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Authors: Nicholas Rhea

Constable on the Hill (17 page)

I checked their names with our Control Room but none was wanted for any crime or for service of summonses, so I allowed them to remain. Ownership of the house was in doubt; no one seemed able to say to whom it rightly belonged and I knew that if John had been alive, he’d have welcomed his brothers of the highway. I had no power to remove them and besides, if I let them stay there, I knew where they were and what they were doing.

“We’ve heard about this village,” one of them smiled through toothless gums. “They like tramps here, eh? They look after them, so we’ve come to stay.”

Before Christmas, two more turned up and soon there was a colony of them in John’s old house. Looking at the state of them, I felt we’d soon need some of John’s Fund to bury them! I reckon he would approve of that.

Having been recruited into a predominantly rural police force, it was understandable that I should be indoctrinated with the law, practice and procedure relating to animals. Like all other bobbies, I had a lot to do with dogs, but there is a whole range of other animals which are likely to cross the path of a patrolling constable.

Because of the infinite range of possibilities stretching across thirty years of a policeman’s service, our training school days were heavy with lectures and practical displays on how to cope. We were told about epizootic lymphamgitis, cattle plague, pleuro-pneumonia, foot and mouth disease and anthrax, with sundry horrors like fowl pest and rabies thrown in. We were taught about cruelty to animals and provided with detailed explanations about
cruelly
beating, over-riding, over-driving, ill-treating, over-loading, torturing or terrifying any animal. How one could perform these deeds without ‘cruelly’ doing them, was beyond me. There were lectures on illegal operations on animals, about performing animals, about horses, stallions, knackers’ yards, birds and pet shops. We got the lot.

It would be fair to say that the lectures covered most of the problems involving animals which we were likely to
encounter
during an average tour of duty in an average English county. Unfortunately, I was not given advice about coping with zebras, camels, elephants and wallabies, nor did we receive instruction about the problems of pregnant badgers and hedgehogs with their heads fast in treacle tins.

The basic training was sound, however, and one of its more enjoyable aspects was the practical demonstration. Such demonstrations were given by our instructors and one dealt with the subject of “Animals Dead or Injured in the Street”.

For this, the instructional staff staged a traffic accident where a motor vehicle had knocked down and killed a domestic animal. A volunteer student had to deal with the situation from the traffic accident viewpoint and then deal with the dead or injured animal. We were told that a
reportable
road accident involved D. G. CHAMPS – dogs, goats, cattle, horses, asses, mules, pigs and sheep. Incidents involving other animals were not classified as “accidents” for road traffic purposes. Nonetheless, if a car ran into something pretty large like a stag or a fox, there would be work for a police officer, if only to clear the scene, to attend to any injured person or beast and to find a garage to tow off the damaged vehicle. In our dealings with animal accidents, we could be relied upon to provide nice business for the local knackers’ yards.

In one of our staged incidents at training school, a pig had been run over by a car. It was dead. A pretty young
policewoman
was volunteered to be the “officer at the scene”. She strode confidently towards the location as we stood around in a watchful semi-circle, with our pocket books open. We were to take notes too, as if we were also dealing with the matter. The procedure at a genuine accident is fairly routine and straightforward. The police take all the known details of the driver, including his name, age, occupation and address. They note particulars of the vehicle, such as its make, model, type, registration mark, details of tax and insurance, and any other factual matters which are relevant. Because the traffic flow must not be interrupted longer than necessary, the vehicle must be removed, although the animal victim must not be forgotten. If it is alive and injured, with no known owner around, a police officer can call in a vet to have it examined and, if necessary, destroyed. The expense lies at the door of the owner if and when he is found. If the vet thinks the animal can be removed without cruelty, the owner must remove it; if he refuses or is not there, the police can cause it to be removed and the owner is responsible for the bill.

It was with these considerations that our practical
demonstration
got under way. The instructional staff kept a large, pink model of a pig for this purpose and it lay in the road, mortally injured by a motor-car driven by a huge man,
another volunteer student. This was the scene, therefore, as our little lady policeman called Susie, waded in to cope. She managed very well with the irate motorist, who blamed the pig for all his misfortunes. She calmed his shattered nerves, then took all his particulars, including measurements of the road and the position of the car. The owner of the pig was not known, nor was its place of origin revealed. She rang a vet who said he would come along to examine it and in due course, another instructor arrived, suitably clad in a white overall and plus fours. In the traditional Scots accent of a vet, he declared the pig dead.

“Now, W.P.C. Shaw,” beamed the instructor, “you’ve made a good job of this. The pig is dead, so we are not worried about having to destroy it in a humane manner. What are you going to do with the carcase?”

“I’ll have it dragged away by the knackers,” she said, with all innocence.

Armed with training of that quality, I sallied forth into the vast empty spaces of the North Riding of Yorkshire. In the years prior to my posting to Aidensfield, I had dealt with one or two traffic accidents involving animals, usually dogs or cows, and these had caused no problems. Soon after my arrival at Aidensfield, however, a very harassed motorist knocked at my door late one night. I was on duty as it happened, working a late shift from 5 pm until 1 am, and was fortuitously in the house having my statutory
three-quarters
of an hour refreshment break. I was on my final cup of tea when the knock jerked my thoughts from the television, so I answered the door. A white-faced man stood there, leaning heavily against the door jamb. He was middle-aged with greying hair and I noticed his smart, polished shoes. He was breathing heavily and looked like a town gentleman. I could see he was perspiring slightly and wondered if he was ill.

“Good evening,” I said, not being able to conjure up anything more sparkling.

“Ah!” the relief was evident in his voice. “You are a policeman?”

“Yes,” I was in shirt sleeves, and he managed a thin smile when I confirmed my role.

“I’ve got to report an accident.” He shook visibly as he spoke those words.

“Oh, come in,” I stepped back and invited him into the house. “Can you manage a cup of tea?”

“Love one,” he breathed, sitting heavily on a chair in the office. “Yes, I’d love one if it’s no bother.”

“There’s one in the pot,” I told him. I left him for a moment as I asked Mary to produce a cup for him, and I’d have another myself as I talked with him. I returned and found him smoking a cigarette, somewhat relieved.

“Now,” I said, handing him the tea. “Accident? Was it a bad one?”

“The front of the car’s all bashed in,” he said. “One headlight’s gone, mudguard dented, bonnet twisted slightly. This is the first police house I’ve found …”

“What did you hit?” I asked.

“A kangaroo,” he said, looking at me and staring into my eyes, daring me to disbelieve him.

“A kangaroo?” My thoughts turned immediately to D. G. CHAMPS. Kangaroo was not one of the listed animals, so this was not a road accident. This meant I did not have to compile an accident report.

“It’s not listed in the road traffic acts,” I aired my
knowledge
. “You don’t have to report it – accidents involving kangaroos are not reportable.”

“But I hit one, officer, just down the road!”

“Are you sure it was a kangaroo?” I asked. “You are deep in the countryside, you know, and we have all kinds of animals here. Deer, badgers, foxes, hares …”

I’d once seen a camel striding purposefully across the moors in a heavy mist, but daren’t mention that to him. It had astounded some drivers at the time, but had been hired from a local zoo by a party of schoolboys who rode it during a stunt. As I talked to him, I realised that a camel wasn’t D. G. CHAMPS either, unless it qualified as ‘cattle’.

“It was a bloody kangaroo,” he almost shouted. “I saw it. It hopped right out of the hedge and I ran slap-bang into it. I don’t know where it went – it just seemed to get knocked away and I couldn’t find it.”

“It’s not dead, then?” I asked.

“I stopped and had a look,” he said. “There was a spot of blood on the road, and on my car. But it’s not around, I’m sure.”

I wondered if our local vet would come to declare a kangaroo dead? Or would it have to be dragged away by the knackers? I went out to examine his vehicle and found it severely damaged, with splashes of blood here and there. I took his personal particulars and a precise location of the happening. He left me half an hour later, a little more composed. I could not put this one through the books as an accident having regard to D. G. CHAMPS. It was simply not a reportable road traffic accident. I would record it merely as an ‘incident’.

But I puzzled over his kangaroo. When I resumed patrol, I decided to visit the location of his confrontation and in the headlight of my motor-cycle, found the spots of blood on the road. He’d told me of the direction from which it had leapt at him and I decided to have a look around. I guessed it had gone into the field opposite, so armed with my sturdy police torch, I parked the bike and climbed the gate, to wander across the grassy area beyond. And I found his kangaroo. It was dead, with its head badly injured. It had managed to leap this far before collapsing. But it wasn’t a kangaroo. It was a wallaby, and wallabies are not part of D. G. CHAMPS either! I left it in the field, just as I would have done had it been a hare, a rabbit or other wild animal. Besides, it would be found by the farmer next morning, and it would provide a talking point in the pub for many an hour. They’d all wonder how it had arrived, and I would not tell them. It would be interesting to hear the
speculation
.

Next morning, I rang the motorist at his home near Middlesbrough to explain he’d been wrong. I told him it wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby. He laughed.

“Go on,” he said. “Put me out of my misery. How can I run down a wallaby in the North Riding countryside?”

“They have some at a local zoo,” I told him, “and several have escaped over the years. They’ve adapted to the
countryside
and some of them are breeding in the district. You hit a wild wallaby.”

“And do you think my insurance company will swallow that?” he asked.

“Ask them to write to us,” I advised him. “We’ll confirm it.”

That was my first brush with animals from the local zoo. Housed on a large country estate in the North Riding, the zoo was the home of a fascinating variety of animals, ranging from domestic poultry to lions and hippos, including crocodiles, flamingoes and dolphins. From time to time, some of the species did escape, although the officials were
marvellous
at arranging their re-capture. Because of this, exotic birds lived in the woodlands about me, and many a British
ornithologist
has been dumbfounded by the multi-coloured parrots, budgies and humming birds which somehow managed to survive in the bleak hills of the region, if only for the summer months. After all, it’s not often you find vulturine guineafowl, scaled quail or variegated wrens in English orchards.

My next link with the zoo came as the circus arrived in town. It was a small touring circus which was scheduled to stage a series of performances within the grounds of the zoo. Many of its larger animals were to be transported by rail and this was part of a publicity stunt. The elephants would be walked from Eltering Railway Station, when they would lead a procession of other animals and acts. Some would be walked, like the monkeys and chimps, while the dangerous ones would be in cages and carried on the rear of their own transporters. They would be waiting at the railway station.

It was Sergeant Bairstow, with the usual twinkle in his eye, who called me into his office one morning.

“Ah, Nicholas,” he beamed. “A nice day?”

“Very nice, Sergeant,” I agreed, little knowing what he had in store for me.

“I’ve a nice little job for you this afternoon,” he smiled. “You’re to be on motor-cycle escort duty.”

“Something important?” I asked.

“Yes, very,” and he explained about the arrival of the circus. “You’re to be at Eltering Railway Station at 2 pm. The train will arrive shortly afterwards, and when all the animals have been transferred from the train, you will lead the procession through the town. Take it along the main road
and into the grounds of the zoo. It’s about four miles, so it could take an hour. O.K.?”

I did not know whether to be amused or not. I’d never escorted a circus. I knew there’d be clowns, jugglers, monkeys, balloons and a host of ancillary publicity gimmicks. And I’d be escorting that lot! But orders were orders. Mounted on my trusty Francis Barnett with its aerial waving behind, I
reported
at the railway station. The place was alive with people, especially children, and already the waiting animals were being arranged in some sort of order. Whips were cracking, trainers were shouting, animals were calling, the music was playing …

“The elephant’s going to lead the procession,” said
Sergeant
Bairstow who had arrived by car. “It’ll dictate the pace for the others. You ride your bike ahead of the procession – clear the route of sightseers, make a way through, prevent accidents, warn motorists of the oncoming procession. I’ll be at the rear – if you meet trouble, radio for assistance.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

And so I waited for the moment to begin my leadership of this curious procession. After a lot of shouting, fuss, general noise and re-arranging of vehicles and cages, the circus was ready to move. I was parked in the street, waiting for the signal to start. When I saw the column of marchers heading for me, led by a huge, grey elephant, I kicked the bike into life, waited until they were closer, and set off.

I knew elephants could walk with considerable speed and this one would dictate the pace of the entire march. Driving ahead, I soon found I had difficulty maintaining a balance upon my machine. This would be due to the very slow speed, but by travelling at a steady four or five miles an hour, I managed to keep it upright. Regular checks in the mirror on the handlebars told me the entourage was keeping pace, and I could see the bulk of the elephant immediately behind me, moving with surprising speed. I daren’t look around in case I wobbled and lost my balance, and therefore relied on the mirror.

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