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Feather's Miscellany: Arthur Donaldson

Master story teller John Waddington-Feather introduces us to Superintendent Arthur Reginald Jeremy Donaldson, a cocky little police officer who gets his just reward when he skives off work to play golf.

There are some folks so full of themselves they swell with self-importance. Superintendent Arthur Reginald Jeremy Donaldson, head of police in Keighworth, was one such person. He was a cocky little man, an out and out braggart and when he got onto his high horse about anything to do with himself, he positively swelled.

He was a short, stocky man. In earlier times he wouldn’t have made it into the police because he would have been too small; but times changed and the entry height was lowered, enabling Arthur Donaldson to creep in. Though he was on the short side he hadn’t a bad physique even at forty, and in his younger days he hadn’t been a bad sportsman. Indeed, he rowed in his college eight at Cambridge the year it won the head of the river race, and the rowing oar he’d used now held pride of place in his office, just behind his chair. Anyone entering the room couldn’t miss it, and if he caught anyone looking at it he’d launch into a graphic account of how he’d been in the winning crew and narrowly missed going higher. In fact, according to him, Arthur Donaldson had narrowly missed several Blues.

There was also a small cabinet in his office next to his fish tank which contained the silver cups. They were his pride and joy for he’d won them at golf which was his passion. He’d excelled at it at school (about the only thing he did excel at), a minor public school in the Home Counties called Axchester, for Arthur Donaldson was a Home Counties man through and through and yearned to return there, as did his wife, Daphne. But he couldn’t; he was stuck in Keighworth - for life it seemed.

As I said, golf was Donaldson’s passion. He’d played at Cambridge, but despite much effort and boot-licking he never won a Blue; and that was a sore point between himself and his sergeant, Det. Sgt. Ibrahim Khan, who’d gone up to Oxford and won a golfing Blue there, as well as taking a First in Greats. Donaldson had scraped only a Pass Degree in sociology and psychology.

Donaldson never fathomed why Khan had made the police his career when he’d done so well. The reason was simple. Ibrahim Khan, like his boss Blake Hartley, wanted to return to the area where he’d grown up. But Donaldson envied his sergeant’s success at golf and as a scholar and it rankled greatly. Yet it was his sergeant’s couthness and expertise at the game which also had him invited now and again to make up numbers when Superintendent Donaldson was playing golf with the good and the great: the Chief Constable, the Lord Lieutenant and their ilk, at the Royal Ridings Golf Club, the other side of Leeds.

Perhaps I ought to say something about Superintendent Donaldson’s background. He came from a well-to-do family. His father was the Bishop of Axchester, and Donaldson went to the public school there as a day boy. He did well enough to win a fixed place at Cambridge and enjoyed himself there back-scratching and hobnobbing, making contacts which might prove useful in the future when he was able to drop few names into the right ears. He had an uncle high up in the Metropolitan Police, who persuaded him he’d do well in the force with his connections and names, so when he left university he entered the Police College to learn his trade.

Had he been a few years older he’d have had to do National Service for a couple of years, but he missed out. At first he was rather pleased. Army life didn’t appeal to him at all. He’d had enough of that in the cadet force at school – all that discipline and coarse bawling and square-bashing; however, later he regretted he’d missed out. He could have sported a National Service medal on civic and social occasions, and he felt very bare-breasted and left out when he stood alongside fellow officers who’d been in the forces and sported their medals.

Even more than Detective Sgt Khan’s having an Oxford Blue in golf, it rankled that Detective Inspector Hartley had two medals to show whenever they were on parade or at social functions together. Blake Hartley’s second medal was the Military Medal, won during his National Service in Germany in the 1950s. Hartley was reticent about how he’d won it but it always attracted the attention of the big-wigs and drew the limelight off Donaldson. Oh, how envied Hartley his Military Medal!

His winning the M.M. and the fact that Hartley was ordained made Donaldson feel inferior; it also made him more cocky and determined to lord it over Hartley whenever he could. Detective Inspector Hartley was a very experienced copper, but the Super’s experience had been only in Traffic Control in London after a short spell on the beat in an exclusive area of the West End, which wasn’t exactly crime-ridden. He wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the East End.

When he was promoted to Keighworth he was the youngest Superintendent in England. He’d come the new broom and re-organised the station extensively when he’d first arrived, and in the process he’d put everyone’s back’s up. Now he bitterly regretted the move North. He’d been there some years and was unpopular; worse still, it seemed he was stuck for ever in the wretched place; and after a couple of years in the town he’d moved house to Ilkesworth, the up-market spa town in the next valley where he felt more at home. So did his wife Daphne.

She in some ways had been responsible for his meteoric rise in the police and had pushed her husband like mad. Her father was a Major-General and she took after him. When she addressed meetings, she bawled at you as if she was calling a battalion to attention. She towered over her husband and was a year or two older. From the start she had dominated their marriage, and, if I may put it delicately, was somewhat mannish. Indeed, she’d bullied Arthur Donaldson into marriage one rainy Leap Year.

But they were well suited. She had the right contacts and made sure her husband met the right people. She made up for him both in height and breadth and personality and Arthur very much followed in her wake at home. Perhaps that was why he was so full of himself outside it.

But back to my story about Arthur Donaldson and his golf. For some years he’d been a member of a very exclusive golf club, The Royal Ridings Golf Club, twenty miles away the other side of Leeds. The Chief Constable, Sir William Smith, had got him in there when he first arrived in Keighworth and the club had served him well. Playing golf with Sir William he’d met many famous people whose names he dropped like wind-blown seed to all and sundry, especially his underlings at the station. Inspector Hartley and Sgt Khan along with the rest of them had endured his name-dropping for years.

When he returned to the station after a day at the Royal Ridings, he rattled off the big names he’d been playing with to Hartley and Khan: the Lord Lieutenant of the Ridings, Sir Edward Brehan, the banker, Lord Grudd, the Chief Justice, the Earl of Wandsworth to name but a few – and Hartley had to listen patiently while he went on and on how well he played golf with them.

To tell you the truth, Blake Hartley regarded his boss as a bit of a twit, but he tolerated him and was loyal, though there’d been much friction between them over the years. Inspector Hartley with his plodding and heavy-footed manner had landed his Super in it more than once, despite all coming right in the end; and Donaldson was convinced it was his inspector’s lack of tact in the past which had blocked his own promotion.
When he wanted to escape from the station – and his wife – Arthur Donaldson took himself off to play golf. It was his obsession, and his greatest ambition was to hole in one and tell the world about it. All his life he’d yearned to do that, and came the day he skived off work phoning Hartley to say he was unwell and wouldn’t be in, and would Hartley oversee the station? Hartley suspected what was up, for it wasn’t the first time Donaldson had skived off, but he asked piously if his boss wanted to be put on his daily prayer-list for the sick.

“No, no. I’m not that bad,” said Donaldson quickly. “Just a sore throat. Staying home as a precaution.” And off he skived to the Royal Ridings.

It was a bright, sunny day and humming quietly to himself, Donaldson drove the back way over the moors to the club to avoid being seen. He sneaked in, got himself togged up then strode out onto the course. The day was perfect and he felt great. He’d made the great escape to golf.

He addressed the ball on the first tee, a short par hole of around 250 metres. Then he had a couple of practice swings before he let fly. The ball soared high up the fairway as straight as a die, bounced once on the green, then rolled pertly to the hole and fell in. A hole in one! Arthur Donaldson jumped for joy. At last he’d achieved a lifetime’s ambition! How he would crow to Hartley and the rest when he got back. He could see himself already telling them all. Then it dawned. His heart sank when he realised he could tell no one, not a soul; for there were no witnesses, so he had no one to brag to, not even at the club. To his lasting chagrin, he just had to bottle it up for ever.

John Waddington-Feather ©

(For more about Superintendent Arthur Donaldson and the Revd D.I. Blake Hartley mystery series, download details at www.waddysweb.freeuk.com )


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