On my way to a screening in the West End the other evening I stopped for a cup of tea. Looking out of the café window my gaze was interrupted by a young man coming round the corner running very, very fast. I watched as he shouted after a middle-aged bloke walking down the street towards the British Museum. When he caught up with him there was a confrontation that looked for a moment as if it might turn into violence. But then the older man sheepishly put his hand in his pocket and handed over the phone he'd presumably just stolen from the younger. The young man departed, presumably satisfied. Nobody was bothering to alert the authorities. The man in the cafe said it happened every day.
Ten minutes later I was walking on the edge of Covent Garden when a young man came tearing out on an alley, galloped across the road and disappeared behind a council truck. The minute he was hidden from view a young woman came running out of the same alley. At first I thought it must be what they used to call "high spirits" between boyfriend and girlfriend but then I wondered whether he'd just stolen something from her. She ran across the street and went in the opposite direction. Which made me wonder. If she really was pursuing a thief on her own, how was she proposing to regain her property? And if she needed some help, whatever happened to crying "stop thief!"?