Autolycus' songAccording to an article by Rosemary Bennett in yesterday’s The Times, ‘An ICM poll commissioned by LV= [insurers] found that 7 per cent of families with children under 5 have had a buggy stolen, which is equivalent to 340,000 families.’  As you might expect, articles about criminal activity always grab my attention, even if, as with this one, the time for personal interest in baby buggies has passed.  Time was, when opportunist vagabonds and tinkers roamed the highways and byways of England, valuable sheets put out on the hedges to dry tended to vanish, so not much changes.  The rogue Autolycus sings of this in The Winter’s Tale:

The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,

With hey! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!

Doth set my pugging tooth on edge;

For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.

‘Pugging’ is a splendid word that probably refers to the tendency to steal and the quart of ale suggests what Autolycus might have bought with the proceeds from his ill-gotten gains.  Today, those casual thieves with an eye to the main chance are no doubt responsible for the appearance of nearly-new buggies on online sites, where someone desperate for a Bugaboo or a Maclaren (with go-faster stripes) but unable to afford a new one may not care very much where it came from.   I’m intrigued by human nature and behaviour and even more by that delicate borderline between honesty and dishonesty.  The Times article says that the same poll ‘found that 5 per cent of parents admit they would buy a buggy they suspected had been stolen if the price was right,’ but I suspect that that figure is much lower than reality:  Of course, we are all very moral, aren’t we?  We never do anything illegal; we buy but just don’t question provenance  –  that’s not a crime!

Forgetting the inconvenience to the owners of a stolen buggy, which is not inconsiderable, this wavering personal morality is actually very damning; put in the position of an easy and quite cheap personal gain, we might not be quite so absolutely honest, might we?  I don’t see baby-buggies making it into crime fiction any time soon, but there is a huge potential for the novelist in the portrayal of uncertain honesty, whether in members of the public or in officers of the law!

As for the proud owners of the upmarket buggy, the simple message of a full-page article is: Don’t leave it unattended.