Crime in Walsall, it would seem, is decreasing. Great news for the townsfolk of this fair borough, not so good for the aesthetes of the far off city of Durham.
According to the local peelers, vehicle crime is down 20 per cent compared to last month and residential break-ins are down 27 per cent. Sadly, the figures for violent crime, ASB, metal theft, public order offences and drug related criminality have not yet been mentioned which suggests that the news regarding that sort of wrongdoing might not be so positive.
This might suggest that the felonious Walsall underworld falls into two distinct groups. There are the knuckle dragging, tattooed, shaven headed simians too stupid to realise that taking an angle grinder to a live power cable might spoil your day and hitting an old lady over the head for her pension money is the only way to put Special Brew and skunk on the table.
Then there are more cognitive higher apes who have managed to evolve the use of an opposable thumb. These gibbons can hot wire cars, pick a lock, falsify documents, illegally claim benefits, buy property and allow it to burn down and, to the shock and horror of Gideon Osborne, not pay any tax. The differences between these two sub-species are clearly defined. One group head-butt each other in what passes for communication, the other group drive BMWs.
As with all delineation between similar but divergent genus, there is a blurring of boundaries where criminal classes interact. In a perverted Venn diagram of symbiosis, the gibbons need the bonobo and the bonobo need the gibbons. An excellent example of this cross species collaboration occurred recently in the unlikely setting of the Oriental Museum at Durham University. It seems that some of Walsall`s finest targeted a green jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain sculpture from the Chinese Qing Dynasty worth about a couple of million quid. We should be proud that bonobos and gibbons from Walsall, Willenhall and Bloxwich should possess such artistic appreciation that it enabled them to identify objects of great beauty and then steal them.
It should be made clear that the Malcolm MacDonald Gallery at Durham is not named in honour of the Newcastle United centre forward who scored a hat-trick against Liverpool on his debut and thumped five passed Cyprus wearing an England shirt. Instead, the gallery commemorates another Malcolm, the son of Ramsey MacDonald, the first ever Labour Prime Minister. The main hobby of Malcolm the elder was looting beautiful artefacts from the Far East which then ended up on display in the North East.
Quite how some low life from Walsall ended up nicking stuff from a city that is the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert and the venerable Saint Bede is anybody’s guess but they certainly found what they were looking for. Although it is tempting to imagine a heist in the tradition of gentlemen thieves such as Raffles or the Pink Panther, it is impossible not to visualise the apes head-butting their way through a brick wall whilst singing sotto voce: “Durrum…durrum…durrum durrum dad dum…darrum dad dum…Badada dum”.
There is something not quite right about this peculiar theft. Regardless of Walsall council claiming that the New Art Gallery attracts a million visitors an hour with queues stretching back as far as Darlaston, the criminal fraternity in the borough are not known as collectors of fine, ancient china, preferring instead to collect drain covers, attack dogs and tattoos. One casualty of the Durham break-in might be the rather optimistic proposal to host the Turner Prize at the New Art Gallery. Once described as Ceausescu`s Romania with fast food outlets, the Turner judges might now consider Walsall to be a viper`s nest of art thieves and we are unlikely to witness Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Gilbert & George enjoying a pint in Wetherspoons.
The two artefacts lifted by Walsall`s hole in the wall gang have yet to be recovered and are probably in the procession of a private collector with enough wealth to commission robbery to order as opposed to the irritation of EBay. Curiously, the alleged perpetrators who were arrested and bailed have also disappeared. Durham Police might like to have a shufty around Walsall market for a Degas or Picasso and might also consider checking out the New Art Gallery for ne`er do wells eyeing up the Garman Ryan collection.
The aphorism art is long, life is short is attributed to Hippocrates. The full translation from Greek via Latin reads:
“Life is short, and Art long, opportunity fleeting, experience perilous, and decision difficult.”
Burglary and car theft may have decreased in Walsall because there is not a lot left worth stealing. Felons tired of the meagre profit gained from stripping lead from churches and ripping off memorials to those who fell in war might be tempted to pursue a more lucrative exploration of the world of fine art. Life`s too short to pass up a fleeting opportunity no matter how perilous the experience.
Concerned Walsall residents should take the advice from West Midlands Police:
“Do not encourage theft. Keep your Cezanne and Jackson Pollocks well away from view and always lock your doors and windows at night. Mind how you go and don`t have nightmares.”