I don't have the world's best memory for faces, but today I was the first to spot him: yes, the Erudite Space has its very own shoplifter. He slopes in, shambles around the shop, and puts small books in the ample pockets of his tatty, unappetising mac. He's particularly fond of Observer books and anything about transport. Let's call him Oswald.
Every bookshop in town has banned him from their premises, but I don't know how that works: I wonder if their own Security Guards, or the Police, march him bodily out into the street, and then I wonder how they stop him from just wandering back in again. I don't think he's ever been arrested. We don't have him banned for some reason, perhaps because we're a charity and we're just supposed to be kind and put up with that sort of thing. So someone has to follow him round the shop, firmly but gently taking books from him and putting them back on the shelves, and answering a string of questions, each one of which makes sense by itself, but which have no logical sequence, are often repeated, and don't really constitute a conversation.
I'm not sure he even knows where he is most of the time. I'd always wondered how long he had been like that, and what horrible trauma in his life had started it all.
A chap I'd earlier directed to the Computing section overheard me warn the Boss of Oswald's presence. And, incredibly, then said right out that as a ten-year-old train enthusiast he had often seen Oswald, then in his twenties but still trainspotting. It was apparent he couldn't fully look after himself even then: perhaps he'd lacked the sense of what other people are, ever since birth. The classmates had assumed he was the sort of person their mums had in mind when they told them never to talk to Strange Men.
All of which means that for the best part of half a century a succession of people have had to provide shelter, food, protection from arrest and accident, and protection of others from inadvertant harm, from Oswald's blithe irresponsibility. In all this time no-one has had the courage or the wherewithal to sieze the initiative and change matters for the better.
Which puts Oswald in unlikely company: the latest campaign by the charity who run our shop is highlighting the effect on the poorest people of a system that has provided shelter, resources and legal protection for large financial institutions, while struggling, and now failing, to protect others from being harmed by their actions.
Sometimes I think that it's time we should all stop just quietly putting the books back on the shelves, and start making arrests.