This is a post based on a true story I shared yesterday with my mate Victoria. She liked it a good deal, so here it is for you as well.
I sometimes feel a bit sorry for myself. I expect you do too. When I get to that state, I sometimes recollect this event in my life.
I think I may have told you I used to work in a supermarket. You get them all in there. Drunks, fighting couples, squalling children. All in a day’s work. I think this may be true in any large retail outlet, but I could not say from experience.
A man came in one day, and he really didn’t fit. Carefully brushed salt and pepper hair, slightly bushy eyebrows, a neatly trimmed reddish moustache, checked brushed cotton shirt, knitted olive green tie, brown trousers neatly pressed, brown brogues old but polished to within an inch of their lives. Shortish, compact. I guessed ex-military.
The dress code set him apart from the tattoos and the ‘Same shit different day’ tee-shirted everyday clientele. He came in and just stood, ramrod straight, but looking a bit bemused, and also embarrassed. As if he had to ask something he really did not want to ask. No movement. None at all..
‘Can I help you, sir?’ That was me.
‘Yes. I want you to call the police.’
We used to get that a bit if some hooligan had lifted a bottle of scotch out of a shopping bag, or occasionally boosted a car from the carpark.
‘Have you been robbed? Mugged? Has someone taken something from you?’
‘No. It’s just that I have no money. I’m a vagrant. They can arrest me for that.’
He was correct there, I knew. One of the more archaic laws in the UK is that if you do not have two pence in your pocket, the price of a night’s lodgings, you are a vagrant, and can be arrested for it. This law is still on the statute books. Needless to say, two pence does not go very far these days, but it is the law.
‘I’m sorry, could you tell me that again? You want to be arrested?’
‘Yes. I have no money. I’m penniless.’ He turned out his pockets. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zip. Apart from a snowy white, perfectly pressed handkerchief. ‘So I’m a vagrant. That’s a crime.’
People kept barging past with hugely laden trolleys. You could see the thought bubbles over their heads. Or I could, at least. ‘Stupid old duffer. F*** off out of my way.’
I led him gently to one side. ‘We’re in the way there. Here’s better.’
‘Yes. Never wanted to be a nuisance. Am I being a nuisance to you? Fought all over the place. Never was a nuisance then. Just did what I was told. Following orders, you see.’
‘My father was in the war. RAF. Orders were the big thing.’
‘Brylcreem boy, eh? But yes. Absolutely. You got told what to do, you just did it. Not like today.’
‘So you’re a military man? It’s not going to look good if you get arrested now, is it?’
‘But I’m breaking the law! I deserve to be arrested!’ His distress was clear to hear and sense.
‘Listen to me. I’ll get my manager. We may be able to help. Just wait here. Can you do that?’
‘I follow orders. Of course I can. It’s what I do, can’t you see?’
‘Yes, I can see that.’
After a lot of sodding about with the police and Social Services, his daughter came and got him and took him home. It turned out he was suffering from dementia, and had gone back to what he knew. Discipline. Orders. Law. Obeying the rules. That was all he had, his past.
Like my grandmother, who lived out the dim last days of her otherwise feisty life fully convinced she was back on the Herefordshire farm where she was born and raised ninety odd years before.
So all in all, I’m not doing that badly, am I? And as you’ve just read this, and understood it, then neither are you.
I wish you well.