IF I WERE A POLICEMAN
IF I WERE A POLICEMAN
I'm not a policeman. I don't suppose I'll ever be one, either; but that doesn't stop me from sometimes imagining that I am. And when I do get the idea into my head - which has been fairly often, I’ll admit - then I really, really wish I were.
At least, I used to.
The first time I can remember feeling the urge was early one morning after a party in Ladbroke Grove. It's funny how eager we can be to get to these affairs, yet how little we remember of them afterwards. Still; that's not the point. What is, was that I fell out of the place at about three in the morning, full of good cheer, happy as a sandboy. Then I saw it; the offside front wing of my beloved Austin Cambridge hanging by one gnarled bolt. Obviously, some drunk driver had caught the bumper - of what I suspect was the stolen car he was driving - underneath my wheel arch, and taken off like a jet-propelled can opener. Presumably, he didn't dare stop to inspect the damage, or report his crime. Typical! And most inconsiderate - seeing as I was hardly in a position to cruise round to the nick reeking of neat Dubonnet.
You see, if I were a policeman, that wouldn't have happened. You wouldn't have caught me hanging about by some set of traffic lights waiting to pounce on the first road tax dodger who came along; nor accuse him of driving a dangerous vehicle, when he did. What are you supposed to do when you've had half your car ripped off at the dead of night; pop along to Halfords and buy another one? Hardly. No; as I told the officer who stopped me at the lights, if I were a policeman I’d have been patrolling the back streets on the lookout for car thieves and vandals. I also told him that I would not have taken his attitude to my advice. "What about the damage to my car?" I remonstrated as he took my particulars and breathalysed me.
"You've got no hope there," he grinned. "We've got too many important things on our hands to go looking into petty vandalism claims."
Good, isn't it?
What do you think of those London bus drivers then? Second only to cabbies in my opinion. Mad as hatters - the lot of them. Now, if I were the top dog copper in the traffic game - with high scores to aim for - I'd have my troops gainfully employed in tailing the lunatics. A couple a day per officer should do the trick. Dead cert. Taxi drivers must commit more traffic violations in a week than the rest of us do in a lifetime. Yet they get away with it.
Isn't it marvellous.
I'll never forget the time when my dodgy clutch threw in the towel as I shot out of Whitehall into the mainstream around Trafalgar Square. What happened was that a friend of mine had fixed it for a contact of his to do a 'favourable' M.O.T. job for me. All right, so I'll admit that the old one had expired months earlier, but that wasn't my fault. I'd have got it done sooner had I heard of this bloke before. Anyway, there I was, cautiously making my way over to South Ken for the ‘test’, when the final dregs of hydraulic fluid decided to evacuate my master cylinder. Of course, any sane driver would have slowed down and let me regain control of my car. But not those devils. Not the bus and taxi drivers. Oh no. They just tore past me as I fought to disengage gear and brake. I didn't crash - no thanks to them - but I did end up with my front wheels on the pavement, and two booking-hungry coppers with eager noses pressed against the windscreen.
"Arrest those madmen!" I demanded, pointing at the escaping busses and taxis.
"We'd like to see your drivers licence, insurance certificate and M.O.T, please sir," was the extent of their sympathy. "And you don't appear to be displaying a road fund licence."
I got all legal after that. The bloke at the garage told me he couldn't pass the car anyway; not even for twice the agreed cash. Apparently, the law had been watching him all week, and were waiting to pounce the minute he let another dud slip through. Besides, the repair job on the clutch only cost me fifty quid so, what the hell. I got him to do it. Then, believe it or not, I actually taxed the thing. You would have thought that that would entitle me to some measure of police protection wouldn't you; but no. Two days later, some swine pinches the car from a multi-storey in Acton, and the cops do sod all about it.
"What time was it taken?" - this is the totally disinterested officer on the front desk.
"I've no idea," I said. "I've been away from it for hours."
"Then there's no use putting out an alert."
"Because if it wasn't taken within the last hour, or so, it’ll be well away by now; probably halfway up the M1. Might even be a different colour already."
I got myself a new job. 'Clean driver's licence essential,' the ad said. Mine was clean enough. I'd kept it in its plastic wallet. They gave me a green Minivan; not my idea of luxury motoring, but better than nothing - and cheap to run. Would you believe it: my first day on the road and some clot flashes past me just as I'm opening the door. He takes it off its hinges, lets it disentangle itself from his radiator grille, then drives on.
"What do we have here then?" comes the smartarse chime of a nearby copper's wit. "A Mini Moke?"
"Get after that man!" I insisted, again pointing into a cloud of exhaust trailing from the villain of the piece.
"It's an offence to open one's door in the face of approaching traffic," he said. And, as I found out, it bloody-well was.
I'm wiser now. These days, I've got a few more notes in my pocket, so I drive newish cars and keep them within the law. That doesn't stop me sometimes wishing I were a policeman though. It comes over me all of a sudden, when I least expect it - like the other day.
I had to wait for ages in traffic because some twit wouldn't pull out onto a roundabout. It seems to me that whilst everybody gets it drummed into them what they shouldn't do, nobody tells them what they should. Don't they know that there's a simple rule on roundabouts? You give way to traffic from the right - so long as it's on the roundabout. You don't have to wait until the approach road is entirely deserted. If I'd have been a policeman, that day, I'd have arrested the bugger for causing an obstruction. But they never do, do they.
Anyway, what this is all leading up to is the fact that I got some long-awaited satisfaction at last. No, I didn't become a policeman, exactly; but it was the next best thing. You see, a friend of mine asked me to his fancy dress party, and yes - you've guessed it - I was on my way there in the uniform.
I must admit that it hadn't occurred to me to live out the role: not, that is, until I found myself stuck behind another stream of vehicles down a turning off the Whitechapel Road. I waited patiently for two or three minutes, thinking that there must be a set of lights that I couldn't see, or maybe somebody broken down. But when after some considerable time there was no sign of movement, I got out of my car and went to investigate. At that point I’d forgotten all about my garb, and failed to notice the more-respectful-than-usual nods from the other drivers. Then I saw it; the cause of the hold-up; a bloody taxi abandoned in the middle of the road, driver door open, no sign of him.
"Come on officer," called somebody. "Get him to move."
Of course, I ignored the request, seeing as it wasn't aimed at me, I thought. But it came again, followed by others. Then it dawned. "Right you are," I said, showing an authoritative flat palm. This was too good to be true, and I wasn't about to come clean and let the moment pass.
My first duty, I considered, was to get the traffic moving. I checked the ignition in the taxi; there were no keys. "OK;" I said to the three impatient busybodies who had left their motors to join me, "help me push this out of the way."
"I should cocoa," said one.
"You’ve got to be joking," another demurred.
"Well, how do you expect me to clear the road?" I asked, feeling somewhat inclined to arrest the useless pack there and then – for loitering.
"That's your problem," one said, and the others agreed.
"Oh, it is, is it?" I said in spite. "As soon as I've sorted this lot out, I want to see your licences and insurance documentation."
They mumbled and grumbled amongst themselves - an element of bad language was involved - then grudgingly lent their weight to my taxi-shifting efforts. Good. We soon had the thing up on the pavement and out of the way, and my next professional decision was whether to get things going or carry out my threat. I couldn't resist plumping for the latter. Only one of them had his papers with him and, to my untrained eye, they seemed to be in order. I told the others that they were obliged to present their documents at a police station within seven days.
"Got a chitty then?" one who had obviously been through this procedure before, asked.
"We have a new system now,” I bluffed. “No chitties necessary. Everything's on computer."
Fortunately, he swallowed it.
By now, the traffic queue was stretching back as far as the eye could see, so I ordered everybody back to their cars and began to wave them past. It was most satisfying; having motorist after motorist bow to my authority. Although I say it myself, I did a pretty good job - just like I had always thought I would if I were a policeman. London was moving again, thanks to me.
Then the taxi driver returned. "Here..." he immediately protested, "who's been mucking about with my cab?"
Totally composed, I was ready for him, relishing the prospect of the next few minutes. "Is this your vehicle?" I asked the obvious, like policemen do.
"No," the cabbie responded with all the backchat they’re famed for. "Mine's yellow and red. That one belongs to Big Ears."
I played the game. "If you see your gnomic friend, Mr. Ears,” I quipped, “perhaps you'd mention that Policeman Plod’s doing him for obstructing the highway." That wiped the cocky grin off his face. From there on it was all apologies, pathetic excuses about helping some invalid woman to her flat and - get this - a sweetener; twenty quid in fivers he offered me.
I don't mind telling you I was sorely tempted to take it. But I was a policeman – wasn’t I; so didn't. Instead, I decided to really put the wind up him. "You're under arrest," I announced. "Attempting to bribe an officer of the law is an extremely serious offence. I must ask you to accompany me to the station. I should warn you," I added for authenticity and maximum officiousness, "that anything you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence."
"Fair enough," he conceded lamely."
I thought about it. The swine had me stumped there. How could I run him in? Damn! "Look;" I coughed, back-tracking, "I'm too busy here to do that. Lend me a pen and I'll make a note of your name and address." He dutifully obliged, throwing in an empty cigarette packet to write on, then I sent him on his way.
"I say constable," somebody distracted me from behind. "Can you direct me to Fenchurch Street?"
"Well," I pushed my helmet up, thoughtfully scratching my forehead, "you want to go down there, turn right and keep walking to the far end." To be honest, I didn’t have the vaguest idea.
"Helpful, I must say," shrugged the man. "I’m driving, not walking – and that road’s no entry."
"Mummy, mummy," a little boy tugged at my sleeve. "I’ve lost my mummy."
"All right son," I was reassuring. "We'll find her."
"Look here;” the blasted man persisted, “what about Fenchurch Street?"
At this point, I should tell you, I began to sense the first scintilla of doubt as to the suitability of my temperament for the job. "Get lost!" I advised him.
"But I am lost," he said.
"And so am I," whined the youngster.
"There's been an accident man," a very much out of breath Jamaican informed me. "Just a couple of streets away. You'd better call an ambulance on your radio."
"Right," I said, moments before remembering that I didn't have a radio.
"Some bus has hit a lamp post," he added.
"Tough titty!" I gave up, and walked away in the opposite direction, leaving the lost traveller to comfort the lost kid, and the Jamaican with an even lower opinion of the British police.
Well, it was with considerable relief that I turned back into the street where I'd left my car. I'd remove the helmet, I decided, and only put it back on when I reached the party. That way nobody could call on me for assistance. I was off-duty, as it were.
Guess what? My ruddy car was gone. No kidding; gone without trace. I dialled 999 from a phone box.
"No it hasn't been stolen," a totally laid-back officer eventually confirmed. "It was causing an obstruction. We towed it away."
It cost me forty-five quid to get it back; and that's to say nothing of the damage to my pride when half the Whitechapel nick turned out to laugh and jeer over the way I was dressed. And I haven't had the fine yet. Heaven knows what that'll be; another twenty-five, at least, I shouldn't wonder. Still, it was worth it in a way. I'd had my moment of glory, being a custodian of the law for a short while; putting people right.
I don't know yet whether the experience has cured me. I've gone six days now without feeling the urge. I suppose you could say it was rotten of the cops to take my Jag; and it’s how I felt at the time. But I have to admit that if I were a policeman, I'd have done the same thing. In any case, they did me a favour, really. You see, I didn't have sufficient cash on me to bail out the car that evening, so had to complete my journey by taxi; and who do you think was driving it? Yes, our friend from earlier on - and he looked most uncomfortable on encountering me again.
"All right officer," he came clean. "So you've found me. It was a daft thing to give you a false address. Straight round to the cop shop, I suppose?"
"It certainly is;” I confirmed, “after you've run me over to Bow."
We’d just arrived outside my mate’s house when the realisation hit home. "Er," I tested the water, "that was only twenty pounds you offered me, wasn't it?"
In his rear view mirror, I could see the chap’s knowing smile forming. "Oh silly me," he giggled weakly. "Did I say twenty?"
"You did. And that was before you were facing the bribery charge."
"Tut-tut," he shook his head. "I meant to say a hundred and twenty."
I took it, as well as the complimentary taxi ride; and had no qualms about doing so, I can assure you. You see, I’d finally come to admit to myself that if I were a policeman – I mean really, really a policeman - I'd be a bent one.
* * *
Copyright Albert Woods (2013)Thanks for reading this. For anybody interested, I have my first complete novel up on Amazon – available for Kindle or PC. It’s a crime/political thriller whodunit, and is dirt cheap You can read the synopsis and first chapter for free! So must be worth a look. Just search the title:– EIGHTEEN to TWELVE