126 Local Sheep
In the run up to Christmas there was a spate of crimes worthy of the local gangsters of old – The Quality Street Gang1 – and perhaps the most audacious act was when someone just down the road from me, under the cover of darkness, stole a whole field full of livestock which the local newspaper totted up as 126 sheep and two rams.
Meanwhile I was at the till in Asda queuing behind a girl I was trying to weigh up – large forehead, funny nasal columella – who was trying to buy just one bottle of blue Sourz which, as any trained sommelier should be able to tell you, is the tropical flavoured one.
She tried to pay for it with a debit card that the cashier thought they didn’t take any more. She shouted over to another employee, who eventually told her that she’d asked someone else, and when number three appeared he looked at the card and, without a clue, shouted back over to number two to ask her whether they still took that card any more.
As you can imagine we were all there for a while.
It turned out that there was only one tiny flaw with the prepaid Mastercard for, whilst it was perfect for youngsters to top up and spend within their means, the downside was that after the shop swiped it the transaction would go through, but it didn’t remove any money from the card; a flaw which some financial experts might describe as being akin to dropping a coin on a piece of string into a vending machine. I immediately asked for details.
It transpired that Asda had become wise to the scam the week before after some youth paid for his goods at the checkout and then passed the card back to his friend, who correspondingly passed it back again, and then back again. Asda got turned over.
The girl eventually paid with a different card and asked for cashback.
Forty pounds and a bottle of blue Sourz.
That was her Friday night sorted.
Elsewhere a local hoodlum turned over a Co-op convenience store before running off into the night with four tubs of Quality Street chocolates. Who can say what, to the next man, is worth risking arrest and incarceration for? The Quality Street thief saw his target, picked them up, and made a run for it… although maybe he needs to work on his getaway strategy for future endeavours because he ran out of the shop, and straight across the road, where with his vision impaired by a tower of several kilograms of brightly-wrapped chocolates he was immediately run over by a passing car, bounced off its windscreen, and broke both his legs in the process.
The local paper contained a graphic description of the carnage: “Vanilla Fudges, Toffee Pennies and a Coconut Eclair were left along with other wrapped chocolates scattered along the windscreen wipers and in a big mess on the floor.”
For once I was proud of the Bury Times for getting that perfect pertinent detail, the kind of thing I would have been fixated on, about how out of all the chocolates there was just one Coconut Eclair stuck to a windscreen wiper.
I don’t think it took the Police long to catch their man.2
As they were on a roll, when it came to the case of the theft of 126 local sheep and two rams, they decided to ask “people attending school nativity plays”, that Christmas, to be “on the lookout for large amounts of real livestock”. So if your school hall was filled with over a hundred amateur acting sheep, like a Wallace and Gromit cartoon, then apparently you were supposed to have been a bit suspicious.
In the story of the theft of 126 local sheep, though, the Bury Times did let themselves down somewhat by printing a photo with the caption: “Some of the stolen sheep”.
I looked at the picture and thought… sheep then.
1 – The Quality Street Gang operated in the sixties and seventies in the Manchester area and, even though there’s a dubious tale about how they once saw off The Krays, they were regarded as an urban legend by some Police Officers. However, despite this, it turns out that I knew someone who used to work for them in a casino. It’s a small world.
The story goes that they got their name from an advert for Quality Street chocolates featuring a group of fashionably-dressed men; when the gang entered a pub some wag made the connection and shouted out: “It’s the Quality Street Gang”, and the name stuck.
2 – The Greater Manchester Police later reported the Co-op incident on their Twitter account, tongue firmly in cheek, using the hashtag: #VigilanteChocolates.