Friday, 15 November 2013

Mind how you go...

As we approach whatever it is politically correct to call our mid-winter celebrations these days I thought it prudent to bring you this timely reminder of one of the dangers of these dark times. Yes, there are the obvious hazards associated with icy roads, frosted windows and low winter sun. Also, as we near the longest nights of mid-December there is an increasing risk of snowdrifts and the attendant dangers of becoming stranded and managing to stay alive while waiting for help. But on top of that beware the risk to your livelihood that losing your driving licence will present.

Yes, the annual party season is almost upon us and along with reports of local authorities clamping down on ‘Winterval’ and fearing the abhorrent racism and outrageous offence in deploying the hateful word ‘Christmas’, you are soon be bombarded with advice on how to avoid enjoying yourself to anywhere near the traditional level. Principle among these will be the entreaties to make a formal abjuration of all merriment, or take a taxi, or persuade one of your number to forego the festive cup altogether and assume the dreaded role of ‘designated driver’.

Police experience shows, however, a grim determination to ignore such advice and risk it all anyway. In warning, I bring you the account of an incident recorded by one patrol this time last year, as they waited patiently outside an out-of-town public house. A local company had descended on the hostelry and the sounds of merriment reached the officers as they waited, patiently, in an unmarked car at the edge of the brimming car park. They were aghast at the thought of ordinary people enjoying themselves with such abandon, but even more frustrated that out here, away from residences, this was not (yet) a crime. No matter, the remote location presented them with the potential for rich pickings anyway; everybody had to drive to get here.

The pub had been granted an extended licence, so their wait was going to be a long one. As midnight approached, one or two revellers left the pub and walked, far too soberly, to their cars. The young constable was eager to challenge them immediately, but the wise old sergeant he accompanied cautioned him to wait and watch. Those leaving early, he advised, were likely to be teetotal killjoys; confronting them would be a waste of time and besides, it might alert others to the police presence. Far better to wait until nearer the end.

Time passed slowly and the officers took it in turns to doze lightly until suddenly, at around two in the morning, the pub door was flung exuberantly open and to loud shouts of “Good night!” and “Merry Crimbo!” accompanied by the sound of party trumpets and the beat of the disco music, a heavily decorated figure lurched from the steamy interior and out into the cold night air. Wearing a Father Christmas hat and bedecked liberally with tinsel, he stood, unsteadily on the pub doorstep as he struggled to light a cigarette, swaying as he squinted at the flame and trying at length to coordinate the meeting of smoking material and source of combustion.

As he stood there in fierce concentration one or two other revellers left the venue, started up their cars and drove into the night. But the police, now alert, were not to be distracted and had the drunk squarely in their sights. They watched as he began to stagger around the carpark, looking carefully and quizzically at each car for a while before changing direction and searching another area. It was clear the party was winding up and as others waved their goodbyes and drove off into the night, the hapless victim dropped his keys repeatedly as he fumbled and searched fruitlessly for his car.

His task became easier as the car park gradually emptied and at last he managed to locate his vehicle, laboriously heave open the door and slump before the wheel. The young constable was cautioned to wait until he put the vehicle in motion – they were still on private property after all. Long minutes went by when it seemed they were never to get their man until finally, the driver seemed to make a decision, sat bolt upright, started the car and weaved unsteadily across the car park and out into the empty early-hours roads. He had only travelled a hundred yards before the blue lights of the police car appeared behind him. Pulling into a layby and winding down the window he greeted the officers with a cheery “Happy Christival, hofficers!

The police were not amused and swiftly confiscating his keys, escorted him into the back of their own car where the constable ordered him to take a breath test. It came up negative. They tried again, with strict instructions to keep blowing, keep blowing, keep blowing…  the breathalyser indicated no evidence that the man consumed alcohol at all! Frustrated, the sergeant took over and repeated the process, with the same, negative result.

I'm not as think as you drunk I am!

Dumbfounded, the sergeant said "I'll have to ask you to accompany me to the police station. This breathalyser equipment must be broken." 

"I doubt it, Sergeant," said the driver. "Tonight I'm the designated decoy."

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