The Lost Humour Columns

Accidental Thief

Mainly I’m an accidental thief.  The first time this became apparent was during the Airplane Jacket Incident of ’09.

Flying back to the UK I sat in an exit row on the side of the plane, under that funny little mini-overhead bin that only accommodates the two people right in that row.  I smiled at the lady next to me and promptly fell asleep, lolling against the wall.  After my seven-hour flight I groggily grabbed my black leather jacket from the overhead bin and wended my way towards Passport Control.  I then proceeded to the house of some friends and as soon as was decent fell asleep again for several hours.

I woke.  The house was empty and the larder was bare(ish.)  I took myself out for lunch and it was only as I was fumbling with the jacket buttons, reflecting that they seemed more pernickety than I remembered, that I realised this was a completely different jacket from the one I’d boarded the plane wearing lo those many hours before.

The differences were subtle, but apparent enough once noticed.  I must, therefore, have committed unintentional larceny.  The only saving grace in this instance is the knowledge there were only two jackets in that overhead bin, and I was the second one to get out.  It was an exchange of pilfering rather than a one-sided transaction.

Whatever moral equity that detail provides is somewhat undermined by the fact that to my shame I’ve turned out to be a serial offender.

I borrowed a book from some friends—the same ones, in fact, that I was visiting when my swindling tendencies first became apparent.  It was one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  Knowing I would be returning in a few weeks, I freely made use of their large collection for some reading material to amuse me on the train.

When I made my way back, it was quickly discovered that I came bearing a book I hadn’t actually borrowed.  A copy identical to the one I intended to drop off already rested amongst its colleagues on the special Terry Pratchett shelf.  However, between three of us we couldn’t work out which of the series I had in fact scrounged.  I occasionally show up at their house, ferrying Terry Pratchetts to-and-fro:  “Is this it?”  “No, we already have that one.”   It remains a mystery to this day.

I must further confess that my filching is not always quite so innocently subconscious.  It’s only most of the time that I am an accidental thief.

Whenever I’m packing to go somewhere, some quirk of memory means that I almost invariably forget to pack toothpaste.  Other toiletries and the toothbrush itself find their way into my bag without a hitch, but toothpaste always seems to get forlornly left behind.

What can one do but usurp toothpaste from one’s friends and relations, of whose hospitality one is already taking such full advantage?  Furthermore, even though I always remember to bring other toiletries, once one has gotten into the toothpaste-misappropriation business, it’s only a small step to a squirt of shower gel, a squeeze of body powder, a dollop of face wash.  This gets especially interesting in a shared house.  Upon whose generous nature am I actually trespassing?  Sometimes I never know.

I am constantly aware of the danger of carrying it too far, though.  One minute you’re trying someone’s organic passion fruit and ylang-ylang soap, the next you’re surreptitiously inveigling someone else’s loofah into your luggage.  Before you know it you can’t pass a former friend in the street without them turning to a third party and saying, “She stole our shower curtain, you know!”

Things have yet to escalate to that juncture, and I suspect very few people would actually care about my small but pernicious acts of finagling, but you never can tell—after all, I cannot claim to be equally generous-minded.

I write this sitting on a train where, of the four people sat at a table, I am the only one who booked a seat.  As I made my way up the aisle I overheard one of them say, “Well, here’s three together, and there’s only one seat reserved, and you never know, often people don’t even show up when they’ve—oh.”  This last uttered glumly as they caught sight of me, ticket clutched firmly in hand in preparation for this very eventuality.  Potential pilferers caught in the act!  I took a perverse pleasure in refusing to move for the entire journey, rustling the pages of my Terry Pratchett book at them in a gleefully self-righteous manner.