Ah, snow. You can’t beat it for sending people a bit mad and panicked. Yesterday the roads were gridlocked for half an hour at lunch time, because of the number of people who rushed home at the fall of the first flake. Last night, the news was full of dire warnings. Don’t travel if you don’t have to. Stock up your car. Make sure you take a shovel, blankets, a flask of tea, a flask of soup, sandwiches, cakes, a propane stove, three woolly jumpers and the complete works of Proust, because you never know when you might get stuck. Make sure you have a propane stove and not a butane one because, as all hardy campers know, the boiling point of butane at standard pressure is only around freezing, so in cold weather butane stoves get sluggish, give up and go to sleep.
I was particularly impressed, though, by the words of one of the local police spokesmen interviewed on last night’s news. “If you wake up in the morning and your car’s all frosted up,” I’m fairly sure he said, “you should get up 30 or 45 minutes early and make sure it’s completely defrosted before you set off.” It took me a minute to spot the flaw in the statement – assuming I’m not misremembering what he actually said. I think it’s a pretty good plan, though.
As we got back home at half-three in the morning, I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the street, sitting on a front-yard wall. I’m always wary of people loitering in the small hours. We got out of the car, and I could hear him mumbling, his hand to his head. I assume he was talking on the phone. I couldn’t make much of it out.
“Yeah, I’m just off Sunk Island Road somewhere. Yeah.”
Which he wasn’t. In fact, he was nowhere near Sunk Island Road. He was on Iambic Ave, which is off Pentameter Road West, which is on entirely the wrong side of the city. Here’s a map. It’s not a very good map, but it’s a map nevertheless:
Pentameter Rd. W. —— Pentameter Rd. —— city centre —— Sunk Is. Rd.
< ———————— a long long long long way —————————————->
Flash forward. Twelve hours later. We’d been out again, and we’d come back again. And as I was parking the car, I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the street, sitting on a front-yard wall.
I looked at him.
I wasn’t sure it was the same man. Similar clothes. It had been too dark to get a look at him.
Just as we were getting the shopping out of the boot, up pulled two police cars, one with its rear side window missing. No glass there; the space was filled with a metal grille. They stopped alongside the man sitting asleep on the wall. I watched the coppers approach him, one holding his handcuffs out of sight behind his back. As one of them checked all the rubbish bins in the yard, the others scooped him up and walked him into the waiting car. Bundled away, as if he was never there.
Today’s big news item: the National Wildlife Crime Unit has been launched. Based in North Berwick, a small village on the coast east of Edinburgh, it’s the first specialist police unit devoted solely to wildlife crime. I can’t wait until the police dramas start…
“What’s on the menu today, Sarge?”
“It’s a bad one today, chief. A dead goose in Clarence Gardens. All the signs are, a couple of squirrels ganged up on it, then got away up the Haxby Road. There’s something a bit suspicious about it, though, can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“Don’t trust the signs, Sarge. Remember the Pocklington case – all the signs pointed to sheep, but it turned out to be wolves all along. Round up a few of the local squirrels, just for show, but bring some rats down to the station too – they’ll know what’s going on. What’s next?”
“Three badgers held up an off-license in Netherthong, got away with the contents of the till and a few cartons of fags.”
“I don’t care about that, let the local cops sort it. Anything else?”
“One other thing, chief: a stoat holding three gerbils and a priest hostage in Wemyss Bay. Wants a week’s supply of rabbits, immunity from prosecution, a fast car and a ticket for the ferry.”
“Sarge, it’s a hard job we’ve got, and if there’s one thing these years on the force have taught me… Sarge? Are you listening? Stop daydreaming, man!”
“If there’s one thing these years have taught me, Sarge, it’s never trust a stoat. They’ll weasel their way out of anything. Let’s get to work!”