Bad cops

Feb 5th, 2009 | By | Category: Cross Channel

The postmen drove red ones and the Post Office telephone engineers drove bright yellow, my uncle’s Bedford van was white.  It remains fresh in the memory.

In childhood, I loved going out with him as he did the farm rounds: checking livestock; drawing water from wells; moving electric fences; delivering bales of hay; tying gates firmly.

One summer’s evening, he had parked at the roadside and gone from the van to check cattle, telling me to stay in the van.  It was a fine summer evening and I sat looking out at the hedgerows and watching the occasional car that passed.  The quietness was broken by the sound of a motor cycle pulling up.  It seemed a strange thing: who would be stopping behind the van on this stretch of country road?

A fist came down on the roof of the van and a man’s face appeared, glaring in through the open driver’s window: the helmet and goggles and dark uniform of a member of the Bath and Somerset Constabulary.  Policemen terrified me, and here there was one only a few feet away.

“What are you doing here?” he barked.

“Waiting for my uncle”, I said, trembling in fear at the aggressive apparition.

“What’s he doing parked here?”

“Looking at cows”, I answered.

“You tell your uncle, I want to see him”.  He slammed his hand down on the roof and stamped his way back to his motor bike.  The machine started with a roar and sped down the road.  As soon as it was out of sight, I opened the van door, slipped through the nearest gate, and headed across the field back towards the farm: I wanted no more encounters with constables.

My uncle had returned by this point and called out to me, “Where are you going?”

“Back”, I shouted, “there was a policeman”.

The whiteness of the van and the greenness of grass, fresh from summer rain, are as vivid now as forty years ago.

In retrospect, it seemed a strange interlude.  What did the policeman expect when he stepped off the motorbike?  Had he wished to speak to my uncle, why had he not simply called at the farm?  When he saw no-one in the driving seat of the van, why did he not simply get back onto the bike and ride off?

In retrospect, it seemed not much more than an attempt to intimidate a child; an attempt that certainly succeeded.  For years it left me with a suspicion of police officers, I was convinced that they regarded bullying as part of their duties and developed an irrational sense of fear and guilt whenever in their presence.

If there ever was business with my uncle, it would never have been too serious: a tractor without number plates or proper lights would have been amongst the worst transgressions. My grandfather would have been caught for similar offences in former times – he was once fined 2/6 by a magistrate for being on a bicycle without a lamp ‘properly trimmed and lit’.

Reading stories now of crime in England, a country bobby hammering on a van roof seems to belong to a mythical world, but, then, I wonder how many more children were intimidated by oafish behaviour? How many grew into adulthood with a deep suspicion of those in whom we were meant to trust?

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  1. Policemen always seemed like giants back then!

  2. I remember my mother saying to me in busy shops ‘if you ever get lost, go find a policeman!’ as if! Then after wondering off one day, my brother did end up in Stockport lockup once sharing Dolly Mixture with a very nice female cop!

  3. Ian From the description I think his name was ‘pearce’I’m sure it was you with me once when we were kids, that he stopped when we were on our bicycles…that time I had the lecture about riding two abreast on the road……It frightened me a bit then,I am still annoyed now when I see a pack of cyclists riding 2 and 3 abreast, Old Pearce would be in his element.

  4. Could have been him; Sparkes was the other one. What was the point of trying to intimidate kids?

    Riding two abreast was quite legal as far as I remember. Do you remember the old Highway Code, didn’t it say ‘do not ride more than two abreast on busy or narrow roads”, or something like that?

  5. I remember Sparkes too I don’t think he was as bad as Pearce.
    I think you are right about 2 abreast, it was just another way of intimidating us kids.

  6. Sparks was too gentle to be a copper, if it was not Pearce it could have been “Tubby” Davies. Pearce’s hobby was collecting first editions, seems strange for a heavy-handed “gent”

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