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Authors: Nicholas Rhea

Constable on the Hill (9 page)

Practically all rural cobblers were hairdressers and his charge was 3d (1½p) for a short-back-and-sides. I did not use him for this purpose, except on one occasion. I had been summoned to Police Headquarters for an interview with the Chief Constable. It seemed that the Chief Constable had telephoned my superintendent who telephoned the inspector who telephoned Sergeant Blaketon.

O.B. rang me and instructed, “Rhea. Get yourself over to Headquarters for two o’clock this afternoon. The Chief wants to talk to you.”

At that stage, no one told me what the Chief wanted to talk about. O.B.’s instructions had been curt, and all manner of possible reasons flashed before me. I was being posted away from the beat. I had been promoted. I had made a mess of something. There’d been a complaint about me. My hair was too long …

Hair!

It was too long for an officer about to be interviewed by the Chief Constable, so I had to get it cut in a hurry. I thought of Sam and his cobbler’s shop. He was salvation. I hadn’t time to go elsewhere. I drove across to Elsinby, went in and explained the problem. He said he would cut my hair
immediately
and I settled on a chair. After covering me with the traditional checked cloth, he snipped away at me, chattering all the time and regaling me with tales about World War I. I paid my 3d and went home for an early lunch. As I walked in, Mary burst into fits of laughter,

“What on earth have you done!” she cried, with tears streaming down her face. “It’s like one of those pudding basin cuts!”

And so it was. Sam didn’t have the luxury of a mirror so I hadn’t been able to view myself before leaving his emporium. In the comfort of my own home, the full horror of my hair style was plain to see. My hair was like that of a village yokel of the fifteenth century – and I was due to meet the Chief within the hour. I tried trimming it with scissors, but it was futile. I had to leave because it was a twenty-mile run on the Francis Barnett.
En
route,
I determined that I would not show
my back view to the Chief. If I was in trouble of any sort, this display would only aggravate matters.

With some trepidation, therefore, I waited hatless outside the Chief Constable’s office door at Headquarters and was ushered in. I stood to attention, smart in my pressed uniform and clean shirt. I had done what I could with my hair at the front and I thought it had passed his scrutiny. He left his desk and came forward to shake hands with me. This surprised me.

“Congratulations, Rhea,” he beamed. “You’ve done us proud. A splendid show. Excellent.”

I must have looked surprised. Indeed I was, for I had no idea what I’d done to justify this reception. It was certainly not the hair-do.

“You don’t know why you are here?” he must have
recognised
the look of bewilderment on my face.

“No, sir,” I shook my head and felt the hair flop over my brow. I swallowed hard.

“The Gold Medal Essay. The Queen’s Police Gold Medal Essay competition,” he said proudly. “You submitted an essay on juvenile delinquency.”

“Yes, sir,” my heart began to thump.

“You’ve got second prize, Rhea. You were beaten by the Commissioner of the South Australia Police. It was a
Commonwealth
competition, Rhea, with entries from all over the world. And you’ve got second prize. Here is a cheque for £30 – I am delighted. I regard this as a triumph for the force.”

The Home Office, who arranged the competition, had apparently notified my Force direct, and I had no idea of this success. I accepted the cheque gratefully, for it represented almost three weeks pay. With three little children, we needed every penny, so I was delighted. After a chat about the work I’d put into the essay, he dismissed me. I wheeled smartly about, stomped my feet and marched from his office.

Then a loud bellow halted me. “Rhea!”

“Sir?” I was only inches from the door.

“What the bloody hell’s happened to your hair?”

I turned to face him. “I had it cut this morning, sir, in a rush.”

“What a bloody awful mess! I’m amazed at you, reporting here like that. I’m amazed that you had the effrontery to enter
my office in a state of that kind. God Almighty! I wouldn’t be seen dead like that, man,” and he proceeded to give me the bulling of my life. He was expert at this, being an ex-military man, and I left his office clutching my cheque for £30, but feeling as small and as helpless as a harvest mouse. His dressing-down made me shake for hours afterwards.

I often returned to Sam’s workshop, where I talked to him and had my shoes repaired, but I never let him touch another hair of my head.

 

I met another of my craftsmen friends during routine enquiries into a series of housebreakings in the locality. Someone had been travelling around the villages in the early afternoon of certain weekdays, and had broken into several houses over a wide area of the district. Individually, the thefts were not very serious – at each house, two or three pounds in cash would be removed from tins on mantel-shelves, or food would be taken from the larders. Occasionally, an item of clothing would disappear and very infrequently, something with a saleable value would be missed, like a portable radio or small items of jewellery. Taken as a whole, however, the crimes were serious and engendered considerable alarm among the people.

My detective colleagues had investigated these crimes, many of which had occurred well beyond the boundaries of my beat and concluded they were the work of either a tramp or someone on the run, living locally and stealing in order to survive. It could be the work of absconders from an approved school, but the pattern ruled out a professional thief bent on stealing high-value goods.

As time went by without an arrest, the women folk began to grow alarmed at the prospect of someone entering their homes and rifling through their belongings. I made a point, therefore, of visiting as many isolated houses as possible, in an attempt to alert the occupants to the criminal’s activities. It was during one of those missions that I came across Stanley George Hatton.

I discovered his house after bouncing my motor-cycle along
an unkept lane for almost a mile. It was a very isolated place, and a sign on the gate said ‘Brockrigg Farm’. I entered and drove the motor-cycle as far as possible along the muddy track, then parked it against a stone gate post. I removed my helmet and walked the final twenty-five yards to the house. I knocked on the door and waited. Soon I heard heavy footsteps inside and a woman’s voice told a dog to “Git oot o’ t’rooad” before the door opened.

“Oh!” upon seeing me, she smoothed her rough hessian apron, known hereabouts as a ‘cooarse appron’, and said, “Oh, it’s t’bobby.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve come to give advice about burglars.”

“Here?” The dog appeared and sniffed at me. It was one of the black-and-white curs which are so prominent in the farms of the region.

“Hereabouts,” I told her. I called the criminal a
burglar
whereas the term was strictly wrong. He was a
housebreaker
because he broke in during the daylight hours. Burglars were those who broke and entered houses during the night, but since that time, the law has changed. All those who break into premises of any kind are now legally entitled to the name of burglar. It is a technicality, but the word
burglar
has always been easily understood by the general public.

“Well you’d better have a chat wiv oor Stanley George,” she suggested.

“Your husband?”

“Aye, he’s roond there, in yon aud barn, working.”

“Thanks,” and I followed the direction of her finger.

The large double-sided barn door was open and I walked in. I expected to find a farmer hard at work, but instead I found a carpenter. The old barn had been converted into a comfortable work-shop and it was full of wooden articles. My first impression was that of a furniture store, but the scent of glue and polish, of wood shavings and of oak told me otherwise. There was a mass of wood shavings on the floor too, and rows of tools hung from the wall. This was a one-man factory.

A stiff man in late middle age got up from the bench and struggled towards me, limping painfully.

“Don’t, I’ll come over,” and I crossed the floor towards him.

He smiled gratefully, and settled back on the stool beside the bench.

“Rheumatics,” he said wryly. “In me aud legs. Gives me hell, it does.”

“I’m P.C. Rhea,” I said, holding out a hand. He shook it strongly.

“Hatton,” he introduced himself. “Stanley George Hatton. Everybody calls me Stanley George. It’s on account of my mother. She had three lads, me and two brothers. She called ’em all Stanley because it was her favourite name – I’m Stanley George, there’s Stanley Eric and Stanley Peter. I wish folks would just call me George, but they never do, not around here.”

I settled on a newly made chair at his side and explained the reason for my visit. He listened intently and said he’d make sure everything was locked up. In any case, he and his wife were always pottering about the premises during the day, and she’d notice any strangers lurking about. We talked happily and his wife, whose name I learned was Millie, brought us a cup of tea. She stopped for a chat, and I told her of my mission. She had heard about the thefts and
house-breakings
and promised to be a little more crime-conscious.

I had a look around his workshop and marvelled at the quality of his work. There were chairs galore, Windsor style in the main, which he had fashioned from the piles of wood stacked in one corner. But he had also made cupboards, wardrobes, even bedsteads and a whole range of large items like dining-suites and kitchen-fittings. He told how he had been compelled to give up farming because of his legs. He’d let his land to neighbours but not being a man for idling his time away, he’d turned to his life-long hobby of carpentry. Suddenly, the orders had boomed – he found himself making complete dining-sets for customers, and Windsor chairs which sold rapidly to the city stores, and a host of other items. He’d had offers of more than enough work and had been surprised to suddenly find himself in demand. He worked to suit himself and accepted jobs which meant he could remain seated for much of the time. All his work was hand-finished and polished with a care that bordered on the fanatical.

I began calling on him every time I was in Briggsby, once a
quarter or so, and we had long, interesting talks. Gradually, I realised his farm was not connected to the mains electricity supply; he had no electrical apparatus in his workshop and even his drill was hand operated. His wife cooked on a large Aga in her ample kitchen and the light came from oil lamps strategically placed about the premises. The whole farm had an air of calmness and peace, very reminiscent of the last century.

I grew very fond of Stanley George and Millie. He would chat away to me in the rich dialect of the locality, and I could chatter back in like terms. I told him about life in a modern police force, with motor vehicles, personal radio sets and improved facilities. He told me about the old days on the farm, before tractors came along and before combine
harvesters
had shortened the harvest period.

It was some months later that Stanley George sought my advice on a matter which was troubling him.

“Thoo’s a man of the world,” he said one day as we drank Millie’s tea. “I’d like a spot of advice.”

“Of course,” I assured him. “Ask any time.”

“Well, it’s like this,” he began, sipping slowly from his mug. “We’ve no ’lectric in this house. We’ve grown used to makking do wivoot it, me and oor Millie. Never missed it, you
understand
. Onnyrooad, some ’lectric fellers were fixing poles and cables just over that hill behind our house. Last week, this was. Yan on ’em come to me and asked if I wanted t’electric in this house. He’s given me till this weekend to think it over.”

“And do you want it?” I put to him.

“Nay, now I can’t be sure,” he admitted. “Just can’t mak up my mind. I mean, what good would it be to me, at this stage of life?”

“It would make life easier,” I assured him. “You’d have instant light all around the house, you could boil kettles of water much faster, you could have power tools in here, like drills and saws.”

“It would tak me ages ti get accustomed ti it.”

“What about Millie? How’s she feel about it?”

“No idea,” he shook his head. “She’s no idea. She’s got relations in Richmond with t’electric, but they burn t’toast, t’custard gits tak tiv it, and all soorts goes wrang. And them
bulbs they use – they keep banging and flashing.”

“Faulty wiring, I’ll bet,” I said. “If lights keep flashing or bulbs keep blowing, it’ll be old wiring. They should get new wiring fitted right through the house. But back to you – I reckon you’d like it.”

“Them ’lectric fellers said they’d fix me up wiv an
estimate
,” he said. “What’s that mean?”

“It means they’ll come around your house and buildings to examine everything, and then tell you what’s needed – how much wire, for example, how many plugs and sockets they recommend and that sort of thing. The Electricity Board will send you a letter telling you what it will cost.”

“And would I have to get it?”

“Not if you didn’t want to,” I assured him. “The estimate will be free – they come along and measure up, that’s all. For nowt.”

“They said they would come this Friday, unless I said no.”

“Let them come,” I said. “At least you’ll know what it will cost you. You might say no when you learn what the cost is, but at least you’ll have an opportunity to be fitted with electricity.”

Stanley George agreed to this. I left him and it was another fortnight before I returned to his farm. I popped into his workshop as usual, and the inevitable cup of tea appeared. Millie stayed with us for a chat.

“Well?” I asked him. “Did they estimate for your
electricity
?”

“By!” he said with feeling. “By, that was a to-do, that was. Two fellers came with rulers and instruments and they went right round that house of mine, and right round these
buildings
. It took ’em ages, I can tell you. They went through ivvery room doonstairs, and then upstairs. I was right behind, watching from t’bottom to t’top, and do you know, they started to measure every bedroom. Well, Mr Rhea, we’ve seven bedrooms in this aud house, and I can’t see t’sense in having ’lectric in every room, can you?”

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