It's not that I'm picky, but I just don't seem to be able to buy a child on the Net

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The Independent Online

You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to buy a baby on the internet. I've been trying all week - 40 minutes before breakfast on Wednesday, another 30 between afternoon tea and the first sherry of the evening the day after. It's not as though I was being picky, either. No twins or anything fancy like that. Twins are bound to be slower, if you think about it, on account of people usually wanting them to match. I was in the market for a singleton - any sex, any age, any size, any colour, any nationality, any religion. Enough with the refinements. I didn't even stipulate that it had to be cute. Just a baby. Never mind how it looks, just sell me a ****ing baby!

You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to buy a baby on the internet. I've been trying all week - 40 minutes before breakfast on Wednesday, another 30 between afternoon tea and the first sherry of the evening the day after. It's not as though I was being picky, either. No twins or anything fancy like that. Twins are bound to be slower, if you think about it, on account of people usually wanting them to match. I was in the market for a singleton - any sex, any age, any size, any colour, any nationality, any religion. Enough with the refinements. I didn't even stipulate that it had to be cute. Just a baby. Never mind how it looks, just sell me a ****ing baby!

I tried AskJeeves dot com first. We all have our own favourite search engines. I like Jeeves because its logo is a butler and reminds me of better times. "How can I buy a baby?" I typed into the box, being careful not to use too many words. My natural way of asking for information is always to sound a little off-hand, as though it's a matter of supreme indifference to me whether the person I'm addressing can help me or not. A pride thing. But there isn't any room for that sort of curiosity disclaimer in an AskJeeves box. And since Jeeves is an engine and not a person with feelings, "Baby get me now" would probably have done as well.

Ten seconds later I had a reply. An answer to the question "Where can I buy items for baby and nursery?", which wasn't the question I had asked. And an answer to the question "When is my baby due?", which again, for obvious reasons, wasn't the question I had asked. My eyes lit up when I saw "Where can I buy infant?" - but then I noticed the phrase "toys online" in a smaller print. Always watch the small print. You start out trying to buy an infant and end up being tricked into buying infant toys online. It can be an unscrupulous place, the internet.

The last of Jeeves's answers to a question I hadn't asked concerned an entity called ebay. Where can I find the auction site ebay? As a general rule I'm wary of auctions, probably for the same reason that I'm wary of asking for information - I don't like to appear eager and I like even less to be seen to be disappointed. Nor had I originally planned actually to bid for a baby. Not least as I don't have a clue what a baby's worth. A fiver? a tenner? A thousand, ten thousand pounds? Start the bidding too low and you're a cheapskate, come in over the odds and you're a mug.

When I opened ebay, I discovered it was a marketplace for stamps and coins and the like. Collectibles (their spelling) for sad people. I punched in the word baby, anyway, just to see what they could come up with - maybe some second-hand baby - and was offered a baby bottle/nipple dryer rack for $1, a U2 Achtung Baby video for $8, a Thank-you Beanie Baby w/card (MINT!!!!) for $224.72, and 1,000 high quality Beanie Baby tag protectors, a snip at $32. I frequently forget, before I start surfing, that the internet is nothing but a fast highway to the dead heart of American culture. Buy a baby off the internet and its first words will be "Jer-ry! Jer-ry!".

But first you have to find the baby. Having failed with AskJeeves, I tried Google and scored an immediate hit. Children - Always Low on Prices. Economy is not the issue; but I was brought up to believe that if you can make a saving, you should. This too, however, turned out to be an illusory offer. What's always low on prices is not children but children's apparel - at Walmart, should you be interested.

Next I got Buying Baby's Layette on a Budget, by Dawne Brooks ("Stash those diapers"), and after that - the biggest come-on of the lot - a site named Thinking of Buying a Baby, which was indeed about buying a baby, except that the baby in question was a parrot. A cape parrot, to be precise, on sale at a warehouse in Dayton, Ohio, for not much short of $2,000, which is some $1,000 more - though, I repeat, economy isn't the issue - than I had planned to splash out on a human baby.

I should have stopped at that. But a good search engine is a temptress, just turn another page, just give me one more peek... And what the one more peek got me this time was a Stop Sex Offender's Page. A millionth of a second later I was out of there, out of Google, off the web, out of my apartment, and my laptop was floating in the lavatory pan. I've read the papers. I know what happens. You allow the internet to lead you by the nose, and the next minute Interpol is hammering at your door and sniffer dogs are nosing round your hard disc.

The times they are too squeamish. You tell me why your average well-meaning baby-buyer should have to live in fear. If the internet is good enough to teach our children on, it's good enough to buy our children on. The director of the children's charity Kidscape has described the trade in babies as immoral. Pish! You could say the same of childbirth. Depends what you do to the baby next. Bring it up to know who Britney Spears is and you're a killer however you came by it.

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