Wednesday, July 04, 2012

you can't nick what isn't there

‘Ten years in the army, fighting for my country. Ten years. For what? To be beaten up by some copper for no reason? How’s that fair? Such big men. Hard men, yeah? Picking on a drunk, hiding behind your uniforms. That’s right, mate. I’d turn away and be ashamed if I was you...’
The policeman accompanying us sighs and peers out through the slatted window of the ambulance.
John rests his head back momentarily, drawing down heat from the examination lights.
 I catch the eye of the policeman; he smiles and raises his eyebrows. We both know what he’s facing. John is a ticker tape machine of complaint; the policeman will be sitting next to him for the next three or four hours watching it reel out in spools onto the cubicle floor.
John has been arrested for D&D, but to make things much worse, he swung a fist and caught an officer in the mouth. The others promptly put him on the floor where he banged his head and passed out. We’ve bandaged the cut on his forehead and he doesn’t seem too bad, but as an alcoholic with a head injury he’ll need monitoring at the hospital.
John looks over at the policeman again.
‘Ten years I fought for this country...’ he starts in.
The policeman shifts in his chair.
‘Oh yeah? What regiment?’
John pauses a moment, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, looks at it, and as if he were reading something written there, then looks across at the policeman and says a name.
The policeman straightens.
‘No shit! Me too! When?’
‘Before you were born, mate. Nineteen-eighties.’
‘Yeah? Where did you serve?’
‘All over. You name it. Last place was that Spandau prison, guarding Hess.’
You would think the lights in the ambulance had brightened. The narrow gap between the trolley and the side seats no longer seems like a crocodile-filled moat. John sits up on the trolley, and I raise up the back to support him better. He folds his arms and starts chatting with the policeman, the two of them suddenly two old muckers, swapping army stories.
‘Yeah! Rudolph Hess,’ says John. That was a strange gig, that was. You’d see him marching around the yard on his own. Then sometimes he’d stop and stare right up at you, up in the tower. It was like guarding a ghost. An old Nazi ghost. I felt a bit sorry for him, all on his own like that, but what can you do? We had to stay clear. It did seem strange though. I mean, the guy had given himself up, hadn’t he? He landed in Scotland. At least that’s what they said. That’s what they wanted you to believe. You never really know, do you? I tell you something else that happened. A mate of mine nicked his jacket – the Luftwaffe uniform he wore when he flew over. He tried to sell it in the market, but they caught up with him and he got sent to prison himself. But of course, as it turned out, Hess was never supposed to have kept any of that Nazi stuff in the first place. It was all supposed to have been taken off him. So my mate got let out again, on the basis that you can’t nick what isn’t there. And he got a nice little pay out, too. Yeah. Goes to show.’
In the pause that follows I say: ‘Just coming up to the hospital now.’
The lights dim again.
John rests back on the trolley.
‘Yeah. I felt a bit sorry for Hess – but at least he didn’t get beaten up by his own police,’ he says. 

11 comments:

Alexia said...

An astonishing story! I like the ticker tape machine metaphor - as always, great wrting, Spence, which draws in the reader and holds him or her spellbound.

Spence said...

Thanks Alexia. It was such an atmospheric story he told - quite unexpectedly, given the circumstances!

jacksofbuxton said...

‘Yeah. I felt a bit sorry for Hess – but at least he didn’t get beaten up by his own police,’ he says.

And Hitler liked dogs,so he couldn't have been too bad either.We'll ignore the 6 million Jews gassed,but there you go.

Just because you've served in the Army doesn't give you a free pass to behave like a tit.

Never mind Spence,at least you didn't have to write down the litany of nonsense he'd have spewed out at the station.

MetalDog said...

Quite a lot of the street folk seem to be ex-army. The big issue seller I chat to in the mornings has been in his fair share of trouble with the law, but he was in the navy and fought in the Falklands - he saw the Sheffield get hit.

I wonder why some of them end up being coppers and some of them end up on the streets.

Spence said...

Jacks - It was (darkly) funny that he could've made such a comparison. Along the lines of 'Say what you like about Mussolini, but at least the trains ran on time..' Just goes to show how wrapped up he was in his own world. Def not an easy character - but the story about Spandau piqued my interest. Glad I wasn't his escort for the evening, though!

MD - It's a disturbing statistic about the percentage of street drinkers who are ex-army. You wonder what it is about service life that tends towards that. Quite a complex problem, I think.

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you why lots of ex-army end up on the street. When they leave the army they leave a whole life behind them, and the new one is a strange alien world where their hard-earned skills are totally without value. You try being an ex-motar platoon sergeant looking for a job at forty. Society has no use for ex-squaddies, unless they've got transferable skills, so they go from being a highly skilled, respected and valued member of an organsiation to a job-seeker with nothing the civvy world wants. That's why they drink....

Spence said...

Thanks for the comment, Anon.

It's a scandal that the army (and government) doesn't take more time & trouble to prepare leavers for civvy street. It's not as if it happens suddenly, in most cases. I'd imagine the majority of soldiers know pretty much how long they've got - out in ten years, say / what's the next step after that? Time enough to get something under your belt, with the right guidance. You'd think!

Charmaine said...

How convenient to forget he actually hit someone first...

Spence said...

So many things didn't really seem to register with him. I don't know if it was a symptom of his drinking or just how he was (or both) :/

Journey-woman said...

I want to give koodo's to the copper....he was able to change the mood by actually talking to him as if he mattered....that was the real story in my mind...must be an awfully good police officer not to be holding a grudge.....thanks for a great story all round Spence

Spence said...

I was so impressed by that officer. He managed to ignore all the abuse - and there was lots - stayed cool, and managed to get the guy on his side, even if only temporarily. V impressive indeed.

Thanks v much for the comment, JW.