Food Theft: A True Story

Story for fun 

2005, age 33

At Palatine House in Durham there was a series of food thefts. I lost a savory apple pie. I also did correctly identify the thief from a list of 40+ suspects. I noted that pork had been stolen which eliminated me, two Palestinian Muslims, as well as Cyn, my dear vegetarian, marathon-running friend from Milton Keynes.  i observed the suspect’s unusual behavior when caught with illegal candles that woke everyone up at a wee hour. The suspect was sorry they had been caught but not really sorry.  i observed that the suspect was nocturnal, making it easier for them to steal food. I observed that the suspect made a stir-fry of chips (french fries) indicating poverty, and the suspect did not associate with others of their home country which was very odd for this culture, not even to play Mah-Jong.



“The affair seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare call nothing trivial when I reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising commencement. You will remember, Watson, how the dreadful business of the Abernetty family was first brought to my notice by the depth which the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day.”

  — Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Six Napoleons

Bipolar Betty sat at an unbussed table reading a local newspaper. The headline ‘Man who Hanged Self Not Guilty of Kidnapping’ floated into her consciousness followed by ‘Local Woman Fulfils Dream of Becoming Television Presenter.’ Bipolar Betty sighed. She had, by brutal force of alarm clock, arisen nearly two hours earlier than she would have otherwise chosen. It was quite correctly the thought of the frozen organic raspberries (buy 2, save £1) she had purchased earlier that week at Lilythwaite, destined in her blender to marry the flavours of overripe fair-trade banana, organic plain yoghurt, ginger powder and rosewater essence (add amount of filtred water as you choose), that had helped her out of bed as much as the serious business at hand.

A cheerful employee of Cafe Fructose asked her if she wanted anything.

‘I’m waiting for someone,’ replied Bipolar Betty.

‘Could you please move so I can mumble mumble?’

‘Pardon?’ Even after nearly three years, Bipolar Betty, whose ears had trouble at the best of times during certain hours of the day, still could not always get what the locals were saying.

When she realised the woman just wanted to clear off the table, she apologised and removed the newspaper. She was sometimes slow on the uptake in this kind of way, as well.  She sighed again. Should she bring up the issue of accommodation now that she had a one on one interview with Margery? Probably not.

As Bipolar Betty contemplated the choices back in her refrigerator for her midday meal, she saw Margery sit down at a nearby table. ‘Oh, I didn’t recognise you,’ Margery said. This was probably because much of Bipolar Betty’s head was ensconced in a University hat that reached past her eyebrows. Bipolar Betty had a new theory about covering up her pineal gland as much as possible (especially in front of the telly or the computer.) She always had new theories. Earlier it had been magnets. Bipolar Betty had bought cheap pushpin magnets and placed them atop barrettes wherever she felt weird sensations in her head. It had actually helped a bit.

Margery joined her, asking what she wanted.  Bipolar Betty didn’t really want anything but suggested lemon tea, or any fruit tea, silently hoping that it didn’t contain any weird herbs like ginseng but feeling too tired to bother about it.

‘So how have you been doing?’ Margery, the Vice Principal and Senior Tutor of the college, had been on Bipolar Betty’s side when she registered with the Disabilities Help Centre, as had, everyone, for that matter, especially Bipolar Betty’s supervisor. Margery had made sure that she got to keep her accommodation at the previous location as long as possible and guaranteed accommodation for her as long as she was a student. At their first meeting, Margery had told her she herself had a friend who had bipolar.

‘Well, my paper at the MLA was a very big success, but the meeting was itself stressful. I guess I never told you about my previous institution and I suppose there’s no point going into that, now. My doctor at the RVI in Oldemote says that it will be awhile before I recover. I’ve been a lot more high than I would like and it is sometimes hard to write. I get physically ill just being in front of a computer. And I’m all discursive when I’m trying to focus on short, pithy, footnotes. I did manage to do some very good library research, do the laundry, and  clean up my area in the kitchen.’ The kitchen had been an especially sore point for Bipolar Betty. She shared the huge area with some forty others and was always breaking  her pricey extra virgin olive oil bottle or spilling organic quinoa due to the haphazard way she had been storing her things. 

Margery then turned the topic to accommodation. They were selling the building to McCoy College and though she would be able to stay past 6 September, there would be renovations. Had Bipolar Betty considered Whetwash House by the Hospital? They had very nice two-bed room flats, well equipped, presenting all sorts of advantages.  Of course, once Bipolar Betty ceased to be a student (following a successful viva), she would have to pay Council Tax, but her student status in October should cover a year. Bipolar Betty said she thought she might be receiving a postdoc. She would get it, she said, if anyone would, but it was a matter of funding.

After some discussion on this most important topic, Margery ventured to the official business of the meeting. 

‘We think we know who it is,’ she said.

‘Room 6?’ said Bipolar Betty tentatively.

‘I was hoping you would say that. You see, two weeks ago, —- was arrested for shoplifting at Sparks & Menzers. In fact —- was not even a student. —- had flunked their exam in Classics (the most popular postgraduate course at Raleigh University). Students are allowed to  retake the exam after a year. But —- was not even doing that.  — was just staying on until their visa ran out.’

‘I wonder . . .’ said Bipolar Betty.

‘What do you wonder?’

‘Do you think they had trouble back at home, I mean, economic, or even some kind of abuse, that they were trying to stay away from?’

‘No, I think they just were staying because they could. Tell me Betty, what does — look like?’

‘Like the last person you would suspect,’ said Bipolar Betty.

Author’s  Note

This story is based upon an actual series of food thefts that took place in a student hall of residence. Names, species, nationalities, distinguishing features, courses of study, genders, sexual orientations, and favourite foods  have been changed to protect the guilty and the innocent alike. All of the recipes attributed to Bipolar Betty have really been consumed.