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from the road: petty crime

At a pinch

Tyler Brûlé on the rise of theft in North America and the retailers who make shopping better.

On a recent swing through North America, it was startling to see how many retail outlets are putting daily essentials under lock and key. From toothpaste to deodorant, batteries to tissues, household basics are now given similar security as a fine timepiece or a smartphone. Many places in the US are treating the theft of merchandise under a certain sum as a misdemeanour rather than a felony (which means that is unlikely the crimes will be investigated), while similar offences in Canada are going unpunished as its justice system doesn’t have time to deal with the cases. Some retailers are standing aside while their aisles are emptied. Whether you’re a 17-year-old gang member or 45-year-old mother, you’re unlikely to face charges for shoplifting if you fill your pockets with easily affordable items. 

For the makers of alarms and employers of security guards, this free-for-all has seen retailers large and small having to install elaborate tagging systems to deter theft, while also contracting security staff to keep an eye on canned goods and bottles of ketchup. Where next? If lawmakers don’t take matters into hand swiftly then pharmacies and supermarkets might start looking the same as they did at the start of the 20th century: with everything behind a counter. It might sound far-fetched but shopkeepers may soon have little choice but to keep all items at a distance – even from the most honest consumers.

For a more optimistic take on the state of retail, turn to page 87 to meet the designers, buyers, owners and salespeople who know how to get us through their doors – and pay for their wares. 

Reporting from...

Monocle’s global bureaux keep their ears to the ground in a bevy of far-flung locales – and they’re there to keep you abreast of the latest developments. This month: planes, panels and playgrounds.


Hot ticket

Scandinavians can thaw out in Thailand as sas resumes direct flights from Copenhagen to Bangkok. The route was dropped almost a decade ago even though the airline co-founded Thai Airways International in 1960. 


Bright idea

Zürich is rolling out a clean-energy programme that will enable residents to buy solar panels at a cost of chf250 (€261) per sq m. It will help the city to hit its target of being net-zero by 2040 – and lower inhabitants’ bills in the process. 


Growth area

The National Trust, a heritage organisation, is turning under-utilised areas in south London, into public gardens. Its €82,000 project in Deptford will include children’s playgrounds and allotments, and make the city greener. 

Wonder of the wet


Torrential rains in northern India have led to the displacement of thousands and much damage to infrastructure. But it might be good news for one entity at least: the Taj Mahal. It is supported in part by a base of deodar wood, which becomes tougher when it absorbs moisture, so rising floodwater is unlikely to cause lasting damage. In fact, it may even help make it stronger. While it’s hard to find a silver lining amid the damage, this is it.

Deeper Underground

It is not unusual for trips on the London Underground to veer from their schedule. That said, those who took a recent Jubilee Line train were more fortunate than most. Due to a sequence of mishaps, it pulled into the long-abandoned Jubilee Line platform at Charing Cross. Not only did the passengers get a tour of a movie set – the platform features in the James Bond film Skyfall, among others – but visiting the Underground’s many closed stations usually involves paying for a special tour. Being misdirected to any of these would be an improvement on the usual Tube delay experience, in which the only view is of a dark tunnel interior as one waits in an immobile train for an explanatory announcement that may or may not come. 


Hard sell

Advertisers in Miami are trying to lure would-be customers by promoting everything from DJ sets to firing ranges using skywriting planes, barges with oversized screens and banners attached to light aircraft. These are not the first marketeers to up the stakes. So how have others tried to spread the word? 

Game, set, fetch

In an attempt to raise its profile, the asb Classic, New Zealand’s marquee tennis tournament, got tongues wagging by using trained dogs in place of ball girls and ball boys.

Do you think he saw us?

National Geographic took a life-sized mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex on a rush-hour commute in London to promote its TV show T.Rex Autopsy

Eyes on the ball

Advertisers are queuing up to use the led screen of Sphere in Las Vegas as a billboard. The nba turned the huge venue into a basketball to promote a competition. A slam-dunk strategy.


Trick of the litter


A New York urban myth insists that the Hudson River is home to its own Loch Ness monster: “Kipsy”, a photo of which was published by one New York media outlet earlier this year (spoiler: it was obviously a log).

However, another apparition has been at large in the Hudson of late. It is called WasteShark, and it – and its descendents – might be what saves the world’s rivers. WasteShark is a suitcase-shaped orange marine drone, about 1.5 metres long and a metre wide, which hoovers up garbage from the water’s surface.

Built by Dutch firm RanMarine, and costing about €18,000, WasteShark seems both a brilliant idea and a bargain, though it is disappointing that its manufacturers have not equipped WasteShark with an ominous dorsal fin. 


Bane of Biscayne 


If a pollster put the question “In which US state would you be likeliest to hear of an elected official imploring citizens not to shoot iguanas out of trees?”, the hefty majority who replied, “Florida, obviously!” would be correct. This plea was recently issued by a councillor in Key Biscayne, an island just off the coast of Miami. 

The locals are past being charmed by sharing their habitat with the lizards. The iguanas have become a chronic pest all over Florida: they are the second-leading cause of power outages in South Florida (after squirrels), they cause airport delays by basking on the runways, undermine roads by digging beneath the asphalt and eat everybody’s gardens.

In 2019 a local school was put into lockdown and a major police operation launched after witnesses misconstrued a citizen blazing away at iguanas with a pellet gun. Until a solution can be found, Key Biscayne’s iguana plague is a litany of Florida Man headlines just waiting to happen. 

the interrogator

Isabel Allende 


Writer Isabel Allende has sold more than 77 million books since publishing her first novel in 1982. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she is best known for her evocative family sagas, which tend to weave magical realism into narratives that explore the empowerment of women in Latin America. Earlier this year, Allende published her 26th book, The Wind Knows My Name, a gripping tale that follows a mother and daughter escaping 21st-century El Salvador. Here, she tells us about her favourite bookshop, writing routines and her future plans. 

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

It’s called Book Passage and it’s in Corte Madera, Marin County, California.

Do you have a specific writing routine?

I am very disciplined. I start my books on 8 January [every year] and I work six days a week, many, many hours per day. I never get tired because I love the process of putting together a story. This is why it only took me a year to write this novel. 

Why did you choose to focus on the theme of persecution?

Unfortunately, many people and many governments don’t understand that refugees are running away from war, violence, persecution, crime and extreme poverty. Nobody wants to leave everything behind, to lose their families, their jobs, their friends and go to another place where they will be received with hostility.

Do you enjoy podcasts?

I just had a lot of fun appearing on Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She is both irreverent and wise. 

What can we expect from you after this latest novel?

I am always writing. As soon as I finished The Wind Knows My Name, I started researching the historical novel that I began working on this year – on 8 January. 

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