Nose to nose with the SA police – another from the archives

I had been lucky with the South African police, it must be said – my first encounter was at 3 one morning, I had just ordered a whisky at Bara G when I realised how late it was, downed it, said my goodbyes and hurried out for the 20 km drive home. Of course I had the motorway to myself and amused myself seeing how long I could take a straight line across the curving lanes of the M1, crossing and recrossing lanes until – whoops – blue light. Knowing full well I reeked of whisky I cranked the window open a bare centimetre; the policeman asked if I was aware one of my front lights wasn’t working properly. He made me do alternate indicators, and then step on my brakes. Ah, he said, one of my brake lights wasn’t working. I was astonished. I was indignant. I sprang from the car and, keeping my shoulder against the car so I wouldn’t stagger and betray myself, I joined him at the back. Ooh, I said owlishly, neither of them is working! Very nicely he told me to drive home carefully and sleep it off. (How did he KNOW?) (Yes, that was a very long time ago. Can you imagine, nowadays?)

The second time I was driving through De Deur with a long-awaited letter from my London cousin open against the steering wheel, trying to decipher her scrawl in quick glances from road to letter to road. Oops. Man in blue stepped out rather suddenly (luckily during a road, rather than letter, stage) and stopped me. I dropped the letter hastily and looked innocent. As he walked round the car he reached through the open window and patted my unbelted shoulder. ‘Ek se niks, hoer?’’ (I’m saying nothing) Sheepishly I buckled up and was waved on my way.

Despite the above I really am a careful driver so there was a long period of no encounters at all. Old South Africa – where all cops were white, and spoke Afrikaans – was in the fullness of time replaced by the New South Africa, where cops were recruited from both sexes and all races and English was the general language, although senior officers were still predominantly male and Afrikaans in the early days. Made no difference to law-abiding me, although when my daughter was accused of stealing things in grade school, and simply couldn’t understand why it was okay that people stole her stuff, but not okay when she took something, I did take her to the local police station where a rather embarrassed, very kind black policeman explained the law pertaining to personal property – in English. I was dead impressed.

Then one morning I was on my way to work when the M1 came to a grinding halt. There had obviously been an accident, damn damn, but the 11th Avenue turnoff was oh so slowly approaching and I could cut through the back roads to Sandton – a taxi pulled into the yellow lane and I followed it instantly, two or three other cars following as quickly (1). Damn! Police car parked just before the off-ramp! We all edged our way back into the crawl but I could see a large policeman walking between the lanes. He slapped the taxi’s windscreen, and strode on towards me, slapped my screen, and went on past. What was that about? The traffic crawled past the police car and there was the off-ramp – to get back in the yellow lane and whip up the off ramp was the work of a moment and I started up 11th Avenue, one eye on the time (2). A glance in the rear view mirror, though, showed flashing blue lights. For me? Crap. Just to be sure, I turned onto a side road. The lights followed. Crap, CRAP. I pulled to the side of the road and opened my window, smiling ingratiatingly. The same large policeman marched to my car, leaned in, turned off my ignition and took my keys as he strode back to his car. Say what? Hey! I jumped out and followed as, still completely ignoring me, he started talking on his radio. “What the hell?” I tried to interrupt him, and wagged my finger under his nose for emphasis (3) “you don’t just bloody take someone’s bloody keys, okay?” (4) He turned his back on me and carried on talking and short of pulling him round (which would obviously have been stupid even if he hadn’t been very large, and like all SA police armed) there was nothing I could do but stalk crossly back to lean against my car, have a cigarette, and sulk. Another police car pulled up in minutes and the driver marched up to me, toe to toe, nose to nose (I’m tall, he was quite short) and shouted “we’re sick and fuckin’ tired of you pipple and your racist attitudes, you unnerstand me?”I should say the first one was black and this one was white. Give the first guy his due, he did say hastily, ”she hasn’t been racist.“ The new guy didn’t miss a beat. “We’ve got new powers” he bellowed, “so there’ll be no more taking crep from you pipple who think you can do what you want. You’re unner arrest.”

I wiped spittle from my face with a pained look. “Okay, can I at least have my keys back to lock my car? Or are you just going to drag me off?”(5) The two cops went into a huddle, there was more radio talking, and another wait. A third police car arrived, with two cops, one of them female. She drove my car up to Norwood police station with me in the passenger seat, escorted by a police car in front and one close behind. The cavalcade drew some very startled looks but I was starting to feel uneasy. This was a lot of trouble they were going to, for what? Maybe being cheeky had been a really bad move –

At the station I was allowed one call, so phoned work to say I was at Norwood police station and would be late. Then I was charged:(1) reckless and dangerous driving (2) leaving the scene of an accident (3) assault on a police officer (4) crimen injuria and (5) resisting arrest. I didn’t even know what crimen injuria was (swearing) and very indignant about the assault charge. Turns out, did you know, that threatening someone is assault? Actually touching them is GBH. Or so those berks assured me. By now I was finally really scared, was I really going to be thrown into a cell just for trying to get to work on time? In fact they left me alone in the detectives sitting room and I was standing in the doorway, glumly having another cigarette, when I saw our (Afrikaans, very pregnant) sales director hurrying up the stairs with her (Afrikaans, very pretty) secretary. The company had phoned the police station back to check I was okay (having assumed I was reporting a burglary, or similar) and been told I’d been locked up as a public danger, so Pregnant and Pretty had been sent to the rescue to talk me out on bail. (R500! The Cape Town Strangler was released on R1000 bail!)

My court appearance booked for the next day, and if you think I slept well that night, your nerves are stronger than mine. My mother went with me for moral support and we waited, and waited, and waited, and finally went to the court official to find out when my hearing was to be. “Ag,” she said “we threw thet out. Bluddy rubbish.”

There was a post on Facebook today about the UK police getting new powers, which really opened the floodgates on this twenty five year old memory. Ah, nostalgia….

Querulous today

I read this somewhere, a while back, don’t know who wrote it –

From birth to 18, to live life to the fullest, a girl needs good parents.

From 18 to 30 she needs good looks

From 30 to 50 she needs good luck

After 50, she needs good cash.

And STILL my Premium Bonds aren’t spitting out that increasingly essential million pound payout.  In the not too distant past, one planned to fund life up to 70. Now life expectancy is over 80 and rising, and that’s downright scary. A couple of blogs ago I mooted a tontine but no-one seems yet to have forwarded it to the Chancellor. Tchah. I really don’t want to live to a great age if it involves being infirm, reliant on others, and / or poor. In fact between thee and me I don’t want to live to a great age at all. 10 or 20 extra years between 30 and 40, absolutely, but tacking them on at the end, eek, no. When vigour and agility and joy in living starts to diminish, who wants to still have a 20 year sentence to complete?

My daughter gets married next March and may produce a grandchild or two – she’s not promising anything. Maybe then I’d feel differently and want to stick around for as long as possible. Right now if the great cosmic bell rang in my ear and a voice intoned ‘we’ll get you to the wedding, but after that you’d better tidy the house every night before you go to bed because time’s nearly up’ I’d be pretty shaken but not devastated. In fact, sneakingly relieved. The definition of middle-aged keeps stretching, and I do both admire and wonder at people of 70-plus who call themselves middle aged. I’ve heard it said that middle age starts with the first mortgage. Does it end when that’s paid off? There’s another old saw – forties are the old age of youth. The fifties are the youth of old age.

Am I old? I worry about my finances, socialising gives me a headache, and I can’t run up a flight of stairs any more. I’ve never been great with names, but now I’m having occasional problems with faces, too. Sprinting for the train leaves dancing spots in front of my eyes. I’ve started getting ailments I never heard of, that I have to look up on the internet. Well, okay, just one, but it’s the thin end of the wedge. There are increasing streaks of silver in my hair – pretty soon I must choose between streaking or dyeing it, or just letting it pick its own colour. I’m seriously considering writing post-it notes to myself, to carry them from room to room, because it is so bloody irritating to forget what I was going for.  Any day now someone will offer me their seat on the train and I won’t know whether to simper gratefully or be resentful. (Who am I kidding? Both.) It doesn’t help that as a weathered South African living amid the superb Scottish skins I already look ten years older than my contemporaries.

Bette Davis is quoted saying, at 70 plus, ‘old age isn’t for sissies’. At 10, I’d have dared anything rather than be called a sissy. Now, I’m wondering whether I’m up for the challenge. You’re as old as you feel. Today that makes me about 97. Tomorrow – who knows. How’s your day going?

And now for something completely different

Here’s a question – I’m writing a series of detective stories which are breezy and wouldn’t bring a blush to your maiden aunt’s cheeks. You could recommend them to her without a qualm. (Do feel free to do so, by the way.  The more the merrier when it comes to readers. Details under About tab. Thanks) (smiley face)

But back to the question.  I’ve also written a sci-fi story which is about to go off for editing. I doubt your blushing aunt would like it, unless she likes sci-fi, plus it contains a lot of what in Scotland are called swearies.  That isn’t gratuitous, it establishes the characters firmly by type, and the story is funny and lively, not even completely free of raunchy, BUT as far from the Grasshopper Lawns stories as they could be, considering they’re written by the same person.  Obviously I’m going to put it out under a different name but the question, you knew I’d get there eventually, is do I keep them completely separate?  For instance I could put into my author profile on Amazon that I also write under the other name. Or refer each to the other in a note at the end.

There won’t be many of this type (certainly no series) and as a stand-alone it will struggle.  So there is a temptation to link them and be offering a bigger general range in a very crowded market. However they are so different that one of my beta readers gave up after 10 pages, whereas a new beta reader enjoyed it but is completely uninterested in the Grasshopper lot. There’s not going to be much overlap.

So I’d really appreciate some advice here, especially from someone who has had the same genre-jumping issues, or from anyone who likes both types. It can’t only be me, can it?