to eat may not change the world in one go, but enough people get the idea that you don’t have to sacrifice quality, texture and flavour along with the gluten and the lactose in your diet, mainstream manufacturers will eventually get the message and we might have a more enjoyable time buying and consuming our food.
Yet I digress. Obviously, I knew the art on the walls had a value, as does the cash in the till and the food and coffee we sell. But with the exception of the cash they’re not the kind of items that tend to get nicked, we don’t have any Picasso, Holbein or Matisse on the walls – anyone wanting to see the work of the artists on our walls can easily do so walking round the East End for an hour or so. This was probably naive of me. I’ve been blessed with a few weeks of having more or less nothing but lovely people coming into the shop and enjoying what we have in there, whether they buy anything or not. Yes, there was one woman who tried to get me to fall for a note-changing scam, a bloke who tried to pass off a fake £50 note and another who spent his time in the shop trying to scope out my till, but you expect there to be a bit of this and I was prepared for it to happen.
Yesterday, on the other hand, I was well and truly caught out. Two young women came into the shop and, after a fair bit of effort on their part, they managed to distract me enough for one of them to steal my HP Touchpad, a 40th birthday present from my brother. The worst of it was, I had a feeling they were a bit ‘off’, but decided to treat them as normal, upright humans rather than listening to the alarm bells. Not that the alarm bells would have done much good under the circumstances, because until the theft had occurred there was nothing concrete I could have used to kick them out of the shop, and they were relying on my basic decency for their plan to work.
The police response has been disappointing – understandably so, really, since we’re hardly talking about the Great Train Robbery here – and based more along the lines that I should be able to claim on the insurance, rather than taking note of the fact that the girls will have been caught on CCTV entering and leaving my shop and might be identified and apprehended as a result. I’ve had to lobby quite strongly to get them to send out a fingerprint team to collect evidence against the girls in question: it was only on reminding them that the crime committed was cynical, premeditated and carried out by two professional thieves operating as a team, instead of an opportunistic grab and run, that they eventually agreed to do so.
I was angry at the time it happened, and not a little shaken. I was upset at the loss of my brother’s very kind gift to me. And I was furious at myself for being fooled into it happening in the first place. By 4pm I couldn’t face being open any more and decided to close the shop early and go out for a walk instead to clear my head.
Today, I’m still angry, but only with the thieves. Being angry with myself serves no useful purpose, and would only be resolved by my changing my behaviour in the future. Do I need to be more circumspect about the people coming into my shop? Apparently I do. But if I start treating every person who enters my shop as a potential thief, those women will have stolen more than a computer I can easily replace. They’ll have stolen a friendly welcome, they’ll have stolen the pleasure I had seeing people come into my shop, that brought a genuine smile to my face. They’ll have stolen my dream that had only just become reality, and I’m not prepared to let them have that.
So I choose to have faith in humanity. I choose to believe that the vast majority of people coming into my shop are decent, law-abiding citizens. I choose to keep on taking pleasure in people deciding to come into my shop… but with systems and processes that prevent any recurrence of yesterday’s events so that anyone less deserving of my faith in basic human decency decides their efforts would be wasted.
Happy Easter, everyone.