There were two Garda checkpoints at which I was stopped today; both seemed concerned with tax and insurance. Already this year, I have been subject to two random breath checks by humourless Gardai who reeled off some line about Section 4 of some Act or other. Both showed an alcohol level of zero, a fact which seemed to disappoint one of the Guards. Presumably the checkpoints have a place in the great scheme of things, but are a far cry from memories of the police in England thirty years ago.
Living in a little cottage outside of Cranleigh in Surrey, one Saturday morning there was loud knocking at the door. It was not yet eight o’clock. Who would want to drive along a quiet back lane in Surrey in order to hammer so loudly at the door?
“Hold on, hold on!” I shouted. Phil and Ken, my housemates remained fast asleep as I passed the doors off the cottage living room. No-one ever came to the front door. I knew no-one who might even call at the house.
My bare feet were cold on the floor inside the door. Winter was approaching and my hastily pulled on tee shirt and jeans would provide little warmth outside. I towelled my hair rapidly with one hand as I drew back the bolts with the other. I had been lying in the bath contemplating a day out when the knocking had started. A bus from Cranleigh would take me to the station in Guildford and from there it was an easy trip into Waterloo. I hadn’t much money, but the joy of London was all the places you could go for free.
The reverie had been rudely broken by the first of the insistent knocks. My hope that one of the others might answer was in vain. If they were awake, they weren’t going to leave their warm beds and step out into the cold living room with its unlit fire to investigate the disturbance.
“Hello”, called a gruff voice through the door as I turned the key.
I opened the door to be confronted by a large man in a police uniform.
My heart sank. There was no reason for it to sink, but I have only to come within twenty yards of a policeman and I feel that I must be guilty of something. (The most heinous crime I have ever committed is drinking after hours and I never considered that a crime anyway).
“Yes”, I said.
“You were to go to London today for a meeting.”
“Yes”, I said. (“Meeting” would be grand description of seeing an old school friend).
“Mr Jarvis phoned us. He is unable to travel and had no way of contacting you. He asked us to call”.
“Thank you”, I said, embarrassed that my friend had had the audacity to phone the local police station, there being no phone at the cottage.
“It is very good of you to call”, I said to the policeman as he left.
That was 1980. I can’t imagine that the police would find much time now to call to tell a kid that his friend could not meet him; certainly not in Co Laois.