Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Highwaymen and highwaywomen.

I awoke in the early hours on Sunday morning. Ever since the fire, I have had a preternatural awareness of any emergency vehicles stopping outside my house late at night, even without their sirens blazing As John Donne wrote, “send not to know / For whom the bell tolls, / It tolls for thee. “  Just in case the sirens are ringing out for me, I always slip out of bed if I catch sight of flashing lights reflected onto my bedroom ceiling and make my way over to the window.

I could see two stationary ambulances immediately across the way and a police van parked on my side of the road, but no one in or around them. It was a relief that there were no fire engines. In addition to my own house fire, (Fire,24th October 2009 ) there had been several others in the vicinity over the years, although presumably unconnected.

I began to speculate why there were two ambulances. When I had come to the aid of the foolish young man who had attacked his girlfriend and then tried to kill himself (Crash, 19th October 2009) two ambulances appeared on the scene, as a result of one being summoned and the other being en-route to hospital with a patient in the back. My mind raced as to the possible scenarios which would involve two ambulances. Eventually someone stepped out from the back of one ambulance and shut the doors before climbing in the front and being driven off. Finally the police van and the other ambulance left as well, ending the drama for the night.

I never know the etiquette for dealing with such situations. Unless you have witnessed the incident or have summoned the emergency services, there seems little one can do. However, simply returning to bed when someone could be fighting for their life mere yards away seems somewhat callous.

I recall looking out of the window one afternoon and seeing that a double-decker bus had broken down. It was full of school children apparently staging a mini riot. I telephoned the police and would have remained within the safety of my forth storey look-out had I not spied some schoolgirls unfastening the petrol cap. Fearing they were going to try and set the bus alight, I hurried out into my front garden. I stood on the low wall and spoke to the girls over the railings. I had calculated that from my perch, I would have enough of a head start to beat a hasty retreat back into the house if things turned nasty.
“I would leave that petrol cap alone, if I were you, “I warned one girl in particular. “The police are on their way and if you have any sense you will leave whilst you still can.” The school girl heeded my advice.

On the same stretch of road but on a different day, another ne’er-do-well was not so fortunate. I had just stepped onto the pedestrian crossing with the lights in my favour when a car hurtled past me, causing me to leap to safety. A police car happened to be on the other side of the road. It did an abrupt u-turn and by the time I had crossed the road, they had stopped the other vehicle, forced the driver out and had him spread-eagled against his own car bonnet as they searched him.
“I hope they throw the book at him,” I thought with quiet satisfaction.

On another night, I awoke to find two police vans had flagged down a car containing several young black men, I watched as the police carefully searched the interior of the car and the boot. They found nothing and were obliged to let the young men continue their onwards journey in peace.

Other than the broken down school bus, I have only witnessed one street fight outside. Two men were having an argument one evening. The younger man would run up to the middle aged man, taunt him to his face and then run off again. He accused the older man of punching him in a local pub and stealing from him. The older man lived nearby. I wondered why he didn’t just walk into his own house or perhaps he didn’t want the younger man to know where he lived. The younger man did not seem to pose any real threat as he would hurry away each time the older man was within sparring distance. Gradually their fight left the confines of the narrow pavement as they recklessly weaved in and out of the moving traffic. I went downstairs and into the garden after I realised that the Couple and the Original Freeholder were already outside, eavesdropping on the police from their side of the garden fence. It transpired that the older guy was both deaf and unable to speak. I was even more indignant at his assailant’s use of Anglo-Saxon expletives relating to the female anatomy, as I knew there were young children within earshot.

The street fight had originated in a local pub. There had been a public house or inn on the same site for centuries. A small plaque commemorated the fact it had once been the haunt of highwaymen in the 17th and 18th centuries. Doubtless some former patrons once hung out at another notorious locality; namely the gibbet by the common where their tarred corpses swung from chains as a grisly warning to other such malefactors. It is strange how the passage of centuries has added a certain romance to such felons, whereas their modern counterparts evoke nothing but contempt.

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