There's Just Ice.
As a rule, the most guilty give themselves away by wriggling off the hook with plausible excuses. In the outcome, PC Sinbagh proved no exception. But let me put my hands up first: Yessir, I had failed to produce documents.
Handcuffed on the back seat of his Panda, Sinbagh drove me down to Central Southern Division. I was amazed how such a minor operation required the siren. But this proper young cop was a right show-off. “Strewth, not another?” a colleague guffawed as we entered the station. I took that to mean, somebody had just lost a fiver. And a right stickler, too. With the desk sergeant on the phone to the records dept., my captor felt duty bound to strip search me on suspicion of possessing contraband.
As a frequent carrier (though no courier) I had seen this coming and – clean! - was not exactly doing a load. But oh how the horrid walls of that examination chamber filled me with melancholy. The cracked tiles, the dirty green paint daubed from shoulder height to ceiling - and the dinginess of the room itself, lit by a bare sixty-watt incandescent hanging from a twist of ragged flex: an affront to innocence and guilt alike. I saw all the poor souls driven to committing desperate, squalid acts, marched in and out of its confines, never to leave their shame behind.
In contrast, Sinbagh's face was a jolly pink with boyish freckles. He had a ginger mop, not quite short,
Slip your glads off, my man, placing them over the back of this chair.
As you do, I stood and considered my options. Each of which ending so drearily, I was soon forced to shrug,
If you insist...
And beginning to gloat somewhat, Sinbagh leaned against a grey metal desk that was the only other furniture. I took my jacket off, then my shirt. One by one, I draped the garments over the metal chair back. Sinbagh picked the items up, examined them with squints and sniffs, went through pockets, felt along hems, held them out at arm's length and passed judgement on their worth,
Not much of a dresser, are you?
I don't go in for uniforms, if that's what you mean.
Hmm. Take off your underpants.
I did as I was told. He was snacking on a pair of rubber gloves.
Now turn around. That's it, sunny boy, bend over and touch your toes.
Whatever turns you on.
Actually, I expressed that last line more as a thought than an utterance. It was followed by the pinch of cold rubber fingers pulling my nether cheeks apart. But the law enforcer didn't penetrate the crack, this part of the examination being more or less perfunctory. Even if I'd stashed anything there where the sun never shone, he had no intention of digging in and pulling it out. Humiliation was all that PC Sinbagh was rooting for.
Satisfied, I suppose, with my performance as stripper, he left me while I got dressed. A long, resentful pause ensued. Eventually I was summoned back to the desk and the sergeant's consoling smile,
So what about these vehicle documents?
Humiliation reminded me how dumb I'd been. I reached for the wallet from my possessions tray and rooted out three bits of folded paper. Indulgently, the sarge went through them,
Morris enthusiast, is it? His head gave a respectful nod, Owner of the old Post Office van. Good choice that... Well, the receipt for your road tax checks out, and the cover note from the insurance company looks genuine enough; but tut-tut, this M.O.T. certificate... his narrow eyes peering up from the desk... shows your road worthiness was out of date when you were pulled over. He made a note, You'll have to pay a fine.
Which was hardly the end of the world. I held up my wallet in a speculative gesture,
His eyebrows did a little jig,
That's for the magistrate to decide. Is the vehicle still on the road?
I told the exact truth,
It's on jacks. Doing a spot of welding underneath, aren't I.
A chassis job, eh? His voice warmed again, Working on it yourself?
With a mate. We've done the brakes, the electrics and patched a few holes in the wings.
His nods were elder-bruvverly,
They are legendary motors, and your restoration of the old bus is a credit to you. He handed me a slip of paper, Here's the court address. You're slated to appear on the 14th of next month at 10:30am. Don't be late!
Does that mean I'm free to go?
The sarge glanced over at PC Sinbagh, who was sharing words with the colleague... something about a riot at Trenchard barracks. Having enjoyed his bit of fun, he seemed to have lost interest in my case. Hadn't I boosted his arrest tally? Wasn't that a point to thank me on? Even the desk sergeant betrayed a whiff of irritation with the younger brethren, and spoke somewhat under his breath,
I've no reason to detain you.
To counter Sinbagh's cruel indifference, I summoned up my last vestige of human dignity,
Then I'll bid you all a very good evening, officers.
Unfortunately, PC Sinbagh wasn't done with our street, nor with me. I think he saw us as a soft touch. One evening a few weeks later, he came rustling along again in his Panda, slowing to a halt in front of the place we called “Nothing Lasts”.
Here's a little digression to set the scene. The gaff was a derelict house named from the words ”Nothing Lasts” daubed in white paint on its charred bricks. At that time, a bunch of us were fixing it up as a community venue. Though it had been partially gutted by fire, its floorboards and roof were still intact. The front ceiling had fallen in and the rafters had been robbed. All the partition walls had gone, but the staircase was in one piece, and the deck of the upper back rooms was fairly sound. So, bit by bit, applying some lengths of scrap timber here and there, and a few splashes of whitewash, we were creating a miniature theatre for ourselves. With an upstairs gallery and a small stage in what had been the bay window, it was just the right size for our little neck of the woods.
Anyhow, after putting in several hours' work that afternoon, we were hanging out on the street in front of “Nothing Lasts” when PC Sinbagh's Panda came to its predatory halt.
Charley Barley stepped up to greet the new arrival, who was shoving his helm on as he alighted from the vehicle. Old Charley, having studied pacifism, believed the best means of defence was a non-violent pre-emptive strike,
'Evening, officer! Welcome to the street!
This gave the rest of us the chance to dispose of a J that had been doing the rounds. Sinbagh was sniffing the air,
Is that drugs I smell?
Charley shook his head and tutted,
Oh no, sir, not drugs. No one living round here can afford drugs, not in these miserable times.
Charley Barley was a card. And something of a hexpert. Once, when Heime (the German guy) was up before the beak on a charge of cultivation, Barley was called in by the defence as an experienced grower. Hair down to his elbows, his coat of many colours, he assured the magistrate, “Your Worship, as one with twenty years' experience tending these weeds, the specimens I saw in my friend here's garden were all males - whereas the evidence presented to this court contains seeds. That's an inconsistency in horticultural terms. I think there has been some ex-officio tampering going on.” The magistrate must have been a gardening buff himself, and so off-hand and erudite was Charley's patter, that Heime - who with previous convictions was facing six months inside – got off with a slapped wrist and was fined a pony. On account of this and various other reasons, Charley was the Great Kahuna of the Street.
But PC Sinbagh was no do-gooding Justice of the Peace to be taken in thus,
I can see from the purple haze of your eyes, sunny Jim, you're off your stupid face - so don't get cute with me.
Charley Barley, who was six foot four in his sandalled feet and a cave-dwelling hippie since the year dot, was rarely phased by the law. The likes of PC Sinbagh were the meat and drink of his vegan brekkas. He threw his hands up in a biblical-type gesture,
O, how you have sussed us, Superior One! We that are all guilty, bow to thy will! Take us in! Gram-mercy, save us all!
You feckin... I'll...
And the poor constable of Metropolitan Police was forced to restrain no one but his rotten self.
But I, who from the onset had struggled to control a fit of sundry snorts and giggles, was not to get off so lightly. Thwarted by Charley Barley's wide-boy psycho-toot, the copper turned on me - the only likely-looking collar to be felt - blurting out his mantra,
I know you. Empty your pockets!
Oh, not again!
So I went through the motions while my brothers-in-outlaw took the opportunity to melt away. Sinbagh had me alone once more. Actually, this time I really was carrying. We all were, in a modest way. So it was no dishonour that every man had run for himself. But, thanks be, luck remained on my side. Ronnie the Dwarf had come sauntering down the street and, in his indomitable way, managed to squeeze himself between me and the officer. I did a quick pirouette and got the titchy lump of personal safely into my gob.
Now even the casual appearance of a dwarf is a major challenge to any officer of the law. Being neither a child nor a disabled person, to a highly programmed operative your dwarf nevertheless embodies some qualities of both. And your average copper, always having the rule book to guide its every thought and action, becomes confused in their presence. I suspect the police are not quite sure if they're even dealing with a fellow human. A relatively intelligent example such as PC Sinbagh is inevitably non-plussed by the intrusion of a dwarf, which you can tell from the way they hold up their elbows and unnaturally lower the pitch of their voices. Dwarves, besides being regular folk when you get to know them, are always good value to have around and long may they thrive.
Keep your hands to yourself!
Ronnie winked at me and carried on his way down the street. Sinbagh stepped back, his hold on me somehow broken. Loathe to swallow, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut and my eyes down. A few moments passed while the copper looked this way and that. Assorted folk were out on their doorsteps, observing the scene from safe distances. Eventually, he removed his helm and got back into the Panda. But driving off, he gave me such a mean look as quashed any sense of victory I might have enjoyed at his empty-handed departure.
There followed a number of carefree weeks and months before our paths would cross again. I had paid the fine and carried on my sad and lonely existence, as I was wont. Now my friends Deryck and Pat were a gay and a trans who had taken me to this party under the walls of the prison. The venue was a large gaff, formerly a pub or bank, then in use as some sort of community centre. It was crawling with talent, as Deryck would have it. Claiming he was concerned for my lack of success with the opposite sex at that time, he was out to persuade me that if I only pretended to be bent, I could get all the girl-boy action I craved. This seemed to be a ruse for him to get inside my nickers, but the fact of the matter was that Deryck and Pat had no shortage of female company. Things were looking hopeful, then; the party in full swing, a dozen or so gorgeous punk and hippie chicks cavorting hither and thither exhibiting the glee of spontaneous intoxication. If ever I was going to meet my next darling, surely I was about to get lucky. Then who should I bump into?
I had ventured upstairs and found the bedrooms only to be occupied by one snogging clique or another - and hearing some wild dance music kicking off below, decided to return to the ground floor. Half way down, at a bend in the staircase, there he was, leaning against the wall... a straight-looking guy in a short ginger mop with a bright pink, freckled face. It was Sinbagh alright, though not in his usual disguise. Curiously kitted out in drainpipe jeans and a check shirt he was holding a vast, unlit joint and staring from his vantage point out across the heaving maelstrom. For some reason that to this day I can never fathom, I dallied there and – like a moth to a candle flame - leaned back against the wall next to him. He seemed unfazed at first, and I wondered if he hadn't recognised me. Anyhow, I broke the ice,
Good party, innit, bruvver? Aren't you going to light that little monster?
He turned to face me. Our lips were inches apart.
Maybe it's a fake?
Of course it is. Here you are under cover.
So what would you have me say?
I had just decorked a bottle of white, and offered him a pull on it. He took the bottle and examined its label. It was Blue Nun - a decent if commercial hock - and he nodded in approval. So he put his head back and - rather expertly, I thought - poured a goodly sloosh into his open mouth with his sharp white teeth hardly grazing the neck. Did he burp, though,
Very refreshing, that. Ta!
Shall I introduce you to some of my friends?
I was outrageous by this time.
We mooched downstairs to find the gang.
Deryck, this is PC Sinbagh.
Peacey? What a lovely name. Are you an arse?
No, Deryck, he's a copper. Police Constable Sinbagh.
Deryck was deadpan. All he saw before him was a gorgeous hunk of pink boy-flesh,
Run me in any time you like, Love. He held his wrists out. There were scars under the bracelets. Sinbagh gave a contemptuous smile,
Sorry, 'fraid I'm not on duty tonight.
Deryck waved that little obstacle aside,
Then put me down as a bit of overtime. Or do me a Citizen's Arrest.
The looming, angular figure of Pat joined us,
She reached a hand out for the unlit joint Sinbagh was still holding. The copper gave it over. Pat sparked the thing up, took a few drags and passed it on to Deryck. Deryck had his regulation three puffs, then passed it back to Sinbagh. I reiterated my previous statement,
He's a copper.
Pat's shriek was feminine but rather unlady-like,
Eeyah? You're shitting us!
According to Phil.
Sinbagh had passed the reeking joint to me without taking a single drag. I passed it straight back to Pat, with apologies,
I've had enough, thank you. This whole scene's giving me the heebie-jeebies.
Pat took a couple of deep drags, thinking twice before she spoke,
Do many coppers smoke when they're off duty?
I'd had it up to here,
Look, come on, woman! Regard. Deep down inside he's just an ordinary geezer. Out of uniform, he's no different from you, I or any other freaking hunk of human flesh and bone.
Pat wasn't having any of that kind of crap and pulled a sour face. She might also have twigged the spliff was only herbal tobacco and cardboard,
Deryck – I think genuinely smitten with the guy - gazed into Sinbagh's blue-grey eyes. What he glimpsed in them, who could tell? But Pat was visibly disgusted, and repeated her jibe, only higher pitched than ever,
I took up the call,
There you are, PC Sinbagh: your assignment for this evening - should you choose to take it – is to show that deep down you're just a hordinary chapaquiddick like the rest of us.
Sinbagh had his arms akimbo, clearly up for something,
You're on. Follow me.
Ordinarily, it was not the kind of party you would leave until you'd either scored - or more likely drunk and piped yourself into the gates of dawn. Yet at barely midnight out we trotted into who knew what. Come to think of it, that spliff could have the genuine article and the three of us about to be entrapped by its joint endeavour. But parked outside there was no black Mariah, no swarm of bobbies ready to pounce. Instead, PC Sinbagh led us to his pride and joy: a silver-grey Ford Escort Mark 3 with 1.6 litre and XR3 trim.
Get in and I'll take you all for a spin.
The Pied Piper incarnate could not have been more charming. I sat up front, while Deryck and Pat took up the rear. Their stoned giggles soon turned to hoots of joy as Sinbagh popped in the clutch, slammed his foot down and boosted us from nought to sixty in about ten ticks. I'd hardly had time to clunk and click when I felt my heart sinking backwards into the infrastructure of the seat. At that hour, the road was pretty clear of traffic, but I got the impression Sinbagh would have welcomed a bit more competition. The Escort beat the hell out of the Panda and I told him so. Actually, it was nerves that kept me talking,
Nice set of wheels. However, I'm surprised you opted for the 5-door version.
His left hand never leaving the gear stick, he steered with forefinger and thumb hooked round the wheel spoke, like an amateur rally driver. Despite all this activity, his voice betrayed a little hurt,
It's only for Mum. You know, the obligatory Sunday outing. She insists on her back seat and moans if she has to duck her head to get in.
It's still got great performance, even with the extra...
My words were left behind as we accelerated again, this time to beat the lights of a pedestrian crossing. In truth, PC Sinbagh was quite a bit more than an amber gambler. He was a frigging maniac behind the wheel. Deryck and Pat were in utter bulk by this time, loving it. I was clammy to the seat of my pants.
We followed the Circular that normally crawls its way through all the borough high streets up towards the Gyratory, our driver giving us a running commentary as we went. He was contemptuous of all other road users and had no compunction about beeping his horn or flashing his headlights at whoever got in his way. He jumped half a dozen traffic lights and I don't think we stopped once, reaching the edge of that giant roundabout in about ten minutes flat.
What happened next was an act of pure tragi-comedy. Our approach was down a three lane one-way street where a couple of heavy pantechnicon were on either side, crawling along. We could've cut between them, only for a pesky motorbike that was blocking our path. Tottering along on the two-wheeler perched a middle aged couple loaded up with fishing tackle. They had one wickerwork basket jammed between them and another strapped on behind. Various rods and nets stuck out this way and that, plus a sun shade, folding chairs, carrier bags, you name it. The loading itself would have defied a troop of Chinese acrobats. And where on earth they were headed for at that time of night was nobody's biz. But them grinding along at the same speed as the lorries brought a sudden downturn in our progress. Sinbagh let loose with the headlights, horn, and some choice expletives,
Get your fat arses off my road. Pull over you twits, or I'll string your guts along the gutter.
This unexpected burst of son-et-lumière in the moving tunnel between the two lorries must have frightened the life out of the couple. Their bike swayed this way and that. The woman turned round and her face shone red. Both she and her fella were wearing those old fashioned snow drop helmets with no chin guards. Honestly, they looked straight out of a Fifties' road safety film. Now Deryck and Pat were not especially cruel folk, but this scene with the anglers on the bike had them barking like demented sea-lions. I too was hardly managing to catch my breath. But PC Sinbagh could not see the joke at all. He wound his window down, the better to shout from,
Give... Me... Room...
Which he punctuated with bursts of the old klaxon.
We hit the Gryratory proper where the road suddenly turned and opened out onto five or six lanes. The lorries peeled off right and left, giving us plenty of space to overtake. Instead of which, Sinbagh drew level with the bike and proceeded to harangue its riders,
You complete pair of idiots.
The man and the woman shouted back. I didn't hear what. It didn't matter. I swear there has never been such a moment in mine or anyone else's life. The more I the others laughed, the funnier it got. The absurd couple. The angry driver. Our own stupid laughter. Tears were streaming down my face, I clutched for air. The road-hog copper and the fishy couple continued their forty mile an hour argument. We spun round the Gyratory like a grotesque tableau-vivant on a surrealist merry-go-round.
The passage of time somehow became detached from the action, and although the whole scene couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds, the range of my emotions burst at the seams. On top of the hilarity, I experienced both a pang of sympathy for the couple and a stab of jealousy. I saw that Sinbagh was a lost soul, his compulsive showing off a symptom of a deep malaise – possibly involving a relationship with manipulative or overbearing parents. Deryck and Pat's laughter struck me as a kind of dharma. They were outsiders laughing at the absurdity of straight, white folk. Of course, it may be that all this time I have simply been projecting these reactions back onto what was just an intensive half minute of real life drama, Sinbagh's blow was that strong.
Then we cut the laughter and our driver swiftly wound his window up. The bike had skidded and the couple fallen off. I should say, there was no physical contact between us and them. The pile of man, woman and machine had collapsed with all their fishing gear spreading out behind us. Sinbagh gave it the gun and we sped away, swerving onto the South West exit that led back in the direction we had come.
A few hundred yards on, he was forced to pull up for a pram being dragged across a pedestrian crossing. Deryck and Pat scarpered at this point, both rear doors banging behind them. I shoulda legged it myself, but I kinda felt in complicity with the young copper. For sure he had broken the law, even if he was adamant he hadn't. I said as much,
Shouldn't we have stopped?
Stopped for what?
There was an accident, wasn't there? Aren't we legally obliged to stop?
I didn't see no accident.
But the bike...
That's news to me. Keeping my eyes on the road ahead.
To be fair, he actually dropped me back at the party and that was the night I met Jill. Which is another story. For the next few days, I was somewhat preoccupied as the bittersweetness of our affair played itself out. And then, about a week later in the Morris, again swinging out of the Gyratory, I caught a glimpse of one of those Police Accident boards. I parked up at the nearest convenience and walked back to investigate. Sure enough, witnesses were being called for. I decided I had to go in.
No shit, the same sergeant was behind the desk. I'm not sure if he recognised me, but you never know. I told him who I'd been with that night and what had happened. He was very calm and matter-of-fact, taking down the details, even writing up the name PC Sinbagh – he pronounced it “Sin-barr” - and prompting me to sign a short witness statement.
Of course, this is a formality, his not being at this station any longer.
He's been promoted to the CID. If you'd care to take the allegation further, he's at Western Central Division now.
He described a location north of the river,
Actually, the building is exactly the same as this, built in 1956 by the same architect.
Well, that's one for the scrap book.
Give him my regards!
So off I trotted in search of Western Central. Why I bothered, I don't really know. Doing my duty? Plotting my revenge?
Eventually, I found the station, which looked exactly the same from the outside. Inside, the charge desk was in the same place, and the door to the examination room – which had been left ajar – boded the exact same ill.
Not only that, but the desk sergeant – on my life - could have been the twin brother of the one at Central Southern. I almost said as much,
He'd seen me coming,
What can we do for you this evening?
DC Sinbagh? I pronounced the name, “barr”.
He shook his head,
No one of that name here, son.
He was in an accident. They told me down south he had just moved here. Wait on... his name might be pronounced “Sin-bag”? He was a PC and now he's a DC?
Might be AC/DC for all I care. Never heard of him.
Though the sarge's voice was gruff, he had the same matey smile as his southern bro. Was that all? There was an examination room available if I wanted to take the matter further. Or put another way, take the risk of wasting police time? I wandered out of the station, my head spinning, the blood pounding in my temples. Not the old parallel bloody universe? Who did they think I was, a character out of Philip K Dick? Decades later, I still wake in icy sweats, cursing the injustice.
© Philip Lee 2016