Does a woman in the UK deserve to be ridiculed for calling the police to report the theft a snowman from her property?
Snowman theft more significant than it appears
As soon as the UK enjoys a light fluttering of snow, ordinary life comes to a standstill. In the past few weeks, winter has brought more of the white stuff than was expected, and cars, roads and deliveries seemed incapable of functioning.
There was nothing on the news except TV reporters dressed in unattractive windbreakers stationed next to snow drifts in obscure locations. It seems that it's not just the roads that the snow brings to a halt, but common sense as well.
The emergency number 999 recorded the following call to the police.
"There's been a theft from outside my house," said a distressed woman.
When the emergency telephone operative asked her when the incident occurred she responded: "I'm not sure exactly; I ain't been out to check on him for five hours but I went outside for a fag and he's gone."
"My snowman. "
Confused, the 999 operator asked her if it was an ornament that had gone missing, and the woman answered without irony: "No, a snowman made of snow. I made him myself."
The operator was silent, presumably never having dealt with the theft of a snowman.
The woman went on: "It ain't a nice road but at the end of the day, you don't expect someone to nick your snowman, you know what I mean?" True story.
The audio recording was made public by the police, who called the woman "irresponsible".
I've listened to it at least 15 times so far, and it is the best source of belly laughs and tension release that I can find. But if you can find a moment between chuckles and after you've picked yourself up off the floor, there is something that I find rather charming about the story.
We ought to find the incident morally wrong - theft. Why should the theft of a snowman be any less meaningful than that of food from a supermarket, or flowers from a garden? If it's the fleeting nature of snowmen that makes the story so funny, then all these items are equally perishable.
Is this woman silly in her distress over her loss because of the childish nature of a snowman? But she had built it with her own hands, and created a work of art. Perhaps it wasn't a very good one, but why shouldn't it be protected? And the woman's bewildered innocence seems underlined by the fact that her creation was made of snow - something that we think of as pure and innocent in its own right, something that stands as a moment of beauty and purity in opposition to the grimy, gritty world that lies underneath and that we can forget about, if only for a few days or a few minutes.
Our instinct is to laugh at the caller for her stupidity in reporting the theft of something valueless that will disappear anyway - like a snowman. Perhaps our giggles are more bitter than we might think, however. We're laughing more at the woman's innocence and optimism that purity and childhood innocence can triumph in the face of a world that is too often disappointing, and full of hard knocks.
When we lose hope that innocence and joy can prevail, and we no longer value the worth of our contributions, then, dear readers, that is the cause for communal emergency. Just don't call the police to report our loss, or you may find yourself broadcast on primetime television.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk