Sunday, 25 December 2016

Happy Christmas

I did spend one Christmas on my own. It was 1960 and I was nineteen and had been a Police Constable since December 14th. I was a real pro!

In the two weeks that I had been stationed in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, I had just about found my way around the town. I should have been overloaded with help, but there was a flu epidemic that year and people went down like nine pins. I had a guide on my first night and a map for the next ten days.

The rule in the Force in those days was that married men with a family got first choice of being off at Christmas. The single officers were expected to work all Bank Holidays. I had no objection to that.

What made it look as though it was going to be hard, however, was that I was almost the last man standing. Sergeant Blake could look like a thunderstorm about to happen, but I'd seen through him the first time I met his wife. She gave him such a look of affection that I knew he was really a pussy cat.

He talked to me on Christmas Eve. He said it was looking bad because I was the only able-bodied single officer available and the office had to be manned for at least sixteen hours. He was a family man himself and was mithering about how he could take half the strain, but I told him to forget it. His place was with his family and I was a big boy now. Nevertheless, he said he would come to see I was OK from time to time.

I got to the office at 6am and said goodnight to the Night Shift. Sergeant Blake came in about 9am and I put the kettle on. He assured me it would be as lively today as a graveyard and my biggest problem would be boredom. I was pouring the tea and the most dishevelled man I have ever seen walked into the parade room. He looked at me and said "I think you should be aware that I am about to break the front window at Parkinson's the Jewellers."

Before I could formulate a reply, Sergeant Blake stood behind the man and said "Arnold, thinking thoughts like that are a crime. I'm afraid I'm going to have to arrest you." He then turned to me and with a straight face ordered me to place this man in the cells and throw away the key.

I took Arnold to the cells and he thanked me very much.

Back in the office Sergeant Blake gave me a phone number. "That's Elsie at the Crown. Tell her it's the usual for Arnold. She'll send him some dinner over later. For you too, probably. Just give him some tea every few hours and he'll be no trouble. He justs wants to spend Christmas somewhere warm. We'll let him out in a couple of days."

So I settled down to a quiet day making tea for Arnold. We chatted a while and I learned his whole sad story. Then I heard a real commotion coming up the front steps. As I raced to the door it was flung open and a man on horseback rode in. "Is this where I join the Mounted Police?" he asked. When he saw the stunned look on my face he said "Just kidding. This is for you Boys in Blue." and he slid a sack off the horse, bade me a Happy Christmas and clattered back down the steps.

The sack held everything you could ask for from a thriving farm. There was fruit, vegetables and a few joints of pork and beef. Apparently an annual present that the Sergeant had forgotten to tell me about.

I had just about got over that when Elsie came in from the Crown. She had two hot meals and a young man carrying half a crate of beer. "Enjoy, but don't get silly." she said, and left me to Arnold, Christmas cheer and some very nice food.

If life in the Police Force had always been so enjoyable, I might have stayed.

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