Poundland, The Thief And The Observers

More cops, more drama, when on my way to my favourite retro bakery yesterday, I witnessed another explosive scene being detonated on one of the corners of my local high street. This sort of kerfuffle is typical of the area and the style of friction can vary from a panto-style slanging match to a full blown fight with blood and hair extensions flying about.

When I approached the ‘centre’ I noticed people were lined up on both sides of the high street. Strange, I thought, as lots of them appeared to be using their phone to film and/or take pictures. What were they waiting for? A local parade?

It was then that I heard a woman screaming and when I turned my head, my initial thought had been that she was fighting off a man. Both her and the man seemed to struggle to remain upright. They were pulling and pushing. The woman was screaming on top of her lungs.

“Noooooooo,” she screamed. “Noooooooo!”

I wondered what was going on and asked the three guys standing next to me. Two of them were filming the battle that took place in front of us.

“She’s a thief,” said the guy who wasn’t filming. “She nicked something from the shop.”

“Yeah, she’s mad” said one of the guys without taking his eyes from his screen.

“That’s the security guy ,innit,” he then added. I could see him zooming in, trying to get a clearer picture of the woman. She was in vain trying to wrestle herself free from the firm grip of the security guard. Her jacket and top were halfway up, baring her midriff and exposing her truck-like tattoo. It could have been a camper van.

“Did she take something from the phone shop?” I asked the guys.

“No man, that’s the security guard from Poundland,” said one of them.

It’s one of the things I always wondered: why does Poundland employ a security guard? Now I realised, there was actually a purpose to it as the shop had to protect the many £1 items in-store from the wandering hands of their customers.

I could still hear the woman scream to ‘let her go’ whilst her whole body was fighting to get herself loose from her trapped position – yet my mind wondered off again. As, I tried to imagine what sort of item got the woman so excited, she just had to have it?

I then felt someone grabbing my arm and turned around. An older woman with a lot of grey and bushy hair stared at me with a bewildered look. She asked me if I had a phone. I did not respond immediately as I was still thinking: what could that thieving woman have found so irresistible in Poundland that she was happy to risk to go on police records? She didn’t look poor and she certainly did not look underfed. If she had been, surely she would have gotten herself something with a bit more substance from a different shop? I was consumed by that thought.

I then saw the old woman asking other people whether they had a phone. Despite this being 2013, and considering the fact that we live in an era where kids receive an iPhone for their first birthday, no one seemed to have a phone on them. Even the ones who were still filming, claimed not to have one.

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The woman came back to me: “You have a phone?”

She appeared very stressed.

“Yes I do”.

“Call the police,” she said. “Now”. ‘Call them. Now.”

I told her I believed the police were probably already involved by now.

The woman seemed on the verge of being hysterical. ‘

“They are assaulting this poor woman’. “They are abducting her child!”

“What?? No. No. This is not what’s happening. She stole something from Poundland.”

The old woman’s arms were flailing in all directions. “It does not matter,” she said. “Look what they are doing to her! They should call the police and not take the law into their own hands like that!”

I wanted to tell her: look what the woman is doing to that poor security guy – but I said nothing.

“Are you calling them?’ the woman demanded.

And of course, I called the police. What was I supposed to do? I first got through to an exchange centre where they ask you what it is you need so I told them what was happening and they told me to hold on.

I waited for a moment but the line got disconnected.

By then, a police car appeared and stopped in front of Poundland. I thought things got sorted and did not call back 999. The old woman made a beeline for the police and I wandered off

Then I got a blocked call. I knew straight away it was the police calling me back. I told them what was going on and said a woman made me call them as she’d thought the woman in question was being handled too brutally. The police man reacted by telling me off for clearing the line earlier on.

“I so did not,” I said all vexed. “But I agree that I shouldn’t have called in the first place.”He laughed, told me the police was now on it and thanked me for the call.

And so I had more time again to think about what possesses someone to steal from a shop where each item cost £1. What is so precious that you just cannot stop yourself to steal it and risk the wrath of the burly security guard?

It is possible that this woman believed that nobody would miss or care about an item costing £1 only and perhaps thought that if they did catch her, she’d be let off with a slap on the wrist?

Most of the stuff on offer in these type of shops is very random: soaps, biscuits, crisps and mainly household items. Every now and then you can get your hands on a funky mug or an autobiography published by a Z-celebrity which upon release, two months before, cost £15 for one whole week but can now be yours for, well, £1.

I am not condoning shoplifting at all. I just think that if you are planning to steal something, do it properly. Get yourself a cashmere jumper, a ridiculously priced Diptyque candle and maybe some Kobe beef.

Don’t go for the live lobster though, they may crawl out from under your coat when you are trying to leave the shop. The claws peeping out from your collar will give away the game and you’ll not only end up with a fine, the lobster will get unnecessary stressed by it all.

Shoplifting and stealing in general always makes me wonder what prompts a person to do it. Is it due to greed or are they in trouble? Are they addicted and need the money? Or perhaps they’re suffering from kleptomania or are they just doing it for the thrill?

Even though I’ve not done any shoplifting myself and find it frankly despicable that people do this, I nevertheless still stand with my initial observation: if you are going to steal something, why the hell would you do it from Poundland? I guess the fine you’ll end up paying will be similar as if you would have stolen from Harrods. True, you’ll probably have to pay for the item you have stolen too. But as you have paid for it and because of Consumer Rights, would that not mean that you will be able to return it within 28 days and as such get your money back?

I don’t know what happened to the woman when the police came but I’d still love to know what it was she stole. Was it a multi-pack of biscuits, a family sized tube of toothpaste or did she fall in love with the autobiography of the X-Factor winner of 2011, Matt Cardle? And we all know, you can’t put value on love. Though, in Poundland, it will cost you. But only £1.

Yet even such small amount proved too costly for the lady with the huge tattoo. Yet the good thing is that once she’s paid the fine and the £1 for the item she stole, she will be reunited with it again. Which is comforting to know. She wanted it so much after all.

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A Sad, Cold, Friday Evening

There I walked with my two colleagues, back towards Old Street tube station, happy the weekend was upon us. One of them went into Argos to get himself that long researched food processor and a shower head, just in time before the wife returns from a month-long stay in Japan. My other colleague and I left the cold, and slipped into a packed Old Street station. I then also said goodbye to him as he travelled by train and needed to walk down a different hallway. Before I went down the escalator, I quickly checked my phone and noticed my dad had called when all of a sudden, I heard someone shout: ‘Get out of the way!’

What I thought were two policemen, ran past me and down the escalator at full speed. I could see how people, walking down the left side of the escalator, jumped neatly to the right. Then all heads on that side, flowed in one sweep to the left, trying to find out the reason of the commotion.

As, what was going on?

It was clear to see that we all wondered. Living in London, you are used to witness a bit more than the odd cat being saved from a tree by a squad of firemen but when something happens in a station, the initial thoughts to spring to mind are: suicide – or terrorism. At least, that’s what I thought. I immediately remembered Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man who had been killed on the Northern Line in Stockwell, at the end of July, in 2005. Police suspected him to be one of the terrorists who had attempted another bomb attack on London Transport the day before and chased him down the escalators. When they got into  the carriage, they killed him at point blank.The man turned out to be innocent. It was a sad moment.

Tensions had been flying high in the aftermath of the London Bombs. I had not been in Stockwell when it happened but was on my way to work. I got on the Northern Line, just a few tube stops before Stockwell Station. The tube never left the station as after sitting in the carriage for ten minutes, we were told to get off and find an alternative route. No further explanation was given. I called my husband to check if he could find out what had happened. There had after all been, another attempt to bomb three tubes and a bus, the day before. He switched on BBC News and related back to me.

The death of Charles De Menezes may have happened whilst I was cursing the Northern Line for another delay.

It is something that will always remain with me, even when I had not been there myself. And – despite the fact that it happened 7.5 years ago, I will always carry with me, the fear I felt on the 7th of July when the bombs exploded on three different tubes and a bus, killing 52 people. That fear made me want to move to Brighton.

Also, this week, Prince Harry has shared with the world his fondness for killing the Taliban. It is probably a far-fetched thought but it is not something that if I had been third in line, would have boasted about it in this typical ‘ya ya ya’ style.

I hear that these Taliban people tend to be rather grumpy and volatile and it is suggested that you do not talk about killing their kind, in public.

Of course, I thought, there was also the possibility that the police had been chasing someone down the escalator who they had seen nicking a handbag. Or, that they were just very, very late for an appointment.

So, I went down myself and once I got to the second part of the hall (where you need to take the stairs), I saw a mass of people coming up. On the southbound platform people were hanging out of the tube doors, whilst others made their way out. I heard people say too many things: someone had died, someone had a heart attack, someone had been murdered and it went on. A girl with a lisp said it was “all very fishy” and decided to hang around me trying to fill me in on her findings. In fact, after a little while, I sneaked away from her as I had a feeling she might ask me to ‘Facebook’ her. I texted my husband who was leaving Excel (exhibition hall) to tell him to take another route.

The platform attendant ordered everyone to get out of the train. I tried to see what was happening and thought that I saw someone lying on the floor. The platform attendant’s voice got louder and louder and was now ordering everyone to MOVE OUT! He then apologised a few times for his tone of voice which made me think: ‘aww bless’ but he then burst into shouting again. The Northbound platform, which was heaving with people, were told to vacate too. The dot matrix board no longer showed the next train’s arrival, it now displayed an emergency notification. The girl with the lips appeared again and told me that she had heard that a man, trying to leave the platform, had tripped when he wormed his way through the copious number of people hurrying up the stairs.

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When I walked up the stairs, the sight of someone being resuscitated in one of the tube carriages, hit me. I didn’t see the ill person but I could see a medic’s torso with his elbows raising up and down in CPR mode. It was heartbreaking. I realised that there, was someone who had most probably looked forward to going home to happily start the weekend – yet he or she was dying.

Back up in the ticket hall I noticed they had closed the gates but people were still queuing to get in. I waited near the escalator and called my dad to tell him I was stuck and would call another time. I then called my friend to tell her the same. She was straight on to Twitter to read people’s live comments out to me. None of them really clear on the matter, most seemed surprised by TLF’s reaction.

Everybody was then ordered to leave the station. More policemen and women ran into the ticket hall. Red lights were flashing on the notice boards, spelling: Emergency – Do Not Enter. Alarms were blaring outside the gates. It was madness.

I checked the TFL board and read that the Northern Line had been partially suspended due to an ill person on the train. I had realised that and even though I believe it is terrible what happened to that person, I had never seen such a reaction to something like this. In fact, when I went up to street level, the sight of many police cars snaking around Old Street roundabout, caught my eye. The area was flashing with blue lights. A lot of people were still hanging around in the freezing cold, some desperately trying to get on one of the packed busses to somewhere, others to watch the scene unfold – or to update their Twitter with live footage obviously.

It was still buzzing with news about Old Street; some people believed there had been a suicide, a few reported that they had seen a lot of blood. I wondered if these people had been really there. In the meantime I have seen a picture online showing blood on the stairs. It must have been from the man who fell.

In the end, the station got completely closed and I walked to Farringdon to go home. By the time I got there, I wasn’t  sure if my toes were still attached to my feet but was happy to see that by then, the Northern Line was now running again, albeit with minor delays. Oh, this was a delay I was happy to accept. Old Street Station remained closed.

But this makes me think; what was that all about? I understand completely that pre-cautions have to be taken, especially if someone is dying but was the whole response not a bit over the top? All these police men,the flashing lights in the stations, the emergency notifications? You’d honestly think the ill person was carrying Anthrax on his/her body.

I don’t know, perhaps I come across as a woman with mercury flowing down her veins but I just think it was too much. I was not even bothered about the fact I was getting delayed, it was all rather dramatic, if not a little frightening – this guerrilla approach.

Then again, if it saved a life, then of course, it is worth it. And – maybe this is the way TFL has to deal with situations like these in order to save lives whilst controlling the never very happy commuters. The thing is and despite their best efforts, I don’t know if the person survived and it is such a shame that one has to die – on that darn Northern Line.

Why Our Smartphones Deserve Flowers And Lingerie

There was that defining moment in London Bridge tube station where I came to the final conclusion that we’ve become people who lead lives weaved around our phones, Apps and social media.

Interestingly enough, this conclusion came by watching two twenty-something girls larking around on the Southbound platform of the Northern Line.

Both dressed in their obligatory Superdry ensemble, they took snaps of each other on their Smartphones and when one of the girls came to sit next to me on the bench, I noticed how she immediately started ‘photoshopping’ one of her pictures. The other girl, put her phone back in her bag and burst out in an impromptu session of playing the air guitar.

“What are you doing, you nutter?”, the photoshopping girl asked. She looked perplexed.

The other girl stopped her Not So Wild Rocker impersonation and said calmly: “I’m creating a Facebook update”.

“What do you mean?”

The other girl took her phone out of her bag again and didn’t say anything whilst punching in letters on her screen. She then handed the phone over to her friend.

“You are totally mad! You’ve just done some rocking on the platform so you can write it on your wall?”

“Yeah – and?”

“You crazy!”

Well I was taken aback too. I had just witnessed this remarkable scene with gaping mouth. Some girl had done a quirky thing on purpose, with the eye on an instant post on her Facebook.

A set-up to entertain her followers sitting in her handbag. Her life, clearly evolving around her phone and social media. It was a premeditated status update.

Of course, I had already established before that particular moment in London Bridge, that most of us seem to covet a particular close relationship with our phones. Especially in the last three, four years since Smartphones boomed and everyone started building themselves, a ‘window to their life’ through the many social platforms up for selection. In fact, that close relationship has become an extra special one.

As, where our mobile phone was once a tool to call, text and calculate, it now has become the equivalent of a modern age Swiss knife – with a parallel world attached to it. It is therefore fair to say that the possibilities of the modern day mobile phone have excelled our wildest imaginations (who would have thought hey?) – and don’t most of us exploit it to ridiculous extent?

Look around you on a busy street and what do you see?

Aside from the usual standards, you will see people with their phones out.

Most of them will zip like well dressed robots through the street whilst peering at their screen. They may be verifying the route to take or check their emails yet quite a few though will be in the process of updating their Twitter, Facebook and the likes.

Let me tell you, to me, these people are a bloody pain as I am always jumping out of the way for them.

Completely oblivious to their surrounding they are and always appear to move upon a wonky track. You can recognise them from the back by their zigzagging and slower pace, their necks stretched to allow their chin to rest on their collar bone. It’s a shame they no longer wish to participate in ordinary city life but I guess, it is more important to think of a funky hashtag with the eye on setting the tone for the latest trending in Twitter town.

When I see them crossing a road whilst still staring at their phone, I can’t help but mumble: bloody idiots.

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When you go past a bus stop these days, you will most probably see a crowd of people and almost all of them will have their heads bowed by default – focussing on their phone. These people will then get on that bus, swipe their Oyster card with one hand and with the other firmly clutching their phone, they’ll manage to press re-fresh in order to verify how many more ‘likes’ they’ve accumulated since they’ve updated their wall five minutes ago.

Obviously we see them everywhere, the people who are looking down rather than up. For, how much is the number increasing of couples sitting face to face in a cosy restaurant, their eyes fixed on the object of their desire yet it is not the person in front of them they’re concentrating on, it is their phone? Sometimes you see them laughing hysterically – usually it is because they’ve seen a funny Lolcatz appear in their news feed or are following a hilarious trend.

It just seems to be a true modern day sight.

It did go all so quickly though. I can remember the initial flush of love I felt when I got my first Smartphone. All of a sudden, there was no need any more for me to switch on my laptop as I now had the world in my hand. Everything seemed possible, I was forever connected, life was so much more appealing this way. Yet like with a lot of extreme passionate relationships, the rot sets in very quickly. Oh, I am still happy with my phone and I am absolutely not considering divorcing it. I however realise how much society has changed because of it – and it’s not for the better.

Why is it that so many of us have become totally obsessed by our mobile? How did we become these addicts who are always doing something on our phones but rarely use it to call any more? And, have we really forgotten what life was pre-Smartphone?

These days, I don’t see many people reading a paper or book on the tube. Instead, I watch them flicking coloured balls or fat chickens over their screen. Others are forever trying to pick up the WiFi at each station where they get about thirty seconds to go on-line The urge to drop a witty anecdote on-line is so big, you see them licking their lips as stress mode sets in when the WiFi cannot be picked up at a particular tube stop.

That ‘special’ relationship we have with it, has become too intense. So much even, I am surprised to see that we don’t yet buy our mobile, flowers and lingerie for Valentine’s Day. Our phones are after all the thing we fondle the most. We eat with it, sleep with it, hell we even take it with us to the bathroom.

My husband is always surprised to see me going to the loo to then read an update on my Facebook wall whilst he is waiting for me. That is another thing by the way: waiting time.

It seems to be almost unimaginable these days to wait for someone – just wait whilst doing nothing. No, we must take out that phone as soon as the other person leaves us for even a few minutes. There are far too many things to check out on-line to waste such precious time by doing nothing.

The option we now have to always be connected, wherever we are, has split the phone obsessed people in two different groups: the exhibitionists and the voyeurs. As, have you not noticed how some people never post anything on-line but always appear to be fully informed on others’ whereabouts? They are the ‘scrollers’ who hoover the lives up of others without giving anything back in return. Then there are the exhibitionists, who love nothing more than playing gallery with their lives and beside the jolly holiday snaps and quirky updates, you also get to know about the instant they are pouring themselves a beer. Re-fresh your phone whilst cooking a mean chill con carne and you’ll read the newest post: ‘Mmmm.. good beer’.

We may get irritated by such inane comments or laugh and get ourselves a beer too, we nevertheless keep checking and reacting by swiping our screen vigorously in any sort of environment. We know most of the content is rubbish and we realise the silly games we play won’t increase our conjunctive thinking power but, addicts as we are, we just can’t stop ourselves.

Yes, we’ve all changed so much but there are some good things about all this too. Having the internet in my pocket has saved the day on many occasions. Whether it was when I got lost in Manila or when we had a power cut at work and needed to ‘Google’ telephone numbers to inform our clients we were going home, or even better, when I saw a pair of pretty shoes in a shop and immediately checked their competitor’s website to see that they were offering the same for £25 less. I walked out of that shop, straight into the other to buy them – and thanked my phone.

The downside however is that we no longer appear to be people who connect with each other in real life. We seem more bothered about the constant stimulation we require through our phone and we appear to care less about the quality of it all. That makes me wonder what the future will bring if we allow ourselves to continuously sink into the parallel world we built inside our phones rather than focussing on the reality around us?

Is there a chance that the future generation will become a social awkward lot as a result of our obsession?

Then again, they will probably have enough Apps to entertain them for a lifetime.

Despite the fact that I do not like to be surrounded by people with their heads bowed nor do I enjoy seeing them loving their mobile more than their supposed beloved, I nevertheless agree that today’s phone is undoubtedly, a damn, fine thing. And let’s not forget, beside all modern age options they offer such as socialising on-line flicking coloured balls over your screen and being able to ‘Photoshop’ yourself to the extent of being unrecognisable, they allow you to do these incredible things too, like; call, text or calculate.

If only we could refrain ourselves of all this lovemaking in public.

When Miming Is No Longer An Art Form

The age of the artists I prefer, can vary anywhere from 18 to over 80, though most of them are long dead by now. One thing they all have in common though is that they play their own instruments and/or sing live.

I personally do not think that someone like Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters would have settled for miming the words to their songs. Of course, miming on stage is not a modern-day ailment. Even though we’d like to think that all this miming of late is due to the fact that the modern-day popstrel ‘s voice is just too weak or that there is no possible way that they would be able to emulate the recorded song which has been overproduced by the particularly zealous sound engineers in the studio.

For years, people have been miming to their own songs. In fact, on a program like Top of the Pops, it was what you had to do if you wanted to have a UK hit. It was the ultimate platform of that once upon a time era (the pre-internet days) and whatever rule TOTP inflicted on the artist, the artist went with it. Bands like Nirvana, The Cure and The Smiths, thankfully made a mockery of this forced miming. Others such as Milli Vanilli and Britney Spears embraced it as it was the only chance for them to sound somewhat decent.

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Of course we all remember the tragic Milli Vanilli Saga. For some time, the rumour persisted that none of the two guys actually sang a single note and there were whispers that two other men were in fact recording their tracks. Milli Vanilli, it was said, were just two puppets in the whole charade, dreamed up by a recording label. However, nothing was proven until that faithful moment in 1989 when their song ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ skipped during a supposedly live performance on MTV. The world felt cheated and reacted brutally to this fraud. Eventually and after a long battle with addiction, one of the two Millis committed suicide. Whether his spiralling down the abyss was due to the miming revelation, we’d never know for sure. Fact is, in retrospect, it almost seems laughable how these two guys got lynched by their once adoring audience. As, ever since this incident, the unexplainable desire to mime has become standard practice within the industry.

The usual reason given for this deception is that the artist would have to jump and dance so much on stage, there is absolutely no way they could deliver such an energetic spectacle whilst singing pitch perfect too. Now, in the case of the little cute Chinese girl : Lin Miaoke, who charmed everyone with her perfect rendition of ‘Ode To The Motherland’ at the Beijing Olympics Grand Opening ceremony, it wasn’t that she couldn’t sing live due to heavy break-dancing and some ingenious spinning on her head. No, she mimed the song because the real singer (who by the way won a competition to sing at the Olympics) was deemed to be not beautiful enough to take such centre stage.

This week, in the news, we heard about Beyonce who lip synced the Star Spangled Banner during the inauguration of President Obama. Then straight after, we were being told by the press that Beyonce DID sing live after all but that the backing band mimed instead. All so confusing and pretty much shocking that nor band or artist were considering playing or singing live for a barely five-minute slot. Madonna also relied on a recorded track when she had performed at the Super Bowl. Though, it has to be agreed that at least, Madonna’s face showed the strain of her acrobatic routine on stage when halfway her performance, it turned an alarming shade of red. Meanwhile Beyonce and her backing band, being totally static during the performance, had no real excuse not to sing or play live.

That makes me think: why stick to simple lip syncing? If you are going to mime, do it properly. Consider the style of the Mime Marcel Marceau and pretend you are trying to escape a box or if you want to stretch your style, try to impersonate a mountain goat on stage.

I am kidding of course and won’t stand for any lip syncing myself. As why would I have to pay so much money to see someone pretending to be a singer? Where is the rock’ n roll in that?

I mean, if I would want to see someone mime, I’d ask my dad to lip sync to an Elvis record and he’ll do it for free. Knowing him, he’ll incorporate the jerky arm moves and hip shaking and I wouldn’t have to leave the house to enjoy such grand show.

So, is it that these artists are just too scared to reveal that in reality, they’re just the pretty face with not much talent we suspected them to be? Or has technology become so advanced that we believe that everything can be done digitally? Why bother to strain your vocal chords if the machine can do it for you?

I personally believe that if an artist is miming, the cost to see them perform should be reduced by half or they should at least make everyone who’s buying a ticket, aware, that there will be no live singing offered: ‘as the artist can’t be bothered really’.

Luckily, my preferred choice of music is a universe away from the contemporary mockery on offer. Fact is, if I had been a lover of all things pop and crap, I’d be fuming to find out that my favourite artist is not bothered in the slightest to sing live but is more than happy to accept my hard-earned cash to watch them do a glorified karaoke performance – of themselves.

You know, upon reflection, even though I was kidding earlier on, the more I think about it, the more I believe that these ‘artists’ must give us a bit more value for money. They’re not going to drop the lip syncing any time soon. So here I am after all, up for them to explore the unusual approach of miming par excellence and as such, for them to consider climbing out of an imaginary box whilst doing that singing simulation thing of theirs. Although, I would always appreciate an impersonation of a mountain goat too.

Who knows then, miming may once again become an art form after all.