26. Tango Whisky
The mark of the true downshifter is flexibility – although I must admit that this comes mainly from events forcing you to be flexible rather than having any choice in the matter. And of course the event that forces flexibility on most downshifters, most of the time is the complete absence of cash; and when you are unable to buy a tapa and a beer, then the next stop on your flexible road to somewhere great and prosperous before you die is traffic wardenship! In Bournemouth!
To the normal person, the pay of a traffic warden isn’t exactly wonderful, and I was told this by normal people repeatedly, but to the average downshifting beekeeper from overseas, it was a fortune. Mind you, I was able to live with my parents for free – which is another thing that can happen to downshifters. (See suitably blurred photo).
For five months I worked a fairly gentle shift pattern and got to know the fair city extremely well as I plodded its streets in my smart uniform with the Dorset Police badge sewn proudly on my jumper. I handed out tickets and built up a sort of clientele of regular offenders who regarded tickets as fair game for a good day’s parking. (You couldn’t give more than one ticket per day to the same car as long as it stays in one place and so people visiting from London for the day thought a £20 ticket was great value).
The day usually started with a briefing during which we were told the areas we were to patrol, followed by a stampede to the bus depot canteen in the town centre for a number four breakfast with extra beans. The canteen was easy to find on my first visit due to the large number of police cars parked on the double yellow lines in the surrounding streets!
This fine establishment served a mixed bunch of bus drivers, policemen and women, and traffic wardens and it was noticeable that few of them wanted to move on to do any actual work for the day. We were all equipped with police radios of course and on one occasion, during a prolonged stay in this palace of fine cuisine, (it was raining outside), my colleague Reggie’s radio suddenly sparked off into life with a blast of …”Tango Whiskey 04; calling Tango Whiskey 04. Reggie, get your arse out of the canteen now and get along to Percival Crescent. A mini has got stuck between two dust carts and they’re blocking half the bloody road.” Reggie was astonished. “So she can bloody mind read now can she.” ‘She’ being our intrepid Tango Whiskey leader.
My most exciting call was quite surprising. “Tango Whiskey 06, calling Tango Whiskey 06. Proceed to Dangerfield Road ASAP where an elderly lady has found a bag of animal organs.” Charming I thought as I reluctantly plodded off, my main concern being the type of animal these ‘organs’ came from. Human? I never did find out as the police got there first.
A couple of other incidents spring to mind which go to show how boring life would be without a bit of human variety.
The first started with those well-known words, “Excuse me.” I say there, excuse me.”
I knew exactly what was coming. A cone complaint.
“Yes madam. How can I help you?” We were instructed always to be polite.
“It’s this ticket.” She said almost conversationally. “Why have you given it to me? I haven’t parked illegally.
“You have actually madam. Those cones mean no parking. Are you the red Volvo?”
“Yes, but those cones weren’t there when we parked. We’ve just come out of church.”
“They were madam. They’ve been there all night. We put them out at 6 O’clock yesterday evening for the carnival parade later today.”
As I said it, I knew it wouldn’t make any difference. When it came to cones, I found that the great British public are cone blind. They don’t see them; they don’t take any notice of them when they do see them, and even if you stuffed one up their backside and said ‘This is a bloody police no parking cone. It means don’t bloody well park here,’ they would still get confused about the issues involved and end up with a ticket.
“Madam. We put the cones out last night. They were here when we passed earlier this morning. They are still here now. Your car is parked amongst them and has been so for at least twenty minutes. You have committed an offence. I have given you a ticket telling you this. It is a fixed penalty offence and will cost you £20. If you feel hard done by please write to the ticket office and complain. My number is on the ticket. Good day madam.”
I had trotted this speech out on many occasions in the past, and knew this wouldn’t be the end of the matter. It never was with cones.
“Excuse me please. What’s all this about?” A pleasant voice. Her husband.
“You know old fellow, you really shouldn’t persecute white middle class church goers. You police people are going to need our support one day. Now rip the ticket up, there’s a good chap.”
“I’m sorry sir.” I replied. “I’ve issued the ticket for good reasons and can’t withdraw it. I’ve explained to your wife that she can complain if she wants to. Good day.”
“I don’t think you quite understand me young man. (That was the good bit). Those cones weren’t here earlier and you are going to withdraw the ticket. It’s no good persecuting us you know. We’re white ……” and so on.
His wife tried to pull him to the car. But he returned to the attack.
“Now listen sir. If you continue in this way you’ll have to speak to a constable who may not be so impressed with your attitude. Do you want to speak to a constable?”
“Don’t start threatening me with constables Mr traffic warden. I want to speak to the Chief Constable. Give me his telephone number.”
“Well I can’t get the Chief Constable at the moment, only an ordinary one, and anyway it’s a she. The Chief Constable I mean.”
The man visibly paled and looked aghast at his wife.
“Good God! Did you hear that Daphne? A she. The Chief Constable is a woman Chief Constable? No wonder it’s all gone to pot down here. Come Daphne let’s get back to London. Fast.”
I turned away and at that very moment watched with amusement as one of my colleagues strode past with a Rottweiler in the shape of a grey haired, little old lady, attached to her ankles.
“I’m never going to help the police again. How dare you persecute old-age pensioners? I’ve been to church you know. I’m going to write and complain about you. We fought in the war you know………” And so it went on. Evidently another cone casualty!
I learned a lot about human nature from my time as a traffic warden, possible more than I had ever done in the past in my sheltered military environment, and my remote valley in Spain, and when after five, generally happy months of up-shifting in Bournemouth when I had saved enough to return to the family, I knew I would miss this great bunch of people.
The police traffic wardens don’t exist now; in Bournemouth at any rate. I believe it is now a council run outfit and they wear green uniforms. It was touching that several of my regular offenders were really sad to see me go when I finally finished up.
And funnily enough, re-entering that real world again, especially the civilian world, brought me to thinking of those that I had known in the past before I ducked out of the world. I wondered what my school, RAF and University friends would think of it all. Directors or wing commanders all at least, I had no doubt. And rich!
But I couldn’t dwell on it for long because I had bees to winter down; a chimney to build, kids to feed and unusually for me and my family, enough money to do it with for a while at least.