A stain on my character.

An open letter to my children – again.

My darlings I feel I must share this with you, if only so that you will avoid such marital confrontations in your life. Wisdom is hard won and must be shared.

You might not know but your old father is on a rather large dose of steroids right now. Not something I embark upon without consideration but not that unusual and its effects well known to all those about me. Ian and Reb endeavour to keep me out of the shop and your dear mother ‘makes allowances’.

This morning I emerged from the bedroom full of vim and a bit of ‘zipperdey-do-dar’ ready to enjoy the day, energized and jolly.

To celebrate the Sunday I chose my wardrobe with sartorial abandon. An old shirt under an old and so comfy jumper and those corduroys which your mother describes as ‘looking like an elephants bottom’ but which provide a degree of comfort not known in any other trouser. Yes they are older than any of your children, yes they are somewhat scarred by time and wear but they have a plentitude of ‘Victor Silvestor’ and a chap likes that as age marches on.

So feeling good and comfy our breakfast consumed we embark on a real treat for me, a visit to Waitrose where I’m allowed mine own trolly.

Waitrose_Supermarket,_Gillingham_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1636353

Now one of the side effects of steroids in the dose I’m taking is, as the medical members of our family will attest, ‘steroid narcosis’ this can also present itself as mild to middling paranoia!

I’m not against paranoia, a healthy habit especially in some of the jobs yer old dad has had in the past. But now, in the twilight years, not actually terribly useful.

trousers stainSo as we are leaving the house she looks me up and down and tells me she sees a rather nasty mark, stain, disfigurement on the front of my trouser not un-adjacent to the fly area. I rush back indoors and see nothing that alarms but dab the whole area with a wet kitchen cloth. This looks worse but even so I am chivvied out into the car to drive to the supermarket. ‘It will dry on the way’ she tells me ‘and besides I’m sure no one will notice’

NO ONE WILL FUCKING NOTICE! to a paranoid is not a good thing to say.

All the way there the damp embrace of old corduroy reminded me of my condition. And, my darlings, to ME it did notice, not just NOTICE but shout aloud THIS OLD MAN IS INCONTINENT, DON’T LET HIM NEAR YOU – HE PROBABLY SMELLS.

Crouched like some demented Quasimodo I clutched on to my trolly like a ship wrecked sailor to flotsam. Bent over as I was, jumper pulled down as far as it would go I surreptitiously looked around for some pointed finger or the disgusted snigger of one of the gray hoard of pensioners that make up Waitrose on a Sunday.

My treat was if not ruined at least compromised from the usual excitement these occasions elicit.

Yes OK I don’t get out much, but each to their own. A visit to a fully functional and well stacked booze department is my little jolly, plus of course the opportunity of bringing home some little culinary delights not usually included in your mothers daily shop. Sauerkraut, interesting pickles, exotic jams and of course various sorts of sausage that you all used to snigger at when young.

So to the gins and brandies. Your old mother, as you know, likes her brandy so I got as big a bottle as was on offer. I have become wedded to gin of late so was looking for a bargain in that direction. There in front of me was a full liter bottle of a 40% proof high quality gin. On offer, in the trolley it went.

Note, Isobel and I make our own way around the store, that way we don’t squabble and it avoids any questions we might make as to our respective choices. What I put in I pay for and visa-versa.

So to the check-out, still bent like a ruddy paperclip to conceal a now less obvious damp groin, but one I knew was evident to any who might peer in that direction.

OK, the chances of anyone in their right mind choosing to fixate on the corduroy crotch of a scruffy old man holding on to a shopping trolly, especially in that supermarket is not normal.

But bear in mind we live in an age of rampant and sometimes incredibly inventive perversions, many of which now appear on the internet via mobile devices, and I’m SODDING PARANOID.

And here, dear children, its where it all started to unravel. A really nice The lady behindyoung man processed my purchases as I put them on the conveyor. Behind me an aged matron with a face like clenched arse covered pink talcum powder. Imagine a sort of Barbera Cartland with a hint of Bella Lugosi. We came to my bottle of gin, ‘what good value’ said I, ‘a real bargain’. The kind young man informed me it was full price at £37.00 not the £17.00 I was expecting. I said I thought this was on ‘offer’.

The conveyor stopped and after a short while over came a supervisor who heard my tale and politely went of to find out the truth of it. This is after all the supermarket with the very best of customer service in any known universe. But as we waited and the young man and I gently passed the time so I unwound, forgetting momentarily my sartorial embarrassment. Turning to the lady behind me I apologized to her and the queue that was now building up behind her.

Looking me not in the eye but down to the waist are she sniffed. Yes ‘sniffed’ peering at me through gimlet eyes with lashes like castrated spiders,

‘my late husband was more partial to gin than was good for him’ she snarled and turned away in disgust.

The supervisor returned with a much smaller bottle of the gin telling me that this was the one on offer.

I took it.

Paid – went back to the car, lit a pipe, waited for your mother and just wanted to go home.

One small comment, one over zealous application of wet cloth, one trip to the supermarket I shall not forget.

Yours as ever

yer old father, whose art in heaven – mostly.

In the soup …..

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Soup of the day

We stared at each other across the dining table.
Her dear face impossible to read, inscrutable; those hazel eyes that have so often melted my heart suddenly opaque and hooded like a poker player.
I could read no emotion from her expression. This was a side of the woman I have shared my life with for nearly thirty five years that I have never seen before. It chilled my very soul.
In her elegant hand a shining soup spoon held over a steaming bowl, beside which a side plate was heaped with fresh home-made bread. A homely, domestic and wholesome picture, yet now dripping with menace like a wig pulled from a urinal.
I also held a spoon; I too had a bowl in front of me, like hers untouched.

Every evening we sit at our lovely old dining table, opposite one another sharing food, companionship and conversation. It is the fulcrum of our day, a time of ‘catching up’ enjoying this special time together as friends and lovers.
No matter how frenetic the previous hours, no matter how filled with people or problems, this is our time to share the one meal of the day we can, just us.
But not now, not this meal.
It was as if we were contestants in some ghastly cookery programme based on the culinary history of the Borgia’s. A sort of Renaissance Roulette featuring recipes that cleared the way for inheritance opportunities.
Here we were in a mute contest, spoons poised, like rival food tasters at a ‘spot the assassin’ banquet.

veg boxJust how this pretty pass came about I will now explain.
It’s the old cause and effect principal. The ’cause’ was a surfeit of beetroot that had built up over the weeks via the ‘veg box’ scheme we have brought into.
Fresh veg delivered weekly is a great idea and mostly works really well. Carrots, spuds, onions, and other seasonal root vegetables along with fine cabbage and leeks make their regular appearance and are much appreciated by us both.
However occasionally there are things that do not appeal to the palate of yours truly or to the culinary requirements of my good lady. Not many, we eat most things between us, me cabbage and spuds, Isobel the exotics such as the vile broccoli and chard.
Now the common beetroot is a strange beast, not much can be done with it in my opinion save give it a bloody good pickling. ‘Too big to stick up the cat’s arse too small for football’ my old uncle Bob used to say and he was a true ‘man of the soil’ and knew his way around the kitchen garden as well as he did the cooks drawers.
So when I suggested she might embark upon pickling a pile of the things I thought I was being most helpful and adding to the culinary quality of our life, besides I really like pickled beetroot. Who in their right minds doesn’t?
I might just as well have suggested that she make haggis from first principals or use the airing-cupboard to dry frog’s legs.
No, it had to be something else, we couldn’t just chuck em, or give the bloody things away, that would be a ‘waste’ and ‘herself’ turns her face like flint to ‘waste’ so there would have to be another solution.

CountessAnd then I recalled a memorable meal I had eaten many years ago courtesy of a lady of Russian extraction who called herself ‘Countess’ something or the other and lived in genteel squalor in an old cottage just outside Castle Hedingham where I was a copper. She was regarded by all the village kids as a witch and thus avoided and or taunted depending on the season. Mostly she was left alone, which is just what she wanted. One day however, about Halloween time she had a bit of bother from a gang of kids and a window got broken. I was called and cycling up caught the little bastards red handed. Needless to say justice was immediate and swift, a cuff around the ears for those in easy reach and a visit to a couple of parents which resulted in the window pane being replaced along with a bit of remedial work on the frames as well. No paperwork, no charges of vandalism and no trouble from that day on. As far as I and the culprit’s parents were concerned, a job well done.
Well that was that I thought until I got another phone call from the old dear who somewhat imperiously I thought invited me to call on such and such a night to dine with her. Never one to miss an experience I agreed and turned up at the allotted hour. It wasn’t, quite, Miss Havisham’s dining room, but it wasn’t too far removed from it. I was sat at a small antique dining table in a room full of old photographs, books, strange ephemera, cobwebs and dust. From a huge silver tureen she served a thick soup which was deep velvet red in colour and with a taste of earthy heaven. It was fantastic. Along with the soup came ice cold vodka and the story of her life and fortunes that was full of romance and adventure.
For the life of me I can’t remember her name but I do remember the soup, it was borscht, the red soup of Russia, the colour she said of ‘blood on the snow’
She called me ‘her Cossack’ and served me a soup made from history and beetroot. So, I remembered that meal and suggested we turn the pile of beetroots into soup.

As far as I was concerned that was my bit done, my next part in the proceedings would be to stick the old snout in a bowl of it and relish the occasion.
So come supper time, strange smells emanating from the kitchen and a huge pot on the stove that filled the air with steam smelling of earth and spices, but mostly of earth.

im131Her dear face was grim as she ladled a dark red glutinous mixture into two bowls and brought them to the table.
Once there she anointed them with a huge dollop of sour cream and on that a smaller spoonful of horseradish.
Placed before me was a Hammer Horror Film in a bowl, featuring something just dead, or not. It smelt like an old gout bandage. I said nothing.
I said nothing because once many years ago, a hostess I knew somewhat intimately, was passing a large jug of custard to her guests and was enquiring of their requirements, I in a merry quip, said ‘one lump or two’ and had the jug emptied over my head. Long ago and in another life, but one learns.
So I said nothing.

Isobel is a great cook. She really is as many will testify and as does my waistline. Even when pressed for time or ingredients she will rise to the occasion and rustle up a feast, for two or twenty, she has done it all.
But not now and she knew it.
She would however, not say it.
‘Have you tasted it’ said I in a merry voice without a hint of the dismay I felt.
‘Not without the cream and horseradish’ she said.
‘Oh’ said I …. ‘and’
‘Taste it’ she commanded and waited for me to do so.
Like a penguin on an ice flow just knowing a fucking great Orca was lurking thereabouts I sat stock still and waited.
‘After you’ I said reaching for a piece of lovely fresh sour-dough bread.
An impasse had been reached worse than any ‘Ikea’ moment.
Time passed so slowly as the ‘soup’ congealed.

But dear reader, love perseveres and we have been together through so much in our lives. bottle
After all the borscht was my idea I take full responsibility for it and dear old Vaz across the road really does an amazing curry which I was more than happy to pay for.
And of course we still had the vodka on ice – which was nice …

A big thank you

the nick

A kind soul sent me a photograph of the ‘nick’. Taken a while ago, but a good few years after I left it shows where it was all at in the 1970’s

the nick 2

Much more modern police vehicles in the same old yard.

I would like to thank all of you who enjoy these tales and give a special ‘thank you’ to my editors, cleaner’s up and partners in crime, Isobel and Jean.

The Silk Road

It was a jest, OK?

Nothing to set the world on fire, or even to cause such a fuss.

A joke, a merry quip, nothing more, and certainly no malice aforethought.

Right. Then why did I get into so much trouble?

In those far off days when the world was young and I guarded the peace in the village of Castle Hedingham, I lived in the police house. It was at the top end of the village, with a huge Congregational chapel on the one side, a small alley on the other, and big old houses either side of the road.

The police house and station were at the front, and the buildings behind contained a court room (complete with magistrates’ parlour), a couple of cells, and various storerooms and lavatories. There was also a separate coach house and stables with a hay loft above. Built with Edwardian grandeur, it all sat behind iron railings and high walls as if expecting to be besieged by mobs of armed peasantry on a regular basis.

Opening onto a courtyard at the side were two large wooden doors painted regulation dark blue. They were wide enough to accommodate a small stage coach and they always remained open because they were too bloody heavy to close. At the end of the alley was another larger and much older building which housed a rare and wonderful thing: a silk mill.

silk weaving 1This silk mill was as rare as an extremely rare thing because it produced wonderful silks using ancient Jacquard looms. Devere Mill was a gem, but a small operation which earned a few extra shillings by having parties of interested people shown around. Normally these were enthusiasts for this ancient craft; clubs, weaving circles, and similar. This was all very fine and we were used to small groups of gents and ladies traipsing up the lane in search of the mill. Many would peer in and, seeing police cars and the like, move on with barely a shudder.

 

 

 

One fine day, however, there came a whole coach load of visitors. Dozens of ladies in their middle years and upward in Sunday best coats or two-piece suits—an entire regiment of beige and tweed. They had two things in common (although ‘common’ was not a word one would utter in their presence): They all wore hats and they all carried bloody great handbags. It was like looking at dozens of queen mothers, and the nearer they got the more frightening they appeared. Over them hung a miasma of lavender perfume and face powder. Their gimlet eyes took in their surroundings as they chattered and hissed to each other in a disapproving sussurration.The coach

I have been scared by many things in my time as a copper. Big blokes with sticks, drunks swinging bottles like Indian clubs, Glaswegians, squaddies, and the woman who laid me out with a huge cast iron frying pan filled with scalding fat and ‘saus and fried slice.’ But this lot truly terrified me. I knew that if one, just one of them, told me to ‘go and clean up your room, you dirty boy,’ I would do it. A ‘smarten yourself up’ would have had me quivering. They were a composite embodiment of the universal mother-in-law. We all know the female of the species is more deadly than the male, and this battalion of battle axes was pure poison.

A particularly fierce woman in tweeds was obviously in charge. Reminding me of a prison warder in drag, she had a face like a bulldog and looked as if concrete would melt in her mouth. I was standing in the yard—off duty, old shirt, pipe on—washing down my police mini van.

‘Where is it?’, she snarled at me, as the throng of ladies filled up the alley.

Some were peering into the police yard hoping, perhaps, to witness a birching or a miscreant in chains. Others looked as if they were gathering for the charge, handbags at the ready.

‘Where’s what?’, asked I, being as bloody awkward as I could and still remain almost polite.

‘The silk mill, you fool’, she snapped.

‘Top of the lane, ma’am’, I said, ‘you can’t miss it’.

‘Our coach is parked by the chapel. I trust there is no problem with that!’

There wasn’t (the road was wide enough) but to prove a point I said I would put a traffic cone out in the road to warn motorists. She nodded imperiously, returned to her troops, and led them at a brisk pace up the lane to the mill.

As the more vigorous and fit moved off, a rear party was left behind that seemed to be made up of the sort of ladies who always made the tea. They had none of the implacable arrogance shown by the others, were a touch friendlier, and milled about like bleating sheep as they started their way up the lane.

One old dear who looked like a prune covered in pink face powder and wore what appeared to me to be a large floral tea cosy on her head stayed behind and, venturing closer, told me they were from the [blank] Townswomen’s Guild.

Yes, dear reader, after all these years I’m still frightened of being handbagged, so will I vouchsafe to you where they came from? Will I, buggery!

She said they had booked lunch at the Bell Inn in the market square for after their tour of the mill and would it be all right if the coach stayed where it was so they could all have a wander around our pretty village? She flourished a guide book to demonstrate her credentials.Castle Hedingham 1

She was as deaf as a post in spite of a huge hearing aid that hung ‘round her neck and was connected to wires that disappeared under her amazing head gear. I didn’t know whether to talk into the microphone or the hat; in the end I just shouted.

Now, at that time there were major sewer and water works being carried out all through the village. Huge excavations rendered many of the roads impassable to vehicles, and there were narrow footpaths for pedestrian traffic, many of which were girded only by flimsy barriers with handrails, and here and there temporary covers of thick plywood had been put down where the digging had undermined the old paving slabs. These were not your usual road works; they were deep and dark and from them came the smell of ancient sins and sewage.

So I told this lady in her big hat that it would be fine, but to mind how they went because of all the massive disruption that was in progress.

‘What’s been going on then?’, she asked me, her whole expression begging for some malicious gossip.

10-Road-works-temporary-obstruction-carriageway-ahead-signageIt was clear she wanted more than just ‘holes in the road’. She was the sort who craved the excitement that only the more salacious ‘red top’ newspapers could give, or those whispered denouncements made by like-minded busybodies over endless cups of tea. She was one of those women who live behind twitching curtains.

‘Well’ I said, ‘under our village, years and years ago when the castle owned all the land hereabouts, there were salt mines. The rock salt was dug out for ages and now it turns out there are huge empty caverns under part of the village which none of us knew about. Until the bus, that is.’

Her shocked expression showed me she was hooked.

‘What bus?’, she gasped.

‘The one that disappeared into a girt great hole in the market square a few weeks ago’, I replied. ‘That caused a stir, I can tell you. We’ve had any number of learned blokes poking about and banging long poles into the ground all over the place. Did one here’, I said, pointing to a slight indentation to the constabulary tarmac in the yard. ‘But we’re all right; it’s in the old part that the trouble lies. That’s why they’re digging it all up, so they can fill in the caverns with concrete. Going to take tons and tons of it, I’m told.’

She stared at me, horror-struck.

‘Is is safe?’ she asked, her eyes so wide with astonishment that her face powder cracked.

‘Oh, providing you keep on the footpaths you should be fine. Stay as near the buildings as you can, though. These have been up for centuries and there’s no sign of any subsidence. They knew what they were doing when they built them.’

She scurried off to catch the others up, muttering as she went, her hat bobbing and her handbag swinging.

I went back to cleaning the van and thought no more about it.

Castle Hedingham 2An hour or so later I was on duty and took my old bike out to give my uniform an airing in the bright sun of a summer’s day. Cycling ‘round the village was a joy almost regardless of the weather. You got to see what was going on, and it made it easy to stop and have a natter, or just coast by, showing the flag. Castle Hedingham is one of the prettiest villages in Essex, with ancient timbered houses leaning like old friends over the roads. Narrow lanes lead to the castle itself, and the old market square is a mixture of architectural styles. Despite the huge chasms in some of the roads, it was a delight.

It was a delight, that is, until I saw some of the Townswoman’s Guild ladies walking, or rather creeping, along part of a road that had excavations. They were not just keeping to the footpaths, but edging along sideways with their backs against the wall, for all the world like some moving frieze from an Egyptian tomb.

Oh shit. That yarn I had spun in the courtyard. They had only bloody well believed it! I turned my bike around and beat a hasty retreat. I cycled furiously back to the nick and grabbed the van after signing myself on as patrolling Foxearth, which was as far away from Hedingham as I could go and still be in my manor.

There were nevertheless repercussions, of course.

One or three kindly locals, having encountered these poor old dears, put their minds at rest as to the dangers of vast chasms below the village. When the ladies explained it was the ‘local bobby’ who had warned them, a weary sigh and a knowing smile told them all they needed to know.

Thus it was that ‘letters were writ’ from the chairperson, the hon-secretary, and various angry ladies. But the real killer was from a London solicitor, the son-in-law of one of the membership. Eventually all the letters ended up on the assistant chief constable’s desk.

He was not amused.

I was called to headquarters to explain myself.

I stood in front of the great man’s desk, on the carpet both figuratively and literally, and told him there must have been a misunderstanding, I thought he was going to lean over his desk and kill me.

‘MISUNDERSTANDING, you fucking idiot?, he shouted. ‘Some fucking misunderstanding that has a whole party of elderly women in terror of their lives on what was supposed to be a nice quiet day out in a country village! I have letters here telling me that, not only was their day ruined, but one Mrs Elves suffered nervous palpitations that have not yet ceased, and the coach had to make three extra stops on the way back because some of the ladies’ anxiety affected their bladder control. Just what, in God’s name, did you tell them?’

I stood there at the attention, my arse clenched in terror.

‘Sir, one of the party asked about the road works and I told her that the footpaths were Castle Hedingham in Essex.  Photo by Gordon Scammellsafe but to mind in case they were slippery. Then, sir, I recommended they have a look at the castle, which is our biggest tourist attraction and full of history.’

‘And the fucking CAVERNS?’

‘Well, sir, that might have been because I quoted a bit of poetry to the old darling, just to amuse her like.’

‘What are you fucking talking about, Pearson?’

‘You see, sir, I told her about our lovely historic castle and quoted a bit of Coleridge to go with it.”

‘You did what?’ he snarled.

‘Just this, sir, it’s a favourite of mine:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Thing is sir, she was deaf as a post, so perhaps she only heard part of it.’

I stood mute, my eyes focused somewhere over his left shoulder, rigid, not a muscle moving.

An abject apology was written, cunningly absolving the force as a whole and leaving my head alone on the block. But the Guild ladies’ deafness and penchant for rumour mongering must have touched a cord amongst the ‘committee’ because no further action was taken. At least, not by them.

When the Schools Liaison Officer suffered yet another nervous breakdown, however, I was told to fill in until he was better. As my inspector told me, ‘With your love of poetry, lad, you should go down a storm. Give ‘em a bit of yer Gunga Din while they’re lobbing dog shit at yer’.

I did, and so did the yobs of the local comprehensive.

I learned a vital lesson that day; one I have never forgotten:Never underestimate little old ladies in big hats!

An open letter to my children.

I record below a snapshot, a brief sketch as it were of the mundane doings of your parents.
It is an illustration of what age and alcohol can do to two people, one of whom has a brain the size of a planet and the other of the common or garden, pea. Note: Mine is the pea as I’m sure you had gathered.
This is not sent as a warning more as a glimpse into how years together mold a relationship and the strange ways that the mould grows, rather like in a ripe Roquefort.

The time: Just after six of the clock in the evening, before supper and as the first libation is being gratefully consumed.
The place: At the great table, which as you all know would be found suitable for a baronial hall or refectory, but which takes up over three quarters of the floor space in the converted shed which is the dining room of No 41.

Note: this splendid piece of furniture at which you have all sat during your childhoods and indeed majorities, along with spouses and children, is not, as usual, either groaning under the weight of platters of food and battalions of bottles, or indeed the piles of papers and files that cover it when your dear mother uses it as an office. No it is almost clear of all clutter save one glass and accompanying bottles of gin and tonic for me, one small glass half filled with watered brandy for your mother. There is at the end of the table, against the wall a somewhat large music device that grips an i-pad in a mechanical embrace.

Thus the scene is set.
It has become a welcome habit to every evening at this time, ‘clear the decks’ get out the drinks and tune in to some gem from the wireless. Just as I suspect we both did as children.
The machine is playing an old radio program much beloved by your mother and I, ‘Beachcomber …. by the way,’ a Radio Comedy first broadcast in the 1990s. It is one of the highlights of our listening week.
For us and our generation it is pure delight. I doubt it would appeal to any of you and would be as impenetrable to your ears as ‘rap’ is to ours.
We sit down to listen. Bliss.
Then leaping arthritically up on the table lurches Flo that mad and scrawny cat, who if she were in human form, would be a skinny old lady with mad eyes, clothed in soiled rags under which protruded stick thin legs encased in wrinkled stockings that looked like the sloughed off skin of a snake. She wandered across the clean surface of the table either looking for some morsel or driven by visions, it’s hard to tell these days. Her fur as usual matted into great tangles and lumps as though she has been rolled in porridge which has been left to dry.
The wireless played on.
flo thinWithout missing a beat, your dear old mother took hold of the cat, gently stroking and caressing the rancid fur, the cat purring loudly in deranged satisfaction.
Isobel then began to tease out some of the larger clumps of fur and piled them next to her on the table. Then with some slight of hand, with the skill of a magician, a small pair of scissors appeared in her grasp and she began to attack the huge noisome clumps that lurk around the tail and arse end of this feline wreck.
The wireless played on, I supped my g&t, we didn’t talk.
After a while the cat grew restless, the pile of fur next to your mother had grown enough to stuff a medium sized pin cushion, the cat dropped to the floor and slunk away.

Not a word passed between us throughout this process, we were engrossed in the radio show and what had passed between Isobel, the cat and I was a common occurrence.
It was only later, much later, that I saw this as being either something out of a Gillray print or a description by Boswell of some passing hospitality found in a dark rural bothy by him and Dr Johnson in their journey around rural Scotland. Whatever way you looked at it, this was not the normal domestic pursuits of a middle class couple in their senior years. I realised then that our future together was to be a far more rich and interesting tapestry than either of us could imagine.

Thus it was that I have decided to share.
‘What is bred in the bone is born in the flesh’ is indeed most prophetic and on the basis that all of you reading this share not just a bit of DNA from both of us, each to your fashion, but you also collectively share the ‘nurture over nature’ influence in your upbringing. That being so.
It’s not just pictures and bits you will inherit!

We love you all – and all of yours

Living off the land

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and—and, in short, you are for ever floored. As I am!”

~ Mr. Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

Making ends meet was always a problem. Without overtime, which was rationed like water during a drought, a lowly police constable had a very hard time making any end meet, especially if he had children and his wife wasn’t working.

Harry on radio
The small corner store sold almost everything, sometimes. There was always a welcome for the local copper and in the days prior to ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates they performed a useful function in recycling natures goodness.

If you were stationed in a town or city then the chances of adding to your income with a bit of judicious moonlighting were slim. Coppers had to declare any other work and get express permission from their ‘governors’ to do anything outside the job, and they really didn’t like doing that. But there were some old and trusted traditions which added a little to the family coffers, if only by subsidising a bit of lunch now and again or easing the burden in some other way, such as a small discount on your children’s shoes or on the servicing of your car. It all made a difference.

It was the old custom of “mumping”, in which the true skill of the hunter-gatherer comes into its own. It is a tradition as old as policing.

For example, a constable on foot patrol might inquire of some market trader or local purveyor of provisions, such as a baker or greengrocer, as to their general well-being and that of their establishment. A brief, genial chat would ensue, after which the merchant would insist on the copper accepting a few tokens of gratitude for the officer’s care and concern.

Stan on bike
Mr Quirk, at the door of the off licence prays that its not ‘his turn’ this week. Note: Whisky 44 shillings & 11d equals £2.4.11 in old money, about £35.00 in today’s. A copper earned something like £70 per week plus allowances.

 

This would only happen once a week and a careful rota was maintained by the three shifts so their depredations would not overlap. Like tickling a trout, gently does it; the copper who got too greedy could ruin it for the whole station, so the practice was treated with respect. Shopkeepers regarded this mild form of extortion as a sort of civic duty which greased the wheels.

In return a copper would turn a blind eye to the occasional double-parked vehicle while deliveries were made or bets placed. On rare occasions, for a valued provider such as a publican or butcher, indiscretions such as driving home ‘three sheets to the wind’ were dealt with without recourse to any boring paperwork or any other inconvenience, always providing it didn’t happen too often.

The cornerstone of all policing in the olden days was keeping property secure and people safe. And that was done by coppers walking the beat day and night, week in and week out. ‘Shaking hands with door knobs’ was the constable’s lot during a night duty. Ensuring that business establishments under your wing were well-guarded from the attentions of lout or miscreant meant the shopkeeper slept sounder and the cost of his business insurance did not go through the roof. You were doing your job in the cold and wet, warmed by the knowledge that virtue would have its rewards. Done right, it was a symbiotic relationship in which everyone benefited for just a couple of rashers, a nice bit of cake or some other toothsome tribute.

Of course other police departments had their own unique methods of mumping. The CID were possibly the most richly rewarded, although on the downside some of them did end up in jail because of it. Traffic Division*, those self-styled princes of the police service, had a variety of scams involving back-handers from breakdown recovery companies and the like, but the one I witnessed first hand that impressed me with its shear panache was known as ‘The Missed Break‘.

On any given night, from about 7 p.m. onwards, an Indian or Chinese restaurant would be quietly serving its customers. Trays of food would make their fragrant way to the diners, there was the gentle buzz of conversation as people enjoy their meals, and all was calm. Suddenly the front door would burst open and two coppers rush in. They would stand as if ready to do battle with any rotter who might not only be disrupting the Queen’s peace but threatening the lives of all who were in the establishment. These guardians of the law would look round with fearsome intent, stunning all the diners into silence and apprehension.

Then out would come the owner, consternation and worry writ large on his or her features. There then followed a tale of daring-do from the coppers as to how they got an alarm call telling them there was a serious disturbance in this very restaurant and they had rushed from the nick to here. It had, however, obviously been a false alarm.

Breathing huge theatrical sighs of relief, they informed the still-dazed owner that, on account of this establishment being very dear to their hearts, they had dropped everything, just everything, to get there as quickly as they could. Such was their haste and dedication that their own meal, which they had been just about to partake of, had been binned, ruined, or given to beggars on their hurried way out. Comments such as ‘smells so good in here’ or ‘gosh that looks nice’ accompany their sorry tale.

Needless to say, the owner would express his sincere thanks for the promptness of their actions because he knew his restaurant was always liable to get turned over, and having the old Bill arrive double-quick can really save on furniture and windows. He would then insist on replacing the meal these dedicated guardians of the law had missed. He got a bit of a shock when he was told there were two more blokes in the car outside, but very soon a couple of well-filled carrier bags were brought from the kitchen and handed over with effusive if not entirely convinced thanks.

While this charade was being played out, the diners (once they realized there was no real danger) enjoyed the show. If the coppers did a really good job they might even get a round of applause or an offer of a free drink (on one occasion, I believe, an easily impressed young lady slipped a copper her name and telephone number written on a napkin).

Of course this behaviour plays hob with the established pattern of mumping as practiced by the local coppers, which is why traffic division, who cover a huge swath of the county, are as popular with the local police as were the Vikings during Saxon times. Like those earlier invaders, traffic cops come under cover of darkness, loot and pillage, then bugger off to their vast labyrinth of trunk roads and main highways where in some secret lay-by they consume their ill-gotten gains. The bastards.

Now if you had a rural beat the world was much more fruitful (and with vegetables, too, come to that). You didn’t have a variety of shops to mump from, but you did have the whole landscape of your beat from which to forage for your larder.

In the season, there was mushrooming on early turn (6 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The dew would still be fresh in woodland and hedgerow as your morning patrol took in the known places where fungi lurked.

On late turn (2 p.m. to 10 p.m.) you might set a few snares on rabbit runs near convenient lay-bys or field entrances where you could park a police car out of sight and then go back in the morning to check the yield. On a good night you might set six snares and bag a full half-dozen bunnies; some for the pot and a couple to trade with other coppers. One copper I knew in the back end of the county kept bees and was always good for a swap of a dressed rabbit for a jar of honey.

Road kill was not to be sneered at, either. Early turn in the darker days, or at the end of nights (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) during the summer months one could often find some fresh-killed game birds that were not badly damaged. No hedgehogs though, I never tried those.

Now if you really got lucky, a small deer might ask for a lift and find its way to the oven via the back of your police mini-van. Not often, but occasionally, and you always know a copper who would butcher the carcase for a share of the spoils.

Then there were the rural pursuits of gun and game. All the farms in my manor had shoots during the season but few could afford gamekeepers. So a good rural beat copper would do his bit to keep poachers off their land and, in return, be allowed to do a bit of rough shooting of vermin, just to help keep the balance of nature, you understand. Nothing at all to do with a fine rabbit or pigeon pie; that was just a by-product of local law enforcement and good neighbourliness.

I knew one rural copper whose police house was in a village in the borderlands to the north of the county who hardly had time for policing once the shooting season started. From the beginning of October to the beginning of February all crime stopped in his manor whilst he attended to his keeping duties over the land belonging to one of our noble peers. This copper was a big bloke and had a very short temper so if any miscreant did cause problems during the season he was dealt with in a somewhat ‘direct’ manner, without any paperwork other than a possible sick note he might have need of next day. This copper was as good as gold at other times, however, and had a relaxed view when it came to drinking and driving and other rural pursuits.

Some of the big organised shoots did have keepers and they certainly appreciated the copper who would back them up if it came to mixing it with gangs of poachers. Even if the call came in to the police house when you were off duty, you would put your tunic on and get picked up by the keeper, making sure you had your stave and any other item of ‘personal protection’ you fancied.

In return there was always a brace of the best dropped into the police house after a shoot. And, if you found yourself around the back of the ‘big house’ when the ‘guns’ were readying themselves for a bit of supper prior to a port-soaked drive home and you happened to mention from what roads you would certainly be absent later that night and any other dangers that might lurk in the shape of police patrols you knew of, then a couple of fine plump birds and a bottle of claret were not unheard of.

Many coppers even earned a bit by doing some beating on driven shoots. You didn’t earn much, but you worked alongside the locals who forgot your occupation as the day wore on and you shared in the brambles and twigs and the threat of some bloody fool of a shooter nearly plastering you all with pellets as he missed a low flying bird. You became a countryman then, not a copper, and were more part of the community because of it.

If you were ‘well in’ with some of the local keepers and landowners you would get a day’s shooting on ‘keepers’ day’ at the end of the season. That was a real treat, and once again you were part of the community you served and part of the seasonal traditions of the countryside. Not only but also, you picked up a lot of useful gossip along the way.

The times I am writing about were decades ago, but I can still remember what a joy it was to drive around a beautiful landscape as dawn broke and the birdsong filled the air like a quarrel in a flute factory. Or to walk with measured tread around the empty streets of a town, smelling the wood smoke as people lit the kindling on their fires and the milkman trundled by on his electric cart, the sound of chinking bottles the urban equivalent of the dawn chorus.

The way of the ‘mump’ didn’t just provide an extra morsel on the kitchen table; it was an ancient custom based on mutual trust. British coppers have always been civilians in uniform. Part of the community, we never carried firearms as a normal part of our equipment and relied entirely on our wits and experience to keep the Queen’s peace. Considering all that, what’s a piece of cheese between friends, eh?

cheese
* Traffic Division in the UK is a county-based force that have all the fast cars and wear peaked uniform caps all the time — even in bed, or so it’s claimed. They would equate to the state police in America or storm troopers in Europe. They also are the best drivers on the road, deal with all the motorway pile-ups, and are an elite force. There is always a waiting list to join them and the selection process is rigorous, hence their institutional arrogance.

Ed TillsonI would like to dedicate these few words to another cop I know. A real sheriff who carries a gun and has kept the peace in his part of America for decades. Ed Tillson, the ‘guv’nor’ to those privileged to know him.

confined to barracks

Dear reader
I have been laid up for a while now and confined to barracks.
Age has wearied and the years condemned and as Isobel says as she lathers my parts with a mixture of horse lineament and medicinal creosote, ‘none of us are getting any younger’
This means me being tucked upstairs in the snug, a warm blanket over the legs, cup of tea or warm gin at my side and of course a battery of pipes. Once one is settled and in the gentle embrace of a handful of analgesics there is little to disturb the patient and all is as good as it can be all things considered.

However invariably just when one is comfortable, free from discomfort and enjoying the book and pipe at hand that traitor the bladder makes itself known and demands emptying. Always when a chap is settled, always at a time most inconvenient, always when its a right bugger to get up.

Happens in bed just the same. A good dream involving perhaps a large cake, chocolate biscuits and maybe some goddess of stage and screen such as Gina Lollobrigida with a bucket of double cream and not much else! Then alarm bells ring and that traitorous bladder signals a need to micturate. Always at the dead of night, always when the cold touch of lino on bare feet is as welcome as that of stepping onto cat vomit.

This gets worse as you get older. Dear Terry and I planned journeys by way of good clean public conveniences. His favourite watering holes not only served good food and drink but had commodious and well appointed lavatories. One’s bladder is a liability, a double-dealer and betrayer.

You can ignore it at your peril. Failure is a damp uncomfortable horror, a reminder of childhood or dreadful alcoholic excess. That alone forces the body to cast off warmth and comfort in order to point ‘Percy at the porcelain’.

As I clambered back into my chair, rearranged the blanket, lit the pipe, tried to get as comfortable as I was before the summons I contemplated the one ‘superhero’ attribute I would like and that would be to be able to pee at a distance. As if through some time and space continuiniummm my bladder would despatch its contents without any inconvenience to myself, without me even moving but still knowing that blessed relief that passeth all understanding. Like farting.

Then my mind wove dreams in the air. What if this urine could be despatched anywhere, either as a light rain, a shower, mist or just dumped. No clue as to where it came from, just arrived. Why dictate that it would empty into one’s own lavatory, garden or cat litter tray, why not somewhere else? The world after all is your mollusc if you are a ‘super-hero’.

urinationHere are my ideas, you will have you own and you’re welcome to share them with us all.
So, without prejudice.
The wardrobe of David Cameron just before he’s due to go somewhere important.
Donald Trumps hair – any time at all but best when he’s spouting on camera.
Those greedy bastards of financiers and bankers whose reckless greed pushed the country into ruin. In their drinks. Forever.
There could be more, your choice. I’ve got to get up now and have a wee.