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Holland Park Press

Sesame Street Police

10 October 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Recently I spent a day on Portobello Market in London. Two police officers walked past; one was a tall bobby, the other a minute woman police constable. The WPC especially caught the attention: she was a mere five foot but kitted out in the full uniform. I could almost have put her into a box and taken her home.

The police officers patrolling Portobello Market are in any case extremely friendly specimens. Picture this: five men on a bench surrounded by cans of beer early in the morning, when two young police constables arrive to check out the scene. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but it happens more and more often that I run into a young police officer and think: oh dear.

The drunks must have thought this too: after the police constables talked to them about bothering people, one of the drunks said: ‘This time I’ll let you get away with it!’

This reminded me of the British Tory politician Andrew Mitchell. He was stopped by the police when leaving Downing Street on his bicycle. ‘Fucking plebs,’ he said to the police officer. Later Mitchell denied having said this, but even so it generated a public outcry. They could live with ‘fucking’ but ‘plebs’ was simply too much!

In the Dutch town of Enschede, Sietze Jan V said to a police constable ‘You’re an ant fucker’ when asked to hand over his can of beer. Initially Sietze Jan V was charged and convicted, but on appeal it eventually went to the Supreme Court. The highest court of justice overruled the conviction, declaring that ‘ant fucker’ was not an insult, but noted that the context needed to be taken into account.

I used to have an army colleague who, on spotting a colleague from the military police at a drinks party, would call out: ‘Hi there, smiling Judas!’

I catch myself using the term from time to time – to label a young bailiff who lives in my block of flats. He is a friendly giant with a ready laugh who I occasionally meet in the lift. For example, I may remark: ‘It’s very wet today, isn’t it?’ And he will answer with a broad smile: ‘Yes, it’s great, this bad weather!’ I can imagine him ringing people’s doorbells and announcing with a smile: ‘I’ve come to claim 1000 euros!’

Is it just the way the news is reported or is the authority of the police declining? Earlier this year Gloucestershire police were trying to find a man who was following women in the woods. The man never laid a finger on these women, but he frightened them. He was dressed as a smurf.

Only last month a live chicken was delivered to the police station in the Dutch town of Ermelo. A note accompanying the animal stated that ‘the chicken was absolutely legless, unable to drive and should be breathalysed’. It was a joke, of course, but the police in Ermelo took it seriously. ‘This is no way to treat animals,’ according to the neighbourhood constable. The police are looking for clues.

A few years ago, a goat was arrested in Nigeria on suspicion of a bank robbery. According to the authorities, one of the robbers had used black magic to transform himself into a goat in order to get away. A spokesman for the police said: ‘We can’t confirm the story, but it is the fact that we have arrested a goat.’

Portobello Market is frequented by a drunk carrying a rattle. Every time a busker starts playing, he disturbs the performance with the noise of his rattle. Outside the hairdresser’s is a bench with the sign ‘reserved for clients and staff of the hair salon’, and if one of the hairdressers goes out to smoke a cigarette on this bench, rattle man will join them within ten seconds.

Arresting goats goes too far, and someone who is abusive to a police officer should get a simple verbal caution. However, when I see police constables aimlessly walking up and down Portobello Market I sometimes think: please go and arrest the goat!

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

Visit Arnold's home page to find out more about his other publications.
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