Thank you, thief

Just want to say a big sarcastic 'thank you' to the thief who stole my back wheel, and after replacing his with mine, carefully - lovingly, even - leaned his old one up against the frame of my bike. This was an act of generosity beyond the call of duty. Perhaps Dylan was right: to live outside the law you must be honest.

Thinking back to my previous experiences with bike theft, I am reminded not just of the bikes lost and the websites trawled looking for them, but, most of all, of the time I checked out a room for rent near Brick Lane. You couldn't close the back door to the house (I kid you not), so I enquired as to what the security arrangements were. 'Trust life', was the nonchalent, slightly condescending (and probably drug-induced) reply from one of the cooler-than-thou inhabitants. Fair enough, I thought... for a few seconds anyway. We were soon discussing where I could buy a secondhand bike in the area. 'I got mine from the market', my interlocutor proudly told me, adding: 'they're all stolen, so they're cheap'. Didn't sound like life could be trusted inside or outside the house.

The reason I am recounting this story is because it's not just criminals replacing bike wheels who are manifesting a fake kind of goodness. The regular folk who moan about crime then buy stolen goods are faking it as well. My point is: it is living inside the law that really requires honesty beyond the call of duty. In the book Bowling Alone, the author laments the decline of civic life in America; and it's hard not to think of Britain in the same vein. For as long as regular citizens kid themselves into thinking that they're good (tax-paying, carbon-neutral, fine wine-drinking) people, but don't have a role to play in fostering and bolstering their local community - in upholding the values they profess to stand for - communities will be rudderless, lawless and backwheel-less. 

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