Home free, or the advantage of being a policeman's son

MY pal Mike's father always resorted to what he thought was the ultimate threat whenever Mike didn't toe the line. He threatened to report Mike to a policeman. The trouble was, the nearest known policeman was my father, which didn't exactly complement the bond of friendship between Mike and myself.

Somehow, telling Mike and my other pals that they would be reported to Mr. Barnacle Sr. didn't seem much of a threat. My father always came home in his uniform; the only sign that he wasn't on duty was the missing striped band normally worn on the lower left arm.

But for me, having had a father who was a policeman is more than an honor among your friends. I am not sure that it always saved me from arguments and fights. At times, I thought it should have.

The implied threat that my dad would somehow bring the weight of the entire London Metropolitan police force down upon their heads if they so much as harmed a hair on mine didn't work too well among my pals. Those that should have had policemen knocking on their door never knew the occupation of my dad, so one balanced out the other.

Was I ever in awe of the uniform that my dad wore? Oh yes, definitely. Each evening and morning, depending on what shift my father was on, I would wait with a mixture of fear and respect. I would wait for his huge hulk (aren't all fathers a little taller than they are, in their sons' eyes?) to come through the kitchen door.

There were no collars and ties then for policemen, and his navy blue uniform would be buttoned right up to his neck, emphasizing the military aspect of his bearing. The buttons would be bright and gleaming, polished the evening earlier, before he went on duty. The legend ``GWR 47'' burned brightly on the high collar surrounding his neck. (The ``GWR'' stood for ``General War Reserve,'' but as a train buff, I always pretended he worked for the Great Western Railway.)

The advantage of having a policeman for a father meant that you knew that, despite sometimes negative public opinion, policemen were really good guys at heart.

I loved to travel (``wander'' was my mother's word) around London, which meant I was often (genuinely) lost. No matter. I simply found the nearest policeman and told him I was lost. He would ask me my name, and where I lived, and then invite me to the stationhouse. There, I would be given a huge mug of hot chocolate and a ``Chelsea'' bun, and be entertained by the sergeant on duty. Then, my mother would either come and collect me, often involving a bus journey, or on special occasions I would be given a ride home in a ``wireless car'' - the description then of a police vehicle that contained a radio.

My father has long gone, and so have many of my feelings about policemen. But not entirely. My father taught me many things about respect for policemen, and one of them was, never argue with a policeman. If you're right, the courts will be the place to state that, and if you are wrong, there was something immoral about trying to fool a policeman doing his job of keeping the peace.

So recently when my patience finally gave way after following a very slow car on a single-lane highway, with no opportunity for overtaking, and in exasperation, crossing the double yellow line, I wondered where on earth that police car came from.

He pulled me over and asked to see my license. The ``slowpoke'' wandered righteously past the flashing blue and red lights.

``Do you know you overtook on a double yellow line?'' the officer said sternly.

``Yes, officer.'' (I still have to fight not to say ``constable.'')

He checked my registration, and wandered around the car. I watched cautiously as he took out his ticket book. Here goes my insurance premium, I thought.

Then I saw his badge number. It winked and flashed in the oscillating lights of his car. It was No. ``47.''

He caught me looking at it, and perhaps wondered if I was taking a mental note of it just in case I ended up in court. Perhaps he thought I could accuse him of police brutality for leaning on my car door or something.

But I said, ``My father's number was 47.'' The officer suddenly assumed a human form.

``Your father was a policeman and you cross double yellow lines?''

If he had not caught my English accent, perhaps he thought that by presenting an association, I might favor myself in his eyes and get away without getting a ticket.

``Oh, not in America; in England.''

``Ah,'' the officer said. I was not sure to what the ``ah'' referred. I didn't know what to say, so I rambled on.

``It was a long, long time ago, during World War II.''

HE returned the ticket book to his rear pocket. He returned to his car, then came back again.

``Well, I don't want you to think that I am letting you off because your father was a policeman. Policemen's sons should know better.''

I looked for a sign of a smile, that he was being humorous. But he was a policeman and he was on duty. He gave me a verbal warning about obeying traffic laws. ``Thank you, officer. I appreciate the warning,'' I said.

I pulled out and patiently followed the ``slowpoke'' all the way home. It gave me a chance to reflect that being a policeman's son really did have some advantages, even after all this time.

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