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Backwords: Beating Crime

Mike Shaw reveals that his mother had a sure-fire method of getting rid of unwanted salesmen who came knocking at the door.

Nowadays it’s the double-glazing salesman or the woman flogging ding-dong perfume who interrupt my early-evening cat-nap.

But when I was a kid the doorstep pests were mainly down-at-heel tramps or the occasional turbaned old peddler, lugging an outsize suitcase, who looked as though he had descended on a magic carpet.

The tramps - otherwise known as gentlemen of the road or milestone inspectors - were a common site then as they trod the Manchester Road through the Colne Valley in West Yorkshire.

Some were harmless and inoffensive. But others were far from gentlemen - of the road or anywhere else - as they badgered people for a few coppers or a bun.

My mother had her very own crime deterrent, however, which worked like a charm.

She hit upon it quite by chance one day when the gasman called to empty the penny-slot meter.

“Didn’t know you had a policeman in the family,’’ he said with a gulp as he hurried out of the house.

“It’s nothing permanent. Just here for a while,’’ came my mother’s quick-thinking reply, accompanied by the hint of a smile.

And that was how my toy bobby’s helmet - bought for a tanner, I believe, from a market stall - began its life as a frightener for all unwanted visitors.

In the dim light of the passage I had to admit it did look passably realistic as it dangled from its chinstrap.

Once my old mum realised its potential, she milked the idea like mad every time a scruffy looking itinerant turned up on the doorstep.

All she had to do was take a pointed look at the helmet, make some sinister remark about her husband’s truncheon and you could hardly see the tramp for dust.

That was police power for you. Which brings me on nicely to the real-life bobbies on the beat in those far-off days.

They really did keep the peace on their own little patch, a bit like the small-town sheriffs in the Westerns we used to watch on the cinema screen.

Our village had a fearsome Irishman with a famous Scottish name. And woe betide anyone who got the wrong side of Pc Campbell - even if it was just a case of hanging round the shop doorways.

I never heard of him coming off second best when he went to sort out a spot of bother, although he wasn’t averse to a regular pint or two at one of the village pubs.

A tale which is sill going the rounds has it that the local guardian of the law was conspicuous by his absence from the dominoes school when the pub was raided for after-hours drinking.

One of Slaithwaite’s band of bobbies I remember well was Pc Hopping, the very epitome of a village constable with a round, red face and genial manner who spent almost all his spare time tending his allotment.

Putting bobbies back on the beat seems all the rage just now. But turning back the clock is not always as simple as it sounds.

The Campbells and the Hoppings of my youth knew when they arrived in Marsden or Slaithwaite that they were probably there for donkey’s years - if not for good.

I wonder how that philosophy would go down in the force of today?


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