…in an Exciting Adventure with the Police – Part 01
I am like a one-man Neighbourhood Watch. It didn’t pass our attention when someone mysteriously spray-painted one of our hedgehogs with a big cross on its back and I eventually became aware of the patterns of a certain twenty-something blonde neighbour whose hours seemed to be so in keeping with mine that I naturally deduced that she could hardly be a normal functioning member of society; although this was before I started to really pay attention to her activities and I got a right eyeful, because it turns out that she isn’t shy, and what with all the costume changes and the hours spent in front of her full-length mirror in various states of undress that I began to wonder if she was a right Belle de Jour. And I don’t mean in the blogging way.
I’d also been keeping an eye on the man over the back who looks like a beetroot Roy Kinnear, after he had the cowboys in to do the lead flashing on his chimney, and was even taking bets with friends about when the big dangling loose piece of lead would drop, slide down his roof, and fall through his glass conservatory below to thud into his pinky bald head like a butcher’s cleaver into a ham.
Not that I’d been thinking about it too much, or anything.1
Another neighbour’s house over the road had been empty for a month or two since the woman there was carted off to live with her son down south after he realised that she was incapable of looking after herself. So I was told. I was also informed that in all likelihood I would never see her ancient one-eyed cat again.
The post piled up.
Then, one Friday night, when I was returning the laptop to the box room at 3am I saw that her hall light was on. Even when the house was occupied this wasn’t normal behaviour and so I turned my wall light off to go covert and looked more closely to spy a sinister figure skulking about in the shadows out front. Did it see me looking? I didn’t know, but it then went up to the front door and tapped quietly on the glass as if to alert the person inside without waking anyone else in the street.
The lady who had lived there looked like the actress Kathy Burke and always used to wear a big coat and a grotty leather peaked cap – even at the height of summer, so I presumed that she sweated gravy – yet this woman in the shadows was a shuffling 5ft with crazy grey hair and looked nothing similar…as I observed her through binoculars. When she started pleading with the person on the other side of the door to let her in, because she was cold, I knew that I wasn’t going to be going to bed any time soon.
Still I had other life problems to deal with, even at 3am, as my three-legged half-eared cat needing taking to the toilet; however I didn’t want to turn the landing light on, in case this woman in the street was a crazy, because in doing so it might have attracted her attention, like a zombie to a flame, and so I grabbed my cat and crept down the stairs in the dark, carefully stepping over ten cats who were sleeping there, and got safely to the bottom where I congratulated myself before taking the next step and flipping over the cats’ food tray and sending porcelain bowls flying everywhere and clattering loudly against laminate flooring.
Slapstick and the zombie apocalypse do not go together.
I waited for the deafening silence to return before attending to my feline duties and when I’d finished I checked out the goings on outside to see that the woman had still not been let in to the house, and that the situation had not resolved itself, so what do you do?
Reluctantly I decided I had to phone the Police but the one thing I did not expect when turning to the last resort, and ringing 999, was to be put on hold.
And put in a queue.
At 3.09am in the morning.
And they didn’t answer.
Like Blondie I was hanging on the telephone, left waiting, but unlike Robert De Niro in Bananarama’s 1984 hit I wasn’t talking Italian. I only bring him into this because Robert De Niro is the most celebrated telephone user in the whole town because in the village of Walshaw, a couple of miles from the centre of Bury, there’s a telephone box which it’s said was visited by him, once, when he was in the country filming Brazil in 1985.
I think Robert De Niro is worshipped as a god there now and that that telephone box is some sort of shrine.
I should visit, like a pilgrim.
Whilst I was waiting in my queue the 999 operator kept cutting back in, from somewhere in Wales by the sound of him, chivvying me along until he eventually told me he’d try another number for me. How many phone numbers do the Greater Manchester Police have?
On hold again.
The Welshman cut back in to tell me he’d try another number. Exactly how many telephone numbers does Greater Manchester Police have?
On hold again.
Greater Manchester Police eventually answered.
If you hadn’t grasped the effects of government cut-backs already then you’d better be prepared for a shock when it comes to your time of need.
I gave the Police operator all the details, about how I thought my neighbour’s house had been broken into, and that some old soul had been locked out to freeze, and he said he’d give me a reference number so that I could keep them updated on the situation. I rushed to another room to get a pen and paper and when I was ready, pen poised, he told the reference number was “350”.
I mean, I could have remembered that.
My greatest fear now was that this woman would get into the house before the Police got there, because then I‘d have some explaining to do, so I was more than a little perturbed when she seemed to give up on the house and took off down the street leaving me to wonder whether I’d end up having to follow her.
In a flapping dressing gown and slippers.
She made it halfway to the bend, had an altercation with a bush, rebounded, came back, went past the illuminated house, had another bush tussle opposite me, and for the first time I got to see her up close underneath the street light: I had never seen her before in my life.
Further down the road she stopped at a dark driveway, still under my watchful telescopic gaze from the box room command post, and she looked really doddery, or drunk, and as started contemplating this neighbour’s drive this was when she fell over.
What was I supposed to do now?
The Police didn’t give me a direct number for their “updates” and I didn’t fancy ringing 999 again and quoting “350” at a Welshman operator as if it were a secret password.
Instead, I did nothing.
I watched her pull herself up, having a conversation with a bush, and distinctly heard her say “thank you” to someone who plainly wasn’t there as she wrestled and manhandled some two meter roses. However, in righting herself like a scuttling beetle, she soon found that she was now in the neighbour’s sunken garden and that she was actually now stuck.
Good, I thought, because at least she was corralled in there and safe until help came because on the loose she was a danger to herself and others.
Where was my Frank Columbo?2 Where was my Inspector Morse?3,4
But then he appeared, out of the night: a solo operator, resplendent with flashing blue lights, and I was there alongside him – his maverick sidekick in this adventure, at something to four in the morning – from the first clues, to the shuddering denouement, and he was about to be faced with a career-defining mystery indeed: the case of the woman in the sunken garden.
1 – I’d also, also overheard the dog of another neighbour attack our postman, as if the clichés were true. This wasn’t the first time and so I’m not sure that the proper response was for all the male occupants to tumble out of the house like Trumpton firemen, looking aggrieved, and where your stance should surely be apologetic the father was all puffed up and defensive and carried on shouting at the postman, as he carried on his round, calling him a “sissy”.
The postman said that he’d be reporting it to management, and that they very likely wouldn’t be getting deliveries for much longer, whereas the father’s incredulous response of “yeah, you do that” must surely be one of the weakest comebacks in history.
2 – Peter Falk’s Columbo character does indeed have a first name, even though it was never mentioned on the programme, but there is some confusion over whether it was Philip or Frank: Trivial Pursuit give the answer as the former, although the latter can be seen many times on the programme through careful viewing of Lieutenant Columbo’s LAPD warrant card.
3 – Real name: Endeavour, as revealed by Colin Dexter in the twelfth Inspector Morse novel Death Is Now My Neighbour. Sometimes the truth is more disappointing than the mystery.
4 – To the tune of the chorus of Paula Cole’s 1997 hit Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?