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Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Laughing Policeman


The lovely Norfolk Police: they’ve given me a choice: 3 points on my licence and a £60 fine, or attend a Speed Awareness course for £70 and no points and no additional fine. Not only that I can choose where I can attend the course; but they’re all in Norfolk. Even so the one I’ve signed up for is in Thetford which is not too far from Walthamstow. Also, the course doesn’t start until 1 pm; so less risk of getting caught speeding trying to get there on time. How thoughtful. Someone in the constabulary headquarters has a sense of humour. The course is being held at the Keystone Innovation Centre.

My attitude towards the police is one of ambivalence. I remember my first serious encounter with the rozzers; I don’t include the time when aged 6 I was retrieved by the local bobby having lost my mum at a railway station. I was about 12 or 13 and I’d just visited a school friend who lived in Hangleton on the edge of Hove. He lived on a hill and I’d decided that as I was late I’d rocket down the road to my home. I must have been imagining myself as “Rocket Man”, stalwart of the Saturday morning cinema. 15 minutes of black and white magic, slotted in between the cartoon and the Four Stooges.

Anyway, in order to make my bike go faster, I decided that I should not have my feet on the pedals or my hands on the handlebars. Also my body would have to present as slim an outline to reduce air resistance.

I should stress that my knowledge of practical aerodynamics was extremely limited: witness my attempt at the tender age of 10 to launch myself out of a low lying branch of the apple tree in our garden. The complicated air breaking device – my mother’s best table clothe – failed to open at 6 feet above ground zero, and I hit the concrete path head first.

My mother would not listen to my pitiful cries when I complained of a head ache – not telling her of the cause for fear of a major slapping with the wooden spoon. Instead I was packed off to Sunday school and on returning with my soul topped up, so to speak, I promptly vomited in the kitchen. I was sent to bed and slept for 12 or more hours. I’d been slightly concussed and once my mother got out of me what had happened I was taken to the doctor’s and spanked most severely for not getting my flight plan sorted out.

So there I was on the hill in Hangleton on my bicycle. A quick push with both feet and I was away. A slight touch on the handle bars ensured a straight decent at which point I spread out my arms and legs backwards in a delta shape and headed swiftly, if rather inelegantly, down the road. Unfortunately the road wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined. The next few seconds still remain rather a blur. There was a shout “Oi, you”, a sudden braking as the bike fell into a rather large hole in the road and a young lithe body flying in the air for a short distance before landing, luckily, on the grassy road side. My main concern was first, the condition of my bike and second, the condition of my school uniform. Luckily neither the bike nor the flannel had suffered much – serious grass green stains on the trousers and cuffs would require some explaining away but all in all I was ok. Except for the rather large and rather bearded bobby looming over me.

He had no concern for my well being; nothing. All I got from him was a serious ticking off about how not to ride a bike, with lashing of sarcasm about who did I think I was Superman or Dennis the Menace. He took my name and address and warned that my parents would be hearing more of this. Nothing did happen but I was in a state of perpetual terror for weeks thereafter, ear cocked, listening out for the thud of heavy duty boots coming up the path to our house.

From that day on, whenever I saw a policeman I was convinced that I would be arrested there and then. So it came as a present surprise when, living in Hampstead many years later, I’d locked myself out of my bed sitter.

I was living in a garret room at the top of a flat which was over a shop on the corner of Flask Walk and Hampstead High Street. The flat was owned by a middle aged couple; the husband dressed and looked as if he was in advertising or something equally creative. I never found out what his wife did. He would usually leave for work before either I or his wife. She was rather buxom and extremely forgetful. At least that was her excuse when on numerous occasions I would enter the bathroom to find it occupied by a naked or near naked landlady. I have to say straight away nothing ever happened. I had just split up with my girl friend and carnal thoughts had been banished from my mind due to a still broken heart and dented ego.

Right, back to the police encounter. It was a weekday evening in the summer and I couldn’t get in. I knew it wouldn’t be any use hanging around for my landlord and his misses as they were away. The flat had a little courtyard off Flask Walk, which I stood in wondering what to do. To have any chance of getting in I’d have to climb up to the first floor window; and I didn’t fancy that.

Just then a young bobby turned up and asked me what was the problem. I explained that I was locked out. Without any ceremony or preparation he handed me his helmet and deftly shinned up the drain pipe, through the window and there he was at the front door. He followed me up to my room where I showed him a couple of documents and the keys I’d left behind in the morning. And then he left.

I like to think he became a Chief Superintendent somewhere in the country. But can you imagine that happening now! I put it down to a lovely warm summer’s evening, my innocent, angelic face and hot pants and bra less tops which were the fashion at the time.

God knows what I would have done had my knight in blue serge not turned up. Gone round to my ex’s pad and thrown myself on her gentle mercies……No that doesn’t bear thinking about.

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