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The BBC, perhaps to atone for its earlier oversight, even condescended to discuss the circumstances surrounding this brass-necked effrontery to civilized behaviour on respectable Radio 4, where the presenters on the Today program, not being required to keep straight faces as they would, presumably, on television, were assigned the task of interviewing all the usual suspects. Senior police officers presented purportedly factual accounts, but they were unable to establish any credible motive, although the opportunity had been obvious, and there were other notable gaps where the evidence was a bit thin. Important scientists, led by that redoubtable Dr Rhadamanthus McLott of earlier newsworthy notoriety, offered what they claimed were logical explanations, but these were also founded on a paucity of proof, in solid, liquid or gaseous form. And, as we have come to expect, all the country’s leading politicians provided the usual vapid evasions, although there were earnest assurances that everything was being done to combat this sort of thing.
But to counterbalance all this objectivity and to maintain the program’s near legendary, bend-over-backwards reputation for even-handedness and fair play, an arresting array of scintillating cynics and sympathetic psychics, eclectic eccentrics and inimitable mimics, mysterious mystics and rumbustious rustics, and men who keep score at cricket because nobody else wants it were allowed their turns at the microphone, and between them they offered every conceivable theory, and some that you wouldn’t have thought were within touching distance of being conceivable this side of the next millennium. In fact, so many came forward that the statutory minimum duration of a period of fame had to be slashed from the fifteen minutes originally stipulated by that nice Mr Warhol to twenty-seven seconds.
There were grave financial repercussions. The collapse of international futures markets in dolly mixtures led to massive short selling of liquorice allsorts and even shorter selling of jelly babies. Many leading economists predicted huge flights of capital into fruit pastilles and the immediate closure of unprofitable sherbet mines with the loss of hundreds and thousands of jobs. In the ensuing confusion, several toffee-nosed financiers attempted to fudge the issue by selling their contingency reserves of gold nougats at less than market price. All right, own up! Who’s behind this? Who’s responsible for all this uninvited confectionery? And so far nobody has been able to butterscotch the rumour that a very small country with a surprisingly large army of chocolate soldiers has cornered the market in oil of peppermint. Now, that’s enough! Enough humbug, that is. Can we get on with the story?
The official police investigation was hampered from the start by several problems, although they did have some clues. There was the bucket of petrol that the escaping gelgins had left in the car park and the plastic tubing that had been used to tie up the driver, both of which were identified as having been stolen from a car in the same car park late in the evening before the robbery. The owner of that car hadn’t bothered to report that someone had nicked his bucket, but he soon came forward when he heard about the large reward being offered for information leading to the apprehension of the thieves. And everybody was hugely relieved that nobody had kicked the bucket while it still contained the petrol, or during the remainder of the madcap chase, for that matter. Now that really would have been beyond the pail.
There was also the plastic ketchup bottle that Sneedl’bodja had so thoughtlessly tossed into the hedge. There were no fingerprints, and the mysterious smudgy marks that were discovered by the fingerprint expert offered nothing on which to base a hypothesis. Apparently, though, the bottle had once contained an unknown explosive substance, and this was quickly identified by the forensic team, although no details were made public at the time, so we’ve only their word for it. In any case, not one of these items provided any firm leads, which meant that the police were in distinguished company, because no one else had any ideas about this business either, although, somehow, it didn’t seem like a meticulously planned operation. This was about the only thing that the police got right in the entire investigation.
For example, the driver gave highly misleading descriptions of the robbers. They were not inaccurate, exactly—the driver had an uncanny memory for faces—but he did exaggerate their heights. Rather a lot, actually. Mainly to avoid being thought a fool, he neglected to mention that the robbers were not of average height. And, by the merest coincidence (not another one) he just happened to be the only gadgie to have seen our bold buccaneers in all their menacing swash and buckling, all their dastardly do and derring, so the police thought they were hunting three gadgies. And his descriptions may have been full of detail, but—and here’s the really clever part—the disguises that were worn by the robbers were so obviously and transparently counterfeit that they attracted all his attention, and he was able to describe them in minute detail, but he forgot to notice anything else. There were many scores of other eye-witnesses too, all of whom were prepared to swear that the devilish driver was wearing a mask, but not one was able to furnish a single concrete detail of his real appearance. Strange. Well, yes, he probably did look strange.
There was another mystery. The police couldn’t understand why the robbers had made off with the wagon’s entire load of dolly mixtures but had left behind a leather satchel containing twenty-five thousand pounds in used banknotes, which was in the wagon’s cab. However, by way of consolation, and to demonstrate that the investigative powers of the police are all they’re made out to be after all, this satchel turned out to be the first clue to the existence of an international money-laundering operation with its headquarters in a Chinese laundry in Bethnal Green, although it did take the police team rather a long time to find that out, and they did lose several shirts in the process.
In desperation (ewe will not believe this), the police decided that they would round up scores of sheep† from the fields and fellsides in the immediate vicinity of the stolen wagon’s final journey on suspicion of going on the rampage, or perhaps of being ram raiders. The ramifications of this sinister development were not clearly understood at the time, but it led to the sheep being interrogated by a ramshackle panel of experts in strange behaviour, who threatened that non-cooperation would mean a one-way trip to the abattoir. This, of course, is strictly against the Geneva Convention, but nobody squealed, or, to avoid the porcine connotations of this word, not a single sheep bleated, even though some of the younger ones were threatened with the notorious rack of lamb. They all pretended to be mutton.
A massive reward was offered to anyone who could provide a convincing explanation that did not invoke crop circles, but eventually the investigation ground to a halt, reached a dead end, came up against a brick wall, ran out of steam, hit the buffers, petered out, and switched off the light and retired for the night. Nevertheless, there was a fall-back position, as the detective superintendent left in charge of the case pointed out at a packed press conference several weeks after the heist. Alien visitors. Alien visitors? Sherlock Holmes may have said that once the impossible has been eliminated, that which remains, however improbable, must be the truth. But neither the illustrious Baker Street consulting detective nor his partly baked modern counterpart had ever heard of gelgins, and as Holmes also said, on numerous occasions, it is impossible to build a watertight case unless you are in possession of all the relevant facts. And the perplexed detective leading this investigation had a case that was leakier than a string bag. A purportedly rigorous proof that the Earth is flat would have been more likely to convince, especially when any alien visitor could have told you, if you had only bothered to ask, that it is in fact pear-shaped. Isn’t it?
In his earlier flirtation with celebrity, Dr Rhadamanthus McLott had quickly discovered that no one was interested in his theories once it had become clear that he had no little green gender-neutral entities to spring upon his audience, but now that his carefully assembled hypothesis had become official police policy, he was overwhelmed by demands for interviews from all and sundry, amateur and professional, anyone, in fact, with a boredom threshold high enough to be able to tolerate the tedium of a typically tortuous scientific exposition. And as this particular strain of long-windedness goes, Dr McLott’s explanations were more circumlocutory than a bypass for Birmingham that goes via Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, not necessarily in that order.
Although a handful of investigative journalists between them interviewed every single gadgie in the entire valley, they unearthed no evidence that would support any kind of explanation for the abrupt disappearance of three tons of dolly mixtures, seemingly into thin air. The editor of UFOria, a magazine for the seriously loose of slates, was especially disappointed not to be able to confirm his own pet theory, which was that some friends of his from Alpha Centauri were responsible for the heist. Some reporters did hear a few tales of poltergeists, but no more than the national average, and Crazy Maisy did tell several that the gelgins were responsible, but they had been forewarned that she was quite a few boats short of a flotilla, so nobody believed her. There was also an odd tale about ‘whisky that drank itself’, but that had happened so long ago and was of such doubtful reliability that nobody bothered to follow it up. It seemed more like a pathetic ruse to relieve gullible city slickers of the price of a double whisky rather than an important clue.
With nothing concrete to feed the initial media frenzy, interest quickly ebbed, and the tabloids soon went back to their more usual fare, world exclusive ‘revelations’ about gadgies who think they’re famous, handy pull-out guides to the healing powers of crystals and other such tosh, and interviews with gadgies who claim to talk to flowers. The presenters of Today were hugely relieved to be able to return to their stock-in-trade, interviewing gadgies who think they’re important, and they were most severe on anyone who so much as dared to mention the Great Dolly Mixture Robbery.
* gadgie: the gelgin word for a human.
† a flock of sheep provided crucial assistance during the robbery.