A Fair Cop

Hello – yes that’s me, Frank Packard, Duty Sergeant, Melchester Central nick. Melchester is a pretty normal mid-sized town. I joined the force from school and I’ve no real complaints. Five years off retiring now, unless the bloody government reneges on its latest set of promises. Anyway this story concerns golf. Specifically a charity golf competition sponsored by one of our local celebs, Billy Rich. You’ll have heard of him of course, comedian and telly game show host. He’s done OK has Billy and like a lot of showbiz folks he’s always up to support some charity or other. This one was for disabled kids.

Anyway the format of these things is fairly standard. The local club draws for members to compete and the sponsoring celebrity drums up other people to play and be a bit of a draw for spectators. Most of the celebrity guest players are his show business mates, local football players and perhaps other local personality faces. There are nominally a few prizes but mostly it’s about getting people to make donations. Billy’s agent had brought a whole crowd of pretty young girls dressed in little more than a few hankies and smiles to circulate and drum up the cash.

I come out of the draw and I am playing in a fourball with Billy’s agent, Manny Nugent who is about 60 going on 45 with a fairly obvious facelift and more than a bit of botox but he seems OK. The other pair is Wayne Lugg, who used to play centre forward for Melchester and remains a bit of a local hero. He now runs a nightclub of sorts, about which the Force has, shall we say, some reservations and his partner is Charles Rance, an accountant and another Club member. I’m off a seven handicap, which is the right side of good and the wrong side of very good. Charles is off 9, Manny 12 and Wayne is 5. On paper it’s a good match. We’re second off. Billy and his four go first. He takes the tee, rips off a couple of fair funnies, nothing naughty with the kids there, and tees off with a nice shot followed by the rest of his four. Then it’s our turn. Obviously Wayne is the main attraction so he gets the honour on the first tee and we follow, relieved that all of us hit at least half decent shots.

It’s on the fourth hole that I start to get a bit worried. Manny was clearly a bit optimistic about a 12 handicap on his current form and hadn’t featured in the scoring so far. In fourballs only the players on each side with the best score on a hole count. At this point I should diverge to tell you something about golf and its rules. Perhaps because it’s a game where it would be so easy to cheat, cheating is just about the worst thing a golfer can do and, even more than cards can get you ostracised p.d.q. with no way back. There is a legendary story about the great Arnold Palmer who went into and played out of a bunker in a very important tournament and then reported himself immediately to the official covering his playing group, saying he’d accidentally touched the ball and had to take a penalty. No one saw it. The television ran it again and again and couldn’t spot the touch. No spectator ever said they saw it but Arnold knew and Arnold called it himself – greatness!

Now I was sure that Manny had hit a Spalding Topfilight number 1 off the tee and I was equally sure that he holed out for a par with a number 7. He’d had a bit of a rummage in the rough to look for his drive. Had he just spotted a lost number 7 and thought it his ball or had he done the other. You can bet I was watching him like a hawk from then on. We started to catch up with and overtake the other two and by the turn at the ninth we were two points up with a very respectable score and I was damn sure Manny was cheating: a little nudge here to improve the lie of his ball and another nearly lost ball incident where I was convinced he dropped a ball down the inside of his trousers.

As a copper and, more importantly, as a golfer I was horrified. I was also on the horns of a dilemma. If it carried on this way we could be in the prizes. If I called him out then it would cast a real cloud over what was supposed to be a happy day out for charity. In the end I did the only thing I could do. Me, Frank Packard, threw the match with some judiciously bad chipping and putting and a lost ball I was actually standing alongside. Back in the clubhouse I had one drink with the four for form’s sake and then faked feeling sick before leaving as soon as I could: not though before I left a little note in Manny’s golf bag.

Dear Mr Nugent,

If ever I hear of you playing in any public golf event again I will call you out as a cheat. Marvellous little things these new phones are with their built in cameras. Take up cards. They shoot you if you cheat at that.

Yours sincerely

Frank Packard, Melchester Constabulary’.

A far as I know he retired to Marbella a couple of months later. Oh, and I had a quiet word with Billy Rich. He’s got a new agent now.

Robert winston McNaughton

Musings

I have just watched a series of three television programmes about the building of the London Cross-Rail line. Two things could not fail to strike the viewer. Firstly the staggering level of human skill, knowledge, learning and sheer talent displayed from the top project and tasks managers and the design engineers involved and secondly that the vast majority of the specialised heavy equipment employed in the work had been imported from Germany.

That even the top managers and designers who are achieving this engineering miracle are paid, at best, salaries that would hardly amount to a fraction of an investment banker’s average annual bonus which, together with the chronic lack of investment in UK engineering manufacturing, seems to say something (maybe everything) about the twisted set of values that marks our nation’s priorities and keeps us behind other western nations. Britain sadly values making money way above earning it.

Robert Winston McNaughton

A Derby Match

With apologies to Roger McGough

Plagerise; why d’you think the good Lord made your eyes.’ (Tom Lehrer)

A Derby Match

young

lovers

playing

footy

together

alone

Liverpool

Everton

star

two

one

crossed

coats

goal

she

attacks

he

defends

she

scores

they

go

off

home

he

scores

 

Robert Winston McNaughton

A Curious Coincidence (True story)

A couple of weeks after the writing group task to imagine I was blind I was asked to collect and drive a blind person to one of our choir’s singing engagements. The choir is pretentiously called the Joyous Praise ‘Rockin’ Gospel Choir, which, apart from being a mouthful is a pretty big claim for a collection of Norfolk people, mostly white and many over pension age! We do our best, as they say. Anyway our musicians are a pianist, a bass player and often, for some songs, a drummer. Edward is our drummer on these occasions and plays a mean pair of African drums in sort of bongo style for us. We have a close relationship with an African drumming group and often play together.

For this ‘gig’ (see how with it I am or would be if ‘with it’ was a current phrase) we just needed Edward’s drums, with Edward of course and Edward is profoundly blind and has been from birth. He is in his late teens or early twenties, the former I think, slim and good looking. Dark glasses always cover his eyes. Apart from this you would not notice his disability. We had passed the odd greeting before but never really talked. His usual lift was not available so I was asked to transport him and his drums.

Five minutes before the due time I arrived at his house, a bit to tucked away for the accuracy of my satnav and Edward was waiting. I already had the drums in my car from the previous night’s practice. Being willing but clueless I asked Edward to just tell me what to do. He pushed me to his right side, caught my elbow lightly and said “OK let’s go.” He folded himself easily into the car, put on the seat belt without a fumble and we were off. At the end of the road he said turn left and the satnav ‘Sally Satnav’ said turn right. “Ignore it,” he said so I did and sure enough his directions got us out of the village on the right road.

So, Edward, what do you do when you’re not drumming?” He replied that he was just finishing a course in performing arts but not, as I might have suspected as a musician but more about the technical aspects, staging, sound, etc. He went on to volunteer that he would be graduating in the next few weeks and had a job interview with the County Council to help people with disabilities to use technology. He was quite matter of factly hoping that being blind would be an advantage. He intrigued me by apologising for not having a white stick and relying on me as a guide. He said he only did it with very good friends or people like the choir, people whom he felt didn’t think that helping him was an imposition. I thought about this for a second and felt quite complimented. As we chatted I began to understand more and more what an intelligent young man he is and how well sorted about his situation. Though he had plenty of blind friends and acquaintances he seemed quite comfortable in the sighted world and confessed his main unhappiness had been a spell in a special blind residential school. He had not liked living in an exclusively ‘blind’ world and become quite depressed.

It was about an hour’s drive to the church where we would be singing and we prattled on with me feeling increasingly comfortable talking back and forth with Edward and me gradually relaxing out of the sadly avuncular tone I’m inclined to use with younger people. Once at the Church, or rather close to it, we parked and with the help of some other choir members who happily turned up at the same time we struggled round with the drums: Edward with a drum under one arm and his hand on my left elbow. I got him sat down in a choir stall and busied myself, returning regularly to let him know that I hadn’t forgotten him. I thought it must be a regular bind for him to be left in strange places and said so. He replied to the effect that it was just an inevitable fact. He asked if it would be in order for him to eat his lunch sitting in the choir stalls of the Church. I assured him that I didn’t mind. I was certain that Jesus wouldn’t and if anyone else did I’d think of a suitable parable. I stayed around whilst he ate just in case anyone did have a different view but it was OK.

Eventually we got sorted out for the performance. Despite the kind things said then and after it wasn’t good. I had a cold and was struggling anyway but the sound was all wrong: too little amplification for the soloists, too much for the bass and piano. Maybe the front of the choir could be heard but I was sure that I and the rest of the men at the back were wasting our voices. Eventually we finished to polite rather than enthusiastic applause and I wasted no time in getting the car and bringing it round to where there was a road access to the church. Getting the drums and Edward back in the car was difficult. It wasn’t Edward that was the problem. It was just moving the drums and stands through the throng of people waiting for the next event and then threading my way through with Edward: he seemingly so sure-footed as we dodged and weaved to the door.

Back on the road and inevitably the post-mortem, “Not good, Edward. How was it from where you where?”

Not good Rob, too much bass and piano, my drums were almost drowned out and the choir needed more and better amplification. I could sort it technically but I’d need help with all the plugs and wires. Really we need better kit.”

We agreed something had to be done but quite what neither of us was sure. I know I had struggled with a cold, which didn’t help my already doubtful voice. I said so to Edward and he confirmed that he hadn’t even heard me. I remarked, “No change there then.”

No, not true. I can usually hear your voice well. Your timing is very good.” I felt complimented despite the fact that probably my timing is the only good thing about my singing.

Eventually we made it back to Edward’s house to be met by his Mother who thanked me too much for taking Edward. I thanked Edward and his mother and assured them it had been a pleasure. It was. As I drove away I reflected that it had been more than a pleasure. It had been a privilege. I think being around Edward will always be a privilege.

Robert Winston McNaughton

A Sonnet

A sonnet is a wondrous form of verse

Of fourteen lines in metre regular and fair

Which rhyme each other line except, to be perverse

The final couplet forms a single rhyming pair

Yet in this simple form the poet crafts all life

Words through ages past and present tumble

To charm, astound and sometimes cut, just as a knife

To twist our hearts and humour: make us humble

That we cannot achieve what they so simply capture

The smiths who bend each syllable and word to wing

Thoughts and feelings back to we, who read in rapture

And delight in word song that these poets sing

I could not write a good one if I tried forever

And so I wrote about them, an honest fool’s endeavour.

Robert Winston McNaughton

A factual little story

My paternal grandmother Edith was widowed in 1924, when her husband Frank finally succumbed to the gassing he’d received in the Great War. Somehow, during the post-war years she had managed to build a quite substantial business as a small wholesaler, mostly of tobacco, and had seven shops. She was quite a determined lady and certainly a character. If illustration is needed I shall recount the circumstances of my father’s learning to drive. He had been sent to sea because of the supposed benefits to his chronic and expected to be life-shortening asthma. By the middle nineteen thirties he would have been working through his various officer’s qualifications or ‘tickets’. Arriving home for another extended leave his mother announced her intention to go caravanning. Now my father was an enthusiastic motor cycle rider but did not drive. A fact that rather limited their chances of having the said caravanning holiday, notwithstanding the absence of them owning either a car or caravan. Father, or Sonny, as he was called by his mother was dispatched to their cottage in Wales for a bit to play with his bikes. Upon his return his mother repeated her intentions about the holiday. “Mother, we have no car, no caravan and neither of us can drive.” “Ah, Sonny, look out in the back alley.” He did and there was a brand new Rover car and an equally brand new caravan. “The man’s coming round to teach you to drive this afternoon.”

The man duly arrived and took father and car to the ring road round the great Sefton Park. He then taught my father how to drive by the simple expedient of putting him in the driver’s seat and directing him to drive round the park for an hour or two; the road round the park conveniently being circular and with right of way around the whole circuit. Arriving back at the shop after this intensive driving course he found his mother impatiently waiting with her bags packed. “Right, Sonny; Cornwall please.” It seems that by the time they reached Cornwall my father could drive because they certainly got there and back without undue incident.

Robert Winston McNaughton

A Brief Encounter

A Brief Encounter (a piece based on something that actually happened)

1942 – Frank McKay (30) lay in his bunk in the tiny cabin and watched a bead of condensation vibrate its way across one of the steel angle supports of the cabin ceiling and inevitably drip down on to the pillow next to his head. He was fully clothed except for his sea boots and about as comfortable as it was possible to be given the circumstances; certainly warmer than he would have been on his own ship. He had been hoping for some leave but in this man’s war hopes of that kind were all too easily dashed. A professional seaman, he’d been married just a year before war had broken out and taken a shore-side job. At the start of the war he’d volunteered immediately, partly from an instinctive patriotism and partly because it gave him some control over his future. With a master’s ticket he was a shoe-in for the Naval Volunteer Reserve – a full lieutenant in the ‘wavy navy’.

The early years of the war had mostly been spent on the east coast of Britain culminating in the loss of most of the sight of one eye during the evacuation of Cherbourg; unlucky or simply lucky to get out alive. Then after a short convalescence a posting to first officer of a rescue ship on the dreadful artic convoys, where as many men died of TB as through enemy action. Now he was on secondment to a brand new American destroyer, Bellman, fresh out of the dockyard. Her crew had seen little action yet, confined as she had been to the southern escort role from Scotland up to Iceland. This time she was covering a convoy heading for Murmansk and Frank McKay was required to cover an important lack of experience.

It’s a simple fact that the hardest place to navigate around is the top of the world. Close to the North Pole a compass is of very limited value and except in high summer the sun is too infrequent a visitor. Navigation relies heavily on the stars, dead reckoning and local knowledge. Frank McKay was as good a navigator as they come. Always good at maths at school he’d taken to navigation like a duck to water and spherical trigonometry was as straightforward to him as ABC plus the fact that he had plenty of experience in the North Atlantic. In short, he knew the way.

He’d joined the Bellman at Loch Ewe complete with his own navigational instruments, personalised and mostly very un-Royal Navy sea clothes and a secret half a case of Scotland’s finest. American ships were dry but Frank, not being part of their navy saw no sense in complying with their silly rules. The Captain had greeted him thankfully enough and the other officers were polite and appeared not to resent his presence. Soon he was happily running some navigation workshops for the deck officers and pleased at the speed at which they picked up the skills. The Bellman’s captain, Fred Wellbeck, and other officers where always on hand when Frank took sights and they all went through the position calculations. Uncannily the observations routinely matched Frank’s dead reckoning of their position from the ship’s course and speed with various allowances for drift.

None of this was in Frank’s mind as the cabins whistle summoned him from a half slumber and pleasant thoughts of his young wife and baby son. It was the ship’s Exec. “Sorry Frank, Skipper needs you topside.” He ruefully swung his legs to the floor and pulled on very non-standard kapok packed sea boots. He winced slightly as he went through the door out on to the deck. It was cold, as expected, and the wind tore at his heavy duffel coat. A quick and automatic look round to orientate himself; a point or two above freezing, if you ignored the wind chill of a near gale. The sea and the sky were the same slub grey and it was difficult to tell if it was freezing rain or spray that was beginning to soak him. The Bellman was loping along at, for her, an easy 20 knots – God he wished his own little ship had even half her top speed of well over 30 knots. She’d dropped back behind the convoy to investigate a possible submarine contact and, after a fruitless search, was steadily catching up. A minute later and he was on the bridge. “Sir?”

Will you look at that Frank?” He pointed forward at about two o’clock.

Frank took up a pair of binoculars though there was hardly any need for them. “That, Sir, is happily one of ours; a Walrus. It’ll have been flown off one of the convoy escorts by catapult. They can’t land back on the ship and in this sea there’s no way the plane can land and be recovered from the water. It’s expendable. They may have seen something and want to report to us or they may be having trouble getting back to their own ship. If so they will want to land close to us and get picked-up.”

Jeeesus, Frank, I thought someone had fitted a lifeboat with wings. Tell me some more.”

Well, Sir, it’s as I said. It’s a Walrus. They’re not as antique as they look. The high wings and pusher prop mean that it’s a good plane for observation. They’re very slow but they’re hardly fighter planes. Cheap, expendable and useful, they are. It will probably have a lieutenant pilot and a sergeant observer. They’ll signal us in a moment.” Sure enough the plane started to wink-out a signal.

Signalman Perkins, you got that?”

Yessir, They’re asking for a lift home.”

What now Frank?”

Acknowledge and confirm we know the drill. Best if we steam straight into the wind as slow as possible. He’ll try and land behind and as close to our stern as he can. We need a rubber dinghy over the stern on a line ready to float down to them in the water. Hopefully they get in quick. We pull them aboard and then we can sink the plane if it’s still afloat with a couple of small shells.” The necessary orders were given and the ship slowed and sheared on to her new course.

As the plane got closer and manoeuvred to line up behind the ship it was possible to get a closer look at the archaic looking aircraft with its braced struts between the wings, boxy cockpit and very boat-like shape. The landing erred, if anything, on the spectacular side. The ungainly aircraft hit the water in a huge splash and bounced up again. On the second hit it looked for a moment as though it would settle down but a wave slewed it round and one wing went down. They could see the lower wing fold up then suddenly it was stopped and two people could be seen scrambling out. Fortunately the rubber dinghy was within feet of the plane and the men were across and in it within seconds. As the dinghy was hauled back to the ship, the captain left the bridge followed by the Exec. and Frank.

Frank watched in near disbelief as at the captain’s aside to the Exec. and a couple of whistles, sailors started to line up to attention along the deck. ‘What the hell’s going on?’ The thought was cut short as the two airmen were hauled over the rail on to the deck and stood there somewhat startled by the guard of honour lined up in front of them. Captain Fred Wellbeck took a pace forward, delivered a salute direct from Hollywood and stuck out a hand. “The brothers Wright, I presume. Which of you is Wilbur?” Slighty dazed the two fliers returned salutes and shook hands. “Get these heroes below please: my cabin in thirty minutes.” He turned to Frank. “See they’re looked after Frank.”

It was nearer an hour before Frank, the Captain and the two airmen were finally settled in Fred Wellbeck’s cabin. The good food served on the Bellman, a shower and warm clothes had done their reviving work. “OK guys, it looks as if you Brits have got me outnumbered so I guess we could do what the Brits do. You got me Frank? A little medicine might be called for here.” The Captain gave a pronounced wink at the slightly flustered Frank who disappeared out of the cabin to return after less than a minute with a brown paper bag. Four glasses were already on the table and, with due ceremony, a bottle was withdrawn from the bag and four stiff whiskies poured. The story was easily told by the pilot. They’d been flown off to carry out reconnaissance in a Norwegian fiord, purpose “Sorry, secret”. The plane had caught a bit of flak and as they’d headed back the radio had packed in and fuel was running out too fast. “Lucky you were in the right place at the right time.” The full story ended at the same time as the bottle.

The Bellman caught up with the rest of the convoy within four hours and the Luftwaffe caught up with it twenty hours later. They lost two ships to the bombing but it could have been worse and the Bellman played its fair share in the defence hurling a screen of shells across its wing of the convoy. They made it into the grim socialist frozen misery of Murmansk without further incident.

A couple of days later Frank received his orders to joined one of the rescue ships on a returning convoy and had to take his leave of the Bellman. “Sure you can find your way back now Sir?” He said with a smile.

I reckon so Frank. We’re grateful. God though, this is one awful piece of war we’re in. I don’t know how you guys can go on doing it.”

Hate Hitler, love home, endure and die quiet is all I know – oh, and the occasional drop of medicine. Thanks Fred and good luck.” He handed over the last three bottles of his secret store in a wrap of a small red ensign and shook hands. Then he turned and made his way off the ship with no more than a few handshakes and a nod and a wink to the officers and sailors as he passed. Fred Wellbeck watched the indomitable retreating figure with its characteristic seaman’s rolling gait until it turned a corner out of sight.

Robert Winston McNaughton