Standing at the checkout in Tesco, two female Garda officers began to place the contents of their basket onto the belt behind me – a dozen large packs of custard creams, a dozen large packets of chocolate digestives, plus numerous other biscuits.
‘You can tell a lot about a person from the contents of their shopping basket’, I remarked to the sergeant who was standing next to me.
‘Don’t start’, she responded, ‘it’s for our Christmas good turn.’
Surveying my shopping, I immediately regretted my remark – a bottle of Power’s, a bottle of Jameson’s, a bottle of Croft, two jars of hot chocolate and a bottle of shampoo.
‘What were you saying, father, about the contents of a shopping basket telling you something?’
‘Ah’, I said, ‘that’s not for me’.
‘Of course, that’s always what they say’.
The checkout operator scanned my purchases and said, ‘do you have any ID, sir? A driving licence or a Garda national ID card?’
‘Do I not look over 21 years old?
‘Sergeant, do I not look over 21?’
‘No’ I’m afraid not’.
‘I’ll have to admit to dyeing my hair grey, then’.
We laughed. ‘Are you working over Christmas?’ I asked her.
‘Yes, but I don’t mind’.
‘I hope it’s peaceful’.
‘And I hope yours is, as well’.
I picked up my shopping and walked on.
Memories of banter with policemen in the summer came back. There were two officers from the San Francisco Police Department driving a pick up marked ‘Bomb Squad’ who pulled up at a red light at a junction were we were waiting to cross. ‘You guys having a good holiday?’ one asked us.
‘We are. Are you having a quiet day?’
‘We sure hope we are’.
Then there was the sergeant in Newport, Oregon who crossed the street to bid us ‘good morning’. Wearing a Leinster rugby jersey was a giveaway as to our origin. ‘I should arrest you’, he smiled, ‘your golfers keep coming here and stealing our silverware’. He stood and chatted until his radio summoned him somewhere.
Policemen very different from those in Burundi who repeatedly stopped us and interrogated our driver. No money changed hands, but it became clear that our progress might have been smoother it it had. Policemen very different from the man in Rwanda whose demand that we pull over prompted our driver to turn the radio on loudly and to stare straight ahead through the windscreen until the policeman grunted something and the driver started the car, not once making eye contact with the officer.
Perhaps the accountability of a police force can be measured by the humour of its officers.