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Authors: Nicholas Rhea

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“Oh, no,” she insisted. “You must take it and you must make enquiries to find the loser. That is your duty, is it not?
Someone will have lost this coin and may be looking for it. Someone, may be, who cannot afford to lose money like this. That is why I called you in, to do your duty.”

Inwardly, I groaned. If I took this to the office, the sergeant would half kill me. There would have to be entries in all manner of official places, a receipt would have to be issued, I would have to drive out here with the receipt for her and then, if it wasn’t claimed within three months, the
superintendent
would have to write to Miss Harborough to ask if she wanted to claim the coin. I would have to motor down to Malton to collect it, against signature, and then drive out here to deliver it, against her signature, a round trip of thirty-three miles. Was a sixpence worth that?

“No, Miss Harborough, please. You must retain it.” I tried to be firm. “I will make a record in our official books, and if the loser has reported the loss, we will send him along to you.”

“No, officer, I insist. I do not want it in the house. It is your duty to accept the coin and to make enquiries to trace the loser.”

Such tasks were not part of our duty, but she wasn’t to know that. It seems I had no choice. I accepted the coin and was then compelled to go through the motions of recording it in our official system, much to the chagrin, and I suspect, amusement of Sergeant Blaketon. Three months later, I had to return to Miss Harborough because the coin had not been claimed. Even then, she refused to accept it. She wanted
nothing
to do with it, because it was not hers. I told her I would donate it to a police charity, and she agreed. The Widows and Orphans Fund derived a little benefit from her honesty.

My next contact with Miss Harborough was some time later, on the occasion of a forthcoming Government Census. She had received forms to complete and wanted help. She called me in and had the forms spread across a table. When she explained she wanted help to fill them in, I said, “Fine, let’s do it now.”

“Oh, no. You can’t do that,” she cried. “It asks for details of persons living in this house at midnight. It’s only three o’clock in the afternoon now.”

“That doesn’t matter,” I tried to convince her. “You know who’ll be here at midnight. There’s only you.”

“You might be here,” she corrected me. “You will come to help me, won’t you? It definitely says midnight …”

“I can’t come,” I had to duck out of this one. “I’ve my own forms to fill in, you see, at midnight. I’ll have to be at my own house, with my wife and children.”

She looked a little sad but accepted the logic of my
argument
. She was happier than she had been a few minutes earlier, for I explained how to complete the paperwork. I later discovered, however, that she had called in a local farmer, asking him to fill in her forms at midnight. Knowing her well, he had obliged, and had sat in her house until the clock struck twelve. He had even put his name on her form, just to keep her happy.

I often wonder what the census officials made of that.

 

Another character with whom I made an early contact was a small scruffy individual of indeterminate age who went by the name of Aud George. No one used his surname and I learned eventually that he had retired from a life of farm labouring to live alone in a cottage at the edge of Aidensfield. I reckoned he must be about seventy, although he could have been anywhere between fifty and eighty, judging by his appearance and demeanour. He habitually wore black
hobnailed
boots, gaiters, corduroy trousers and an old rough shirt without a collar, albeit with a collar stud eternally in position at the neck. His jacket was fashioned from something
resembling
Harris tweed and it must have seen the passage of many years. He wore a cap, even when getting washed, and spent his days wandering up and down the village street, chatting to anyone who could spare the time. Aud George was a fixture in that street.

The prefix
Aud
is an old North Riding term of affection. Strictly interpreted, it means
old,
but it is seldom used in that sense. Way back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when witches were said to roam those moors, old women suspected of witchcraft were known by this prefix – Aud Nan, Aud Annie, Aud Meg and Aud Sue were examples. Even today, tales linger about Aud Nanny of Stokesley, Aud Nan
of Spittal Houses, Aud Mother Stebbins and many more. The devil himself was known as “T’Aud ’Un” (The Old One), but in recent times, the term Aud has come to mean something approaching affection, possibly tinged with respect. Young boys in my schooldays would call one another Aud Bernard, Aud Alf, Aud Bill, Aud Fred, etc., as a term of affection or friendship, and the practice has endured over the years. The term is still heard in the moorland villages.

It was quite normal, therefore, that George should be known by this prefix and everyone knew him by that name. The story goes that a stranger arrived at Aidensfield seeking a Mr Clotherstone, but the man had not been furnished with Clotherstone’s address. He had found Aud George in his usual position on the seat in front of the church and asked where Mr Clotherstone lived.

“Nay,” George had said. “Ah dissn’t know onnybody of that name.”

“He definitely lives here,” the man had insisted. “I’m from Adamson and Smythe, solicitors, and I must see him. I have made enquiries and have traced him to this village. He is known to live here.”

George had shaken his head. “Nay, lad, thoo’s foxed me. There’s neearbody called that in Aidensfield.”

“He used to work on a farm, I’m told,” the man persisted, “and his first name was George.”

“George?” asked Aud George. “Thoo dissn’t mean Aud George, doest tha?”

“Yes,” beamed the man. “That’s what I was told. Ask for Aud George.”

“Then that’s me!” George had thrust out his chest. “I’m Aud George, so that must make me Mr Clotherstone, eh?”

And so he was.

Because of our respective regular use of that street, my contact with Aud George was frequent and invariably
interesting
. He was a fund of information, a veritable village knowledge-box. Such a person is of inestimable value to a policeman, even if much of his chatter is pure gossip. George would chatter away quite amiably, giving me titbits of information which were useful to me in my work and which he knew would be of value. He did not do so with any malice in
his mind, nor did he bear a grudge against anyone. He provided me with snippets simply because I ought to know what was going on. He would tell me, for example, that young Stan Fowler had taken up the hobby of throwing stones through greenhouse windows, or that Andy
Merryweather’s
daughter was seeing rather a lot of a married man, or that Charlie Brett’s lad was riding a motor-bike without a licence, or that young Ferrensby, aged seventeen, was supping ale in a local pub.

These snippets were of value, as was any other gossip, but occasionally he did provide very useful information. He had once noticed a car pass through Aidensfield at a slow speed, noted the number on the back of his hand, and then told me. It transpired that it was a team of confidence tricksters from Leeds who preyed on the elderly by offering to repair roofs or windows. Having done the work, which was shoddy in the extreme, they demanded exorbitant prices for the job, against veiled threats of violence if they refused to pay. This information was valuable and in fact, a colleague of mine on another beat arrested that bunch due to George’s observations. They were awarded three years apiece for their crimes.

With regard to George’s minor gems of news, I seldom took official action. For example, it was sufficient to stop Charlie Brett’s lad and tell him I’d be checking his driving licence in a day or two, or I would pop into the pub to inform the landlord that young Ferrensby was under age. I maintained that this form of prevention was often better than taking the offenders to court, although such actions could be construed as being over-generous in the exercise of my traditional discretion. The ability to use such discretion is under attack by left-wing political elements who see it as favouritism and something to be enjoyed by privileged classes. Nothing could be further from the truth, for those helped in this manner are usually the modern under-privileged who, without this
assistance
from the police, would soon acquire a criminal record. Keen socialists are attempting to remove that valuable
exercise
of discretion from the policeman’s armoury – it will be a sad day when it has gone. When it does go, the feared police state will have arrived when all rules will be obeyed, down to
the last cruel letter of the law. Human policemen will no longer exist.

But back to George. My many talks with him revealed one charming habit which I don’t think he realised he possessed. It concerned the passing of information about local deaths.

George would keep everyone, including me, informed about the latest deaths in Aidensfield and district. At first, the names he provided meant nothing to me, but after I had been in the area for a few months, they did begin to have
relevance
. I could associate names with houses, houses with faces and faces with the inevitable range of close relatives who lived hereabouts. Consequently, a death was important. It meant I could commiserate with the relatives of the deceased, should I chance to meet them in the street, and that sort of interest in other folks is useful Public Relations for any police officer.

After a while, I realised that George was unwittingly using a code when he passed on this information. He employed different phrases which were based on the religion of the dear departed, consequently it was possible to identify the religion of the deceased from the words used by George.

If a member of the Church of England died, for example, he would say, “He’s seen t’last of his days,” and for a Roman Catholic, he would gravely tell me, “He’s gitten his time owered.” For a Methodist, he would say, “He’s gone to better things,” and for members of the smaller churches, his phrase would be, “He’s drawn his last.”

Inevitably, there were those who professed no specific faith, but who would be placed to rest within the boundaries of the local parish church, officially enlisted in the great army of deceased members of the Church of England. For these, George’s phrase was, “They’ve gone to their eternal rest, God bless ’em.”

I enjoyed his chatter and we became great pals. He served the public of the district for many years and in all weathers. He was there when I left Aidensfield for pastures new, but I ought to add his own epitaph. I learned a few years ago that he had died. His own death was announced in his Anglican phrase, and I was sorry I was not there to learn of it
firsthand
.

I am told, however, that Aud George died slowly and very
peacefully, and that his own last words were “Ah’s gahin to meet my Maker.”

 

As I progressed around my beat in those early days, meeting people like Aud George, Miss Harborough and Farmer Bradshaw, I realised that those country folk were thoroughly decent people. They were good and they were harmless; there wasn’t an ounce of evil in them. If they broke the laws of this land, then it was in a small way. They forget to renew their driving licences, got drunk on Saturday night, drove
unroadworthy
vehicles or let cattle stray on the highway. These are not evil transgressions like vandalism, violence and theft. Crime, in the real sense of the word was a rare part of my routine police duties. If I had to ‘book’ any of these people, that act of police duty was never held against me. They stoically accepted a court appearance or a fine and our friendship was never tainted. They considered errors on their part to be their fault, and knew that a constable’s duty must be done. Once in a while, therefore, I was duty bound to take one of my ‘parishioners’ to court.

Such an occasion involved a local character called Dick the Sick. A dour Scotsman, he loved a practical joke and could be talked into all manner of japes after a pint or two of strong Yorkshire ale. Once a joke misfired because it involved the police in an official way.

I was on my weekly rest-day at the time, and the incident involved a famous greyhound which had been stolen. The Press was full of the story but it transpired that George, landlord of the Hopbind Inn at Elsinby, bred greyhounds. He used them in the popular sport of coursing and it was
unfortunate
that he had recently banned Dick from his bars, due to previous pranks. Dick had acquired his nickname of “Dick the Sick” because he never worked, always managing to exist on sickness benefits and other Government handouts. In spite of his multiple ailments, Dick and his wife had produced eight lovely children and a cottage garden as tidy as any for miles around.

On the occasion of the theft of the greyhound, someone
anonymously rang the nearest Divisional Police Headquarters to say the dog in question had been hidden at the Hopbind Inn, Elsinby.

As a result of information received, as we say in police jargon, a police car proceeded from that Headquarters with an inspector, a sergeant and two constables on board. In the jargon of newspapers, they swooped upon the unsuspecting Hopbind and its customers and mounted a very thorough search. They found many greyhounds, of course, but the stolen dog was not among them. From the ensuing
conversation
with the landlord, it became quite clear that the call had been a hoax. It also became clear from the distinctive Scots accent of the caller, that it had been perpetrated by Dick the Sick. George knew that, and Dick’s motive wasn’t difficult to imagine. Dick was interviewed by that army of officers, but he stoutly denied making the call.

Next morning, being totally unaware of this little drama on my patch, I booked on duty to find Sergeant Blaketon
waiting
on my doorstep. He provided me with a lurid account of the hoax call and of the alleged whereabouts of the famous missing dog. He went on to say the inspector had not been very pleased about it, and suggested we have another talk with Dick, in an attempt to secure an admission from him. We found him in his garden and when he saw the impressive bulk of Sergeant Blaketon, he wilted visibly. During the interview, however, he persistently denied responsibility for the call. I knew by his facial expressions and the way he ran his hand through his thick red hair, that he was guilty. But that sort of evidence is useless in a court of law. The more old Blaketon pressured him, the more firmly he denied our
allegations
. As we turned to leave, beaten by his Scots stubbornness, Dick tugged at my sleeve and said, “I’d like a word with you, Mr Rhea, please.”

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