My brother and I were taking a short cut through an alleyway and saw a copper coming towards us through the rain with a fishing rod in his hand. My brother is also a copper, though currently taking time off work for an intensive course of chemotherapy. He knows all the older coppers in the area and he immediately recognised this one and quickened his step to greet him. I too knew this copper, but not as a colleague. I pretended to panic at the sight of him and started climbing into a nearby skip.
My last conversation with him was on the phone four years ago about a woman I’d met online, and with whom I had had a physical relationship, lasting about a month, and I enjoyed it on the whole. She is the only woman to have poured syrup over me then coated me with Special K for breakfast. (Later that day I went to the World Speedway Championships with crumbs of Special K in my underwear, which made the racing an uncomfortable spectacle, as well as monotonous.) But on the rare occasions that we went out anywhere together, she would invariably and spectacularly lose her temper over a perceived slight from a stranger, real or imagined, and get into a fight. This was exciting at first, then stressful. Then I stayed for a weekend in a remote spot on Dartmoor without a phone signal. Unable to contact me, she reported me to the police as a missing person, precipitating a manhunt. After that I dissociated myself from her.
The level of retribution I received in return was, I felt, disproportionate. She knew that I had applied and been granted a US visa online for a stopover in Miami en route to Belize, about which I was going to write a travel piece. She also knew I had an ancient class A drug conviction that was no longer on the record in Britain, but which the US immigration authorities might be interested in. She must have made a phone call informing them of it, because the visa was inexplicably revoked. Then she made a formal complaint to the police, saying I was a drug addict and an alcoholic, which at that time I suppose might have contained a grain of truth. She also informed them, however, that I was paedophile and that I had thousands of indecent images of children on my computer, which I did not.
She wrote a long letter to the deputy editor of this paper denouncing me as a fraud and a liar, which admittedly also might have had a small element of truth in it, and another to my local Lib-Dem candidate, describing my online child pornography collection. She also wrote a letter about it to the editor of my local parish magazine. Over the space of a few weeks she randomly rang people in the village to tell them everything she knew about the evil person living in their midst. Though chosen at random, she lit, comically, on the phone numbers of pillars of both the church and chapel, one of whom appeared on the doorstep the next morning looking traumatised. She rang former girlfriends, and my mother, who listened sympathetically to a detailed denunciation lasting 40 minutes. She persuaded a deep, gravelly voiced ex-convict associate to call me several times and give me a friendly warning about some unspecified hurt I had caused to her delicate sensibilities, telling me that unless I stopped this campaign of disinformation against her, I would pay the price, which was also unspecified.
Finally I rang the police to ask if there was anything I could or should do about all of this. The copper with the fishing rod now approaching was the recipient of the call. After I had described the above persecution in as much detail as I could remember, he offered me his best advice. He used to be on the Metropolitan Police’s murder investigation squad. Old school. His measured advice was sanely proportionate and rather priceless. ‘My advice to you, old son,’ he said, ‘is to keep off the internet and get yourself a nice local girlfriend for a change.’ The persecution eventually stopped and the last I heard she was serving a five for doing the same thing to someone else, prosecuted, presumably, under new laws governing the newly identified crime of ‘stalking’.
The copper with the fishing rod coming towards us through the rain greeted my brother, then me. It was a beach casting rod, he said. Wasn’t it a beauty? He’d paid just £19 for it at the junk shop. And, the soul of tactfulness, this marvellous old-school copper neglected to mention, in the general conversation following, that last little business we had shared. For which I was very grateful to him.