2 MAY 1992, Page 18

If symptoms persist.. .

LATE ONE evening last week I was called to see a patient in the hospital. I cursed the day I qualified as a doctor, but not as roundly as I used to, because the journey to the hospital was almost pleasurable thanks to the recent installa- tion in my car of a compact disc player. Music (of the right sort) hath charms to sooth the savage driver.

I listened to one of Mozart's six quar- tets dedicated to Josef Haydn, and I recalled Haydn's noble words addressed to Mozart's father after he had heard the quartets:

Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me, either in person or by name.

I arrived at the hospital in comparatively mellow mood.

I attended to the patient and returned to my car. The driver's window was smashed. I had taken the precaution before leaving the car of removing the player from its socket and sliding it under the passenger seat, but obviously I had been observed, for it was gone.

I telephoned the hospital security, and told them what had happened. The secu- rity man sighed.

'You sound as if you've heard it all before', I said.

'Yours is the fourth car break-in tonight,' he said.

'Tonight, in the hospital?' I said, incredulously.

'Tonight,' he repeated. 'In the hospi- tal. We'll send someone round to you in a minute.'

I waited for half an hour before the security man arrived.

'I'm sorry for the delay,' he said. 'We had a bit of trouble in casualty. Three drunks were having a fight with pickaxe handles. We had to lock them in and call the police.'

I showed him the damage and explained how it was not a casual crime, but the work of people on the lookout for just such an opportunity.

'They're youngsters,' he said. 'A gang of 12- to 14-year-olds. We know who they are, but we still have to prove it. The 20-year-olds send them to do the jobs because they know that even if they're caught in the act, the police won't prosecute. We caught a 14-year- old car thief here not long ago and the police came and took him away. We caught him again four hours later trying to steal another car. You see, the police have to release juveniles almost at once, and by the time they're 12, they know the law better than the coppers. They know they won't be touched, so they've nothing to lose.'

Needless to say, my sentiments with regard to crime and criminals had hard- ened somewhat in the course of the evening. In fact, I said I thought they should be knee-capped, one and all.

The security man agreed that things were terrible these days, especially round here. A fortnight ago, a nurse had had her car stolen from outside the ward where she worked — for the second time in a year.

The police, of course, can and will do nothing about my compact disc player. I can only hope that, the Mozart disc still being inside, music hath charms to soothe the savage thief. But I doubt it: Mozart will be tossed aside contemptu- ously, and replaced by the moronic junk preferred by most of humanity.

Theodore Dalrymple