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Flying on a wing and a prayer may sometimes be necessary. Taking off on the same is another matter entirely.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Law is an ass: a personal note

One of the most prejudice-reinforcing episodes in my life occurred in the autumn of 1979 in my home town of Glasgow. It was a Monday. I was not quite17 and 2/3 years old. History records that, all going well, I would ideally sit and hopefully pass the driving test my parents had shelled out for the following day. History may also record that it’s just as well I didn’t do either, but no matter. The facts can get stuffed. It’s the principle of the matter.

Anyway, I was walking for a bus one summer evening having just left a popular shop in the city centre that sold refreshing drinks and much more besides when two gentlemen offered to assist me, even though I hadn’t asked them to. By remarkable coincidence, they had been in the same shop and had seen me talking to another gentleman whose name I later couldn’t recall, largely because I had foolishly neglected to ask him.

These men were very happy to introduce themselves and showed me cards with their pictures and names on them. It turned out that while we didn’t have much in common, we did share one interest. They were lucky as they actually got paid for their hobby while I was expected to pay, which seemed very unfair to me.

Anyway, the older man refused my assistance and emptied my pockets for me while his younger, more ambitious and, I recall, very large companion helped me keep both my wrists firmly pressed against my lower back.

After emptying my pockets and placing the contents in handy little bags he happened to have with him he spoke into a radio and asked some of his friends to come and give us all a lift back to their pad, where we could talk more comfortably. It was at least 200 yards back to the place they called “The Station”. Of course, I couldn’t refuse.

Their friends duly arrived, though they didn’t seem very friendly to me. They didn’t say a word while they assisted my new friends in helping me climb into the back of their special van, even though I could have managed fine myself.

We arrived at their great big house and I spoke to the doorman, who stood behind a desk, even though there were empty chairs around. He wanted to know everything about me, though he didn’t seem very interested and didn’t tell me anything about himself.  He then told me that another of their friends was a photographer who really wanted to take my portrait.

It was a fascinating evening, I can tell you, and I met all sorts. One chap wanted to know how tall I was, the colour of my eyes and my weight. Another fellow was an aspiring minimalist artist who used only fingers and black ink. I pretended to be interested, but it looked pretty naff to me.

Then they asked me to sit in a room and left me there alone to relax for a while. They locked the door, obviously wanting to protect me from something awful - they’d removed my belt and shoe-laces, so whatever it might be it may well have tried to strangle me. After about 10 or 11 seconds I found myself getting bored but, mercifully, two and a half hours later, my new friends came back to tell me that they had telephoned my parents to come and give me a lift home.

My parents were clearly unhappy that I had missed the last bus and very thankful and apologetic to the gentlemen who had so kindly taken me under their wing and escorted me to safety. They assured my parents and me they would be in touch.

After a month or so, I thought they’d forgotten about me, as people do when you’re a kid, but they were true to their word. One evening, at dinner time, there was a loud knock on the door and long ring of the bell. My mother answered and met two men in very smart suits, obviously acquaintances of the chaps I’d met in September, who had a special letter inviting me to meet an important man who worked for a lady called the Queen.

For reasons I still don’t understand, this chap wanted to talk to me about two point two grammes of dried vegetation my friends had helped find on my person earlier, which had been valued at least three pounds. (I found this strange as I knew that I’d had three point five grammes. I wondered what had happened to the rest. I didn’t say anything though.) It seemed a lot of trouble was being gone to on my behalf and I couldn’t really understand why. Moreover, I’d become tired of meeting all these new people.

I was puzzled, too. The special letter had said that if I chose to sign my name on the enclosed slip and admit to having had this vegetable in my tobacco tin I wouldn’t have to go, though my pocket money might be cut by five pounds for six weeks. I thought this the better option. I was pretty bored by this time and had decided I didn’t want to see my new friends again, but my parents wanted me to go and argue with him anyway. I had no idea what they were thinking about and said so. They were very angry that I had to go to this meeting, which made their insistence that I go even less comprehensible to me. Parents are odd creatures.

To make matters even more confusing, they decided to give a man called James Wark eighty-nine pounds to come to the meeting with me. I had to take an afternoon off college in order to meet James, who looked about a hundred years old, though I doubt if he was much more than ninety-five. He had a huge office with a very high ceiling – obviously built in the old days when people were a lot taller.  It was full of smoke and dust and had a big wooden desk and lots of shelves full of leather bound books. There were a couple on his desk. They had no pictures in them, just lots of long words.

James’ job usually involved helping bad people who had killed folk or taken stuff from them without asking avoid being told off and sent on holidays by the man I was going to meet. He was bewildered by my parents’ spontaneous generosity, but didn’t turn it down, even though he obviously already had lots of pounds and seemed to regard his job as a retirement hobby; I’d have just retired and put my feet up, but it took all sorts, I supposed.

James was apparently very good at this job and no wonder; he used to work for the Queen, too. When he was younger, he had sent bad people away to be cured completely using rope. In that job he was called a procurator fiscal and was very familiar with my new friends and the chap I was going to meet - a bit like insider dealing, but legal.

He talked for what seemed like ages and advised me just to agree with everything I was told when I went to meet his former colleague. I had fully planned to and thought my parents could surely have found better things to do with eighty-nine pounds, particularly so given that James was obviously going to spend most of it on cigarettes - he appeared to be smoking about five at a time.

Anyway, a month after meeting James, I duly went to meet the other man in his big office in Ingram Street. He was called a sheriff, but he didn’t have a badge and had a funny wee toupee instead of a hat. His name was Robert Younger, though James advised me that he was a bit mental and to address him only as Your Honour and not Bob. I learned later that he had a brother who was very famous at the time called George and who also had two names, his other one being a right mouthful; Secretary of State for Scotland.

Anyway, after asking me a few questions and me vigorously agreeing with all that he said, he informed me that I could, if I wanted, go and stay for a week with some men he knew in a big house not far away called Barlinnie or, if I was as smart as I thought I was, I could continue unhindered with the college studies I had recently taken up for a donation of thirty pounds. I had omitted to bring my wallet with me, so my father lent me the requested sum, oddly enough, about exactly the same price he could expect to pay if he was caught driving a ton of metal at 40 mph in a 30 mph zone again, something that had happened twice in the previous year. He hadn’t injured either himself or anybody else either, even though he’d been far more likely to than me.