Page 2 of 6

Obituary for a Joker

A brief note but I have to do this.

Five days ago Alan Irwin Abel passed away.  Really.

Now I’m guessing if you live in America most of you know, but in case it slipped past you, or if you live elsewhere in the world where his death does not seem to have received coverage, here are some quick insights to a man who was multi-talented, and who sense of humour will be missed.

In 1959 Abel founded SINA – the Society for Indecent Naked Animals, whose object was to clothe all animals from toy dogs upwards.  He published a magazine as its organ of support and gained the attention of Walter Cronkite, who gave it a ten-minute slot on his news programme.

He ‘died’ in 1980 of a heart attack while skiing in Colorado, posted his own obituary in the New York Times, then held a press conference the following day to prove his death was a hoax.

Yetta Bronstein, housewife, was another of his creations.  Yetta (a mythical figure, his wife providing her voice) sought election for Presidential office; her platform included national bingo, self-fluoridisation, a suggestion box on the White House fence and Jane Fonda naked on postage stamps, to boost the ailing income of the postal service.  Yetta herself never appeared (couldn’t, of course) at rallies, so Abel appeared instead as her campaign manager.

In 1985 he organised a protest at the quality of daytime television by arranging for a ‘mass fainting’ by members of the audience for the Donahue Show.

Among his enterprises could be counted a ‘School for Beggars’ in New York (which claimed to teach down-and-outs ways to improve their ‘income’), and ‘Euthanasia Cruises’ – which sort of speaks for itself.   I believe, although I haven’t been successful in tracking back to this one, he also suggested the famine of human body parts for transplant could be resolved by a system in which the recipient paid a rental for a donated organ on a 99-year lease.

I guess Abel’s time has passed, in that anyone can be a hoaxer now.  But he didn’t have, for most of his life, access to mass media, so the orchestration of these, and many other pranks must have taken an elaborate sense for detail and considerable organisational skills.

So this was my brief obituary.  The world is the worse for the loss of Alan Irwin Abel.

https://theinfluencers.org/en/alan-abel/video/2

Crooked Meg

Martin’s hand rested on the capstones of the dry stone wall.  Jacintha’s covered it with gentle fingers.   “It feels so special, here.”  She said, her voice subdued almost to a whisper.  “I just know we could be so happy, darling.  This has to be our house!”

Beside them an Agents’ ‘For Sale’ board rattled.   “The view is to die for.”  Martin admitted.  “You can see miles from those French doors in the kitchen, absolutely miles!”

Martin would never confess that, even with the aid of thick spectacles he always wore these days, horizons could be no more than a haze.  He could see the house, though.  Yes, he could see that.

It was a truly tempting piece of architecture:  five bedrooms, palatial bathrooms, open-plan kitchen and diner, living room, study, and so on.  A double garage with a loft above it, a half-acre of wild, heather-strewn land.   Yet it was the last house on High Croft, a development of eight newly built houses, the other seven of which had been bought long ago.   Why had no-one wanted it – or was it merely a matter of a price he already considered cheap?  Could he make a cheeky offer?

“Alright, dear.  If you like it, it’s ours.  I’ll call the Agents.”

Jacintha smiled her satisfaction, suppressing a little whoop of joy within.  It would never do, in her relationship with Martin, to express emotion more honestly.   Martin must be expected to conform to certain conditions, as must she.  He was, after all, somewhat short of her image of the perfect man, but she took pride in his apparently limitless wealth, and his predilection for spending it on her.  He was also good company; even mildly amusing, at times.

Martin found his mobile ‘phone in his breast pocket.  The ‘For Sale’ sign flapped in noisy reminder.

“It’s a little windy here.”   He said.  “There was a pub just down the hill:  I can make the call indoors.   Last one there buys the first round!”

Seeing her husband running like the cumbersome fool he was, Jacintha sighed, giving a vestige of a shrug to a weathered man in a waxed jacket who witnessed this humiliation from across the road.  She busied her six-inch-heeled feet with a dozen or so quick little steps in passable imitation of a run, then reduced them to an elegant walk.  Ahead of her, Martin’s outburst of fun was already over.  He was looking back for her with an embarrassed smile.

The pub was unpretentious, but comfortable.   Jacintha picked a settle with a table by the window while Martin bought drinks.

“You looking to buy that house up top of the hill?”  The Landlord responded, wrestling with the new experience of preparing a Harvey Wallbanger.  “It does get cold in the winter, mind.   You can get snowed in for a month sometimes, easy.  There was a time no-one’d think of building anything up there, not even a cow shed.  It’s three hundred feet above the treeline, isn’t it?”

Martin joined Jacintha on the settle by the window.   “The landlord thinks we’re mad.”

“Perhaps we are, a bit.”   Jacintha murmured.  “I love the open moors, darling.  The air is so fresh up here!”

“And there’s so much of it!”  Martin agreed.  “I’ll get the deal sewn up.”  He delved for the Property Agent’s specification sheet, lining up a telephone number to tap out on his mobile.

“The wind up there, it blows forever.”

The voice caught Jacintha and Martin by surprise.   Their eyes rested upon the figure who had watched their feeble attempt at a race not long since, and who stood over them, perhaps intent upon Jacintha, now.  This was a man of flint, of stern jaw and leathered skin, a dweller in these hills, Martin considered, by the way the elements had sculpted his features.   Jacintha, finding she was breathing too fast, collected herself hurriedly.  “Does it?”  She responded lamely.  “Yes, I suppose it does.  It’s wonderful.  I love to feel the wind on my face, it’s so…so inspiring!”

“You’d be buying that ‘ouse, then?”  The man said flintily, and his jaw hardly moved when he talked and his lips were thinly stretched across the wide slit of his mouth.

“I think so.”   Martin was aware the proprieties had not been observed, and more aware than Jacintha, perhaps, of how pink she had become.  “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve…”

“Abr’ham.  That’s my name.  You can call me Abe.”  The man waved an airy hand towards the other occupants of the pub.  “Most everybody does.

“That used to be Meg’s place, there.  You wouldn’t think it, would ‘ee?   Oh, not the ‘ouse, o’ course.  Stone, ‘er place were, with flags for a roof and a door o’ planks she borrowed off the loose boxes from the Squire’s stables.  They’d make Meg laugh in that squeaky voice ‘o ‘ers, all them modern things we takes for granted now.”

“Really, Abe?.”  Martin accorded the newcomer one of his mildest smiles;   “She sounds like a real character.  Did you know her well?”

“Know ‘er?  Why bless you, yes.  Ever’body lives up ‘ere knows Meg.”

There was an uneasy pause.  Martin decided to break it.  “I’m sorry, we didn’t introduce ourselves.  I’m Martin; this is Jacintha, my wife.  I would guess you know a few things concerning the house?”  He did not wish to seem inhospitable.  This man gave the impression of living locally; a villager, maybe.  “If we tempted you with a drink, perhaps you could fill us in?”

“Well, I thank you kindly.  Yes, I could use a pint of draught.”

“I’ll get us all another round.”  Martin said.

No sooner had Martin departed for the bar, than Abe had taken his place on the settle next to Jacintha.  “I adore the house!”  She self-consciously smoothed her skirt over her thighs.

“You’ll be ‘appy there.”  Abe said.  “You’m a strong woman, I can see that.”  Martin brought the drinks.  “You’re def’nitely going to put in an offer, then?”

Martin set the glasses on the table.  Realising his seat had been taken, he pulled up a chair.  “I think so.  We are, aren’t we, Darling?”

“Oh, yes!”  Jacintha breathed.  “Wild, open moorland like that, full of myths and legends – I couldn’t ask for more!”

“My wife is an artist,” Martin explained, failing, as he always did, to keep all trace of irony from his voice.  “She writes.  And paints.”  He added as an afterthought.  “Do tell us about this Meg?”

Abe sipped from his pint of draught.   “Ah!  Crooked Meg, she’m better known as…”

“Oh, why?”  Jacintha cried.  “What did she do wrong?”

“Meg?  Meg done lots that was wrong, but it aren’t the reason for her name.  No, Meg was a goatherd.   She was a goatherd because that’s what her father did until the day he died, and there was a herd of goats to feed, so Meg just took them over.  Ever’one has to make a living, and that was Meg’s.”

“But she’s not to blame for that, surely?”

“Well no, but goatherds gener’ly weren’t popular people out here.   They smelled unpleasant, you see – a penalty of their callin’ – and they weren’t too partic’lar how they fed their beasts.  Very few of ‘em had land of their own; theirs was a poor living and they couldn’t afford it, so they just drove their herds about the lanes, letting ‘em graze off the verges, or, if no-one were watchin’, off a legit’mate farmer’s crop, which, o’ course, being goats, they stripped to the soil – left nothing!”

“Gosh!”  Jacintha was enraptured.  “That must have made the landowners awfully cross, mustn’t it?”

“That it did, Missus.”  Beneath the table, Jacintha felt Abe’s hand grip her knee.  “It did madden old Jacob Morrow, when he found ‘er in his cornfield, that’s for sure!”

“I imagine so.”  Martin’s face wore a perplexed look.  “I imagine ‘old Jacob Morrow’ would have taken measures to stop her?”

“Measures?  Oh, ‘er took measures alright.  Jacob were a poor tenant farmer see?  He couldn’t afford to lose all that corn she were takin’.   No-one blamed him.  Not at all.”

“Blamed him?  Oh my gosh!  Blamed him for what?”  Jacintha’s hand was engaged in a covert tussle with Abe’s hand which, having found its way to her leg, seemed reluctant to leave.

“He took after ‘er, see?   An’ she ran, ‘cause he weren’t a good tempered man, and he’d have beat her senseless.   Well, she don’t have time to open the five-bar gate, do she, so she clambers over.  Done it many times afore, no problem for Meg, not that.  If’n this time ‘er hadn’t caught ‘er foot in the third bar, and fell back-over!   You might say it saved ‘er, in a way, ‘cause with ‘er screaming  Jacob got frightened and lef’ ‘er alone.”

“God, that’s horrible!”  Jacintha whispered.

“Horrible, aye.  Some say ‘er back were broke, some say her hips.  Still she dragged hersel’ two mile to get home, ‘cause they made ‘em tough, back then, and there weren’t no doctorin’ if you was poor.   She healed bad, though.  Ever after that she were bent over back’ards like a billhook, she were.  That’s why she’m called Crooked Meg.”

“Poor woman!”

Abe nodded into his beer.  “Poor woman, ah!”

“Yes, it is an engaging tale.”  Martin, who was not oblivious to the wandering progress of Abe’s hand, was sceptical.  “One thing puzzles me, er…Abe.”

“Ask away.”  Abe said.

“At the beginning of your story you spoke about this woman as though you knew her personally.     You said she had a squeaky laugh, if I remember.  Yet a tragedy like hers couldn’t happen today, could it?  This took place – what – a hundred years ago?”

“More like two…”

“So how….?”

“Oh, Meg’s still around.”

“Sorry?”  Jacintha, alarmed, froze in her struggle against Abe’s advances.  Suddenly lacking the rustle and scuffle this had caused, the silence was palpable.  Abe’s hand took instant territorial advantage.

“I said Meg’s still around, Missus.  Most people up ‘ere ‘ll run into her, from time to time.  Where you’m going to be livin’, you’ll come across ‘er a lot.”

Martin frowned:  “So this is a ghost story?”

“Well, some might call it that, but only from a distance, if you see what I mean?  See, this isn’t the end o’ the tale.   Affer her accident. Meg couldn’t herd her goats no more, ‘cause she were crippled, so she took after gettin’ ‘erself a husban’.”

“Not easy, I imagine.”  Jacintha muttered, renewing her resistance with increased fervour.

“No, she weren’t exactly a pretty dish.  But those were desp’rate times and they had desp’rate people in ‘em.  She married Ben Stokesley, she was the only one who would.  They was a foul family, them Stokesleys, and no sane woman would have had ‘em.  Some say Meg weren’t sane, though, even then.”

“After all she’d been through….”

“Exac’ly.  He were a drinker, were Ben, like all his kin.  Most the time he were too drunk to stand, and when he could stand he beat Meg until she bled, poor woman.  He didn’t hardly never work, an’ she couldn’t, so they never had nothing.  They was so poor they did eat grass from the hill from time to time, until one day Ben went out and sold Meg’s house from under her.  It were hers and her father before ‘er.  Meg couldn’t stand no more.

When she found out, crippled as she was, demented as she was, poor screaming soul, she tore that house apart, stone by stone, timber by timber; and when Ben come’d home, roaring drunk having poured the money he’d got for the ‘ouse down he’s throat, she picked up the heaviest stone and she crushed he’s skull.   That’s where they found ‘er next morning, still sitting on Ben’s body and shouting out like the spirits of the moor were a-hunting in her head.”

“Dear Lord!  Whatever happened to her?”

“Some said she was took to sessions and hanged, some that she were put in an asylum, because her madness wouldn’t ever free her.  That weren’t truth of it….I don’t know as how I should tell you this…”

Jacintha was ashen.  “No, please, you must.  Go on.”

“Well, local folks knows.  The Stokesley family came after ‘er. They did her to death up there, and they buried her body deep, and head down, as they would a witch.  I reckon she’s up there still, beneath that new house o’ yourn.  Ask anyone here – they seen her walking the moor at night, and partic’lar in this las’ year us ‘ave heard her screams jus’ at sunrise, just afore the day comes.  Her house was razed to the ground, you see, nothin’ left.  But it was her home, and she don’t take kindly to anyone else living there, even with their fancy porc’lain and neat red bricks.  Now I don’t want you to worry none, now.”

“Not worry!”

“Well, you don’t ‘ave to believe all you hear – mind, didn’t you wonder how ‘twas such a grand ‘ouse stands empty?  For more ‘n two hundred years no-one dared build on that land for fear of Meg.  But there ‘tis.”   Abe sighed.  “There ‘tis.”

“Oh, Darling, this is awful!”  Jacintha exclaimed.

“Yes, well.  Yes.”  Martin decided.  “I think we should go, now, Jacintha!”

His wife attempted to rise from the table without more intimate contact with Abe.  In this she failed.   Her face was inches from his flint-sharp features as he murmured.   “Pity!   Still, we being neighbours and all, I ‘spect we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other now, eh, Missus?”  He turned to Martin, whose neck was becoming dangerously red.  “You’ll be quick to put that offer in, now, will ‘ee?”

Martin stumbled. “Yes.  Well, no.  Perhaps not yet.   We may take a little longer to consider it.”

“We do have one or two other properties to look at.”  Jacintha explained hastily.

Abe watched as his two drinking companions scuttled from the dark mood of the public bar into bright forenoon sunshine.  The Landlord called over:   “They was in a bit of a hurry, weren’t they, Mr. Abrahams?”

“Yes George.  Yes, they were.”   Abe sighed, then ferreted for his mobile ‘phone.  Holding it beneath the light from the pub window, he tapped out a number.  “Marcus!”  He hailed, in a voice that had lost all of its rustic burr:  “It’s Jocelyn, dear boy; Jocelyn Abrahams.  Marcus;  that house on the High Croft estate – ‘Woodlands’, I think you’ve called it?   It’s been empty for a year now; I told you at the time no-one would pay two hundred and fifty thou for it.   A bit too wet and windy, I said that, didn’t I?  Anyway, have you thought any more about my offer?  One-seven-five, yes.   Oh, you’ve got a view, have you?  Well, if they don’t bite, you just call me and I’ll be in your office in the morning.  Cash on the table, old boy – take my word for it, you won’t get better.   Yes.  I’ll look forward to it.”

© Frederick Anderson 2017.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

No Rules for the Law

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Research for my current book  (working title ‘Boulter’s Green’) has led me down a particular lane – one which, as these things always do, opens up other areas of interest.   Why am I inflicting it on you?   I’m sort of interested in U.S. Police policy, and I want to learn more.

This is not – oh, please not – a history of UK policing.   That would take pages I don’t have, and become instant yawn material; rather like trying to watch a boxed set of ‘Falcon Crest’ on Sunday night.  But these less chewy bits might intrigue, if only because the lessons of history are so simple when we can just persuade ourselves to look.

In the 1950s good old ‘democratic’ Britain hatched out more police corruption scandals than a flock of Rhode Island Reds on a Norfolk poultry farm.  Chief  Constables of local forces had as much chance of avoiding arrest as 1970s paedophiliac TV personalities, while their ‘supervisory’ Watch Committees danced politically towards either left or right (mostly right) and gratefully accepted the proceeds of their position from (if contemporary accounts are to be believed) every size and shape of crime syndicate.

Of course, contemporary accounts should never be entirely believed; especially in Britain where organised ‘lobbies’ and the media jointly wait for anything remotely resembling naughtiness to pop its head up, then massage it into public outrage and hysteria.    The system of policing in UK had survived on more or less a local model for better than a hundred years, and it was more probably the frenetic emergence of the political pressure group that created crises.  Nevertheless, Government decided policing should be ‘centralised’ – the powers of local Watch Committees reduced, Chief Constables introduced at County level to oversee local forces, and a ‘modern’ approach to policing introduced.

Getting dry already, aren’t we?

You see, I had to rabbit through all that.  Not just because of the result of, but to define the motive for those changes, which were really more to do with locally elected police coming under the control of the activist Left, than efficiency.   You can’t control a legal strike picket if the orders have to come from a rampantly socialist Watch Committee.  An hysterical press is always ready to tell simply everyone if you try.  You can’t suppress the public will through hundreds of local and semi-independent forces:  you have to do it from Whitehall.

So here’s the nub – let’s have a bit of nub.

Policing in UK up until those middle sixties years may not have been perfect, but it was concensus policing.  If you didn’t vote for it, it was your fault.  In the ‘fifties and ‘sixties the average ‘beat’ constable was usually an ex-serviceman in retirement; by definition middle-aged.  The avuncular image was well appreciated: it sided with parental control.  That constable’s business was to get acquainted with everyone on his patch, and every back alley or corner where a criminally-inclined infant sought room to develop.  If he felt someone was getting a little too adventurous he would know:  he would ‘have a word’ in the right ears.  Sometimes, incidentally, it was not unknown for him to give a clip to those right ears, but that is another issue.  It was proactive policing, and many a life of crime was nipped in the bud by this means.

Then the Home Office assumed control, and  a fast-moving ‘modern’ image for policing replaced the stout, formidably blunt image of the local constable.  His maturity of judgement and wisdom that was so valuable to the community was lost.  He was too slow – he belonged to another age.

Younger, less mature individuals took his place.  A rookie in a uniform scarcely inspired confidence, and may well have had a disproportionate sense of his own importance; worse still, to allow him to cover an increased area of ‘patrol’ he was put in a car.   The Panda Car, low-powered in itself but painted all over with symbols of power removed that immediacy of communication between law and citizen. A man in a car is no more than a face; he is no longer a friend.  He is no longer a part of the furniture of the street, and although he may do his best, he is less effective in detecting the small details, the covert plots and plans of back alley life.  Being ‘known to the police’ now begins with a chase, an arrest, a charge and a sentence.   In that crucial change in the ‘sixties the rule of law became enforcement, a reactive process which, in places, became and becomes very close to open conflict.

This relationship between police at street level and the public is the essence of good maintenance of law.  Alas, though, policing has become a ‘career’.  Not every profession lends itself to a university background, especially if those it tends to recruit are socially apart from those it needs to police, and intelligence is often interpreted as arrogance.

Not everything about the pre-‘sixties system was perfect.   As society became more media-sensitive and litigious, the chances of a small local issue being promoted to a national cause increased, and those City Watch Committees were vulnerable.  On the other hand, police and public were a homogeneous whole, and generally speaking the local constable was not an enemy to anyone with honest intent.  Crime figures were much lower, and the lines of morality very clearly drawn.

Post-sixties, though, police and public are divided.  All too frequently battle lines are drawn.  ‘Containment’ is the order of the day and, quite often, all that can be achieved.   There are so many detrimental outcomes that stem from this ‘us and them’ mentality:  the Police are seen as defenders only of the Middle Class, and not even trusted by them.  The force in general has become introspective to a point where arguably they re-invent the law at times, and certainly exhibit defensive hostility whenever they are challenged.  The reactive enforcement process is also prohibitively expensive, because having allowed someone to develop their criminality you have also allowed them to employ expensive technology for their crime which you, as the enforcer, have to match.   Hence cars that cost £65K and more, and very high salaries for very clever people to try and keep up.

All of which could be defended if crime figures had not risen more than tenfold  in the last five decades, and if there was any sign of an end.  Or if, in ‘modernizing’, the corruption issues cited as its original excuse had been resolved.   They have not.  The only perceptible shift has been from minor to major:  the heists get bigger, unarmed people get murdered.   Alienation intensifies.

And there is no way back.