YOU ARE WHAT YOU STEAL

In his youth, Donal Lynch went through a phase of nick­ing stuff, un­til an in­ci­dent scared him straight

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FIRST PERSON -

Ire­mem­ber when I fi­nally got caught shoplift­ing, the mother of a friend of mine sighed, and said, “It was ob­vi­ously a cry for help”. I nod­ded vig­or­ously when heard this, as it seemed to sug­gest that I had been the sorry vic­tim in the whole thing. Which was def­i­nitely a ge­nius take on things, as far as I was con­cerned. But the truth, when I look into my sullen ado­les­cent soul, is that I just wanted to not have to pay for stuff. My ‘cry’ was for free CDs and mag­a­zines, and the ‘help’ came from my light fingers and in­no­cent ap­pear­ance. I couldn’t even say I fell in with the wrong crowd. I was en­tirely self-taught. To be real about it, I the wrong crowd.

To­day, I know steal­ing is deeply wrong, and no amount of youth­ful ex­plo­ration should end in a five-fin­gered dis­count at a lead­ing depart­ment store. I’m not try­ing to por­tray my­self as some love­able scallywag. But to my 15-yearold self, shoplift­ing did not seem like a re­motely shame­ful ac­tiv­ity. It seemed, in fact, like a very nec­es­sary bit of re­bel­lious bal­ance in a child­hood in which pi­ano lessons were se­ri­ously con­sid­ered as a pos­si­bil­ity. I knew shoplift­ing was more as­so­ci­ated with loopy housewives than spotty school­boys, but it also had its own spotty-school­boy an­them —

by The Smiths. And it some­how fit­ted into some hazy stu­dent no­tions I had about re­dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth. “Prop­erty is theft, any­way, so you may as well nick some prop­erty” — that sort of thing.

A huge part of it was the adrenaline rush. The co­me­dian Eleanor Tier­nan says that the only time she feels truly free is right af­ter she ex­its se­cu­rity at the air­port and be­gins to float to­wards duty free. I am aware of this sen­sa­tion — some­where be­tween an en­dor­phin rush and a Val­ium — but I have to say it prob­a­bly pales be­side the feel­ing you get when you’re walk­ing out of a shop with some­thing un­paid-for un­der your school uni­form. You are now one up on the civil­ian world, and you click your heels all the way back to your poster-cov­ered bed­room, where you pore over your stolen swag like a

was Sho­plifters of the World Unite

rob­ber baron of yore. Some­times, in my haste to get some­thing out of the shop, I’d pick up the wrong thing, and would feel out­raged when I got home. “How could they let me risk ev­ery­thing to steal if they’re go­ing to have messed-up sizes like this?”

Some­where in­side my warped moral com­pass, I still had what I thought of as stan­dards. I only stole from places that could “af­ford” it — so no lit­tle fam­ily places or ac­tual peo­ple I could iden­tify — and some­times, in an ex­pan­sive mood, I would take things and leave them in other parts of the shop­ping cen­tre for peo­ple to “find”. I thought of my­self as a sort of Robin Hood char­ac­ter, ex­cept in­stead of food, I re­dis­tributed glossy life­style mag­a­zines. Those would be more nour­ish­ing, I as­sured my­self.

My ca­reer came to an abrupt end one day on Grafton Street. I took a quick whirl around a large record shop and de­cided that my own col­lec­tion could no longer hold its head up high with­out Ra­dio­head’s

By this stage, I lit­er­ally just thought of steal­ing as shop­ping, so I was more sur­prised than any­thing when a se­cu­rity guard gen­tly touched my arm and asked me to fol­low him into the base­ment, where a big­ger, meaner se­cu­rity guard bran­dished CCTV footage at me.

I’m ashamed to say that my first thought when I saw it was, “Oh no, now when I be­come world fa­mous, this will be the clip they’ll show”. I pic­tured my­self shak­ing my head ge­nially as Michael Aspel queued up the clip on

(“I know, I know, Michael, but it was the mid 90s — ev­ery­one was into Ra­dio­head!”)

Un­for­tu­nately, I never did go on to be­come im­por­tant enough to be vul­ner­a­ble to such embarrassments. But the in­ci­dent did mean that my days Art­ful Dodger-ing my way through record shops were over. Thence­forth, I paid for stuff the old-fash­ioned way, started writ­ing for mag­a­zines in­stead of nick­ing them, and got my adrenaline rush by barely mak­ing flights. Ra­dio­head might have hailed to the thief, but I had to re­tire him.

Back in your bed­room you pore over your stolen swag like a rob­ber baron of yore

The Bends. This Is Your Life

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