Wednesday, 25 September 2013

THE ALIENS HAVE LANDED!


Latest instalment of
HEARTBEAT WIFE

A huge assortment of callers came to our door when we lived in the Police Station in Nailsea. There were the routine matters - people coming to produce their driving documents and the like, people with queries, people wanting to report a loss - a dog, a watch, a wallet, people wanting to complain about their neighbours or some unseemly going-on.

And there were the phone calls too - one afternoon when Terry was off duty I answered the telephone to be greeted by the words: 'There's a pigeon in my garden and it seems exhausted. What should I do?' Feeling unqualified to give her advice, I went out to Terry, who was mowing the lawn, and repeated the conversation. 'Tell her to put the oven on,' was his typically black-humoured reply. Of course, he was joking - Terry could never be cruel to any living creature - he wouldn't destroy a spider's web or kill a wasp, let alone a pigeon. On his further instructions, I went back to advise the lady caller that she should put out water and food for it, and leave it alone, and after a rest it would probably go on its way.

Perhaps the most bizarre incident happened, as it so often seemed to, on a Saturday evening. Terry was out 'on his beat' (or motor cycle, to be more precise) and I had just finished giving my youngest daughter her 10 o'clock feed when there was a ring at the doorbell. I went to answer it with her in my arms. And saw the letter box open and a pair of eyes staring at me through it.

Now this is perhaps the most difficult bit of my blog. How to describe the two sisters who lived a few doors from us in Station Road, without being dreadfully un-PC. I'll try to be kind. The one was what my mother would have called 'not quite all there', though in retrospect the other was not much better! It was she who was at our door, and because she was 'vertically challenged' her eyes were level with our letter box. With some trepidation, I opened the door - bear in mind, it was close on 11 pm. The little lady wasted no time in telling me why she was calling for help.

'There are Martians in the school playing field. They're directing lazers into my bedroom and they're burning me up!' (Our houses backed onto what was then Nailsea Comprehensive School grounds)

Well, what would you have said? I tried, without success, to suggest it might be youngsters with torches. She wouldn't have it. Definitely Martians. I tried to convince her they meant her no harm. She was adamant. They were trying to kill her. She could feel the lazer rays scorching her skin, getting right inside her. This idiotic conversation went on for far too long. It was cold, dark, and I had a young baby in my arms. Eventually I assured her I would get my husband to investigate and closed the door but for a long while she continued to knock, ring, and shout through the letterbox that she couldn't go home or she would be either exterminated or 'beamed up'. I had a look through our bedroom window when I went upstairs to put Suzie back to bed - it overlooked the self-same playing fields - and could see nothing whatever. No car headlights, no torch beams ... nothing.

Eventually the little lady gave up and went away. I fully expected her to make a complaint to Terry's senior officers that she had received no help whatever in her hour of need, but to my knowledge that never happened. Unless of course it did, and was binned ...

As I'd like to say to the writers of Heartbeat .... You couldn't make it up!

Monday, 2 September 2013

 
 
EXCITING TIMES!
 
 
I WAS A  REAL LIFE 'HEARTBEAT' WIFE
 
 
So many things happened while we living in the little Police Station/House at Nailsea - amusing, sad, downright weird! - that I hardly know where to begin!  And this blog won't be very long because I have had an operation on my hand, and typing is difficult.  So I'll start with a dramatic event!  I'll call it:
 
REVENGE OF THE HELLS' ANGELS  
 
 
 
One Saturday evening there was an accident on the major road involving a car and a motor cycle.  Not so unusual, you might say.  But in this case, the motor cyclist hit by the car was one of a huge group of Hells' Angels.  And they were in no mood to exchange names and addresses and go on their way!  Oh no, not they.  They wanted retribution, and nothing less.
Terry, on his BMW, was the first officer on the scene, and spent some hairy minutes trying to calm a vast group of angry bikers (50-70 of them I seem to remember!)
and prevent them from lynching the terrified car driver before back-up arrived. 
The motorist and his passenger were then taken into custody and taken to Long Ashton Police Station for their own safety. 
The Hells' Angels were furious.  One of their own had been injured, and they were baying for blood.  They followed, and a mob surrounded the police station, demanding that the unfortunate motorist be handed over to them. 
The first I knew of this was a telephone call at about 9 pm.  I was just feeding and changing baby Suzie, but I answered the phone anyway - I always did - I so enjoyed being back in the thick of things.  
This call though was rather alarming.  Or should have been if I hadn't craved excitement. 
The Hells' Angels were threatening to take hostages - police wives from country beat stations - whom they planned to exchange for their intended victim - the hapless driver.  We 'out in the sticks' - as Nailsea was in those days - were to lock our doors and on no account open them to anyone until we were advised otherwise.
I was, I suppose, a little worried since I had two young children in the house.  But mostly I remember getting quite a kick out of feeling part of the action.  It could have been a Hollywood block-buster!
The siege of the police station at Long Ashton continued for some hours.  By this time the offending driver and his passenger had been locked in the cells for their own protection.  I think a very senior officer, maybe even the Chief Constable himself, and/or the Divisional Commander, hightailed it to Long Ashton and addressed the vengeful mob who were still outside, and eventually they realised they were not going to get their way and dispersed.
It must have been getting on for midnight before I got the call to say things had calmed down, but I should still be wary of a possible attack. 
It was only when Terry came off duty that I realised just how hairy it had been for him, the only police officer up on the main road facing down dozens of furious Hells' Angels and trying to protect the motorist and his passenger from what would undoubtedly have turned very violent.   I was very proud of him, and a bit ashamed that I had quite enjoyed the whole incident!
 
Next time - a couple of humorous stories ....
 
 
 
  
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Friday, 19 July 2013

And so to Nailsea


And so to Nailsea .... I LOVED Nailsea ... I LOVED almost everything about our time there. And it was the time I came closest to being a real-life Heartbeat Wife. Nailsea was a village beat in those days, and we lived in the police station, an old stone-built house with an office just inside the front door and a blue light above it. As an ex-civilian employee, I loved living 'over the shop', even if it did mean we could be interrupted at any time of the day or night by a telephone call or someone knocking at the door. I was back in my element! And oh, the scope of those calls, from the hilarious to the scary, and all stops in between. But more of that later. This blog will definitely run to more than one instalment!

Our time at Nailsea didn't get off to a very auspicious start, however. We moved in on a day of pouring rain to find that many of the interior walls were so damp they were running with water, and the whole house was grubby, to say the least of it. I had to scrub grease and dirt out of the channels in the draining board and give the cooker and all the kitchen paintwork a good scrub before we could even think of eating anything prepared there. Our three-piece suite wouldn't fit into the tiny front room, not even the 4-seater sofa we were so proud of (and which survives today, in spite of children and grandchildren leaping all over it for more than 40 years!) We decided to make that little front room the spare bedroom, and converted a bedroom upstairs into a lounge, which worked well.And so to Nailsea

The police station - our home - was situated close to the centre of town, just up the road from the first arcade of shops pictured above, and the garden backed onto the grounds of the comprehensive school. It operated as a two-man beat, which was worked on two shifts, 9am-5pm and 5pm-1am, alternating weekly. The other Nailsea beat policeman lived in a council house and he and Terry shared a motor-bike, which was, I think, a Triumph Tiger 500cc-twin. At the end of a shift one of them would drive to the other's home, where they would change over and drive the back to where they wanted to be. Terry loved that motor bike and was never afterwards without one - he was still riding a Triumph up to last September, though he did have Suzukis and BMWs in between.

Determined I would not become isolated as I had been in Minehead, I joined the local amateur dramatic society, then called the Nailsea Venturers. I have lovely memories of playing Daphne in Noel Coward's Present Laughter, and I made many friends, one of whom turned up years later at my drama group in Midsomer Norton, and who remains a close friend today. (Kay, you know who you are!) Another (who for reasons that will become obvious must remain anonymous!) gave me an experience that can still make me smile.

At the time Nailsea was notorious for the so-called 'Key Parties' of the early '70s. It even got a mention in the News of the World, if I am not much mistaken. Large numbers of apparently respectable professionals were involved, along with some business people - speculation was always rife as to their identities, but a lot of expensive motor cars parked outside someone's house on a Saturday evening tended to give it away.

After rehearsals, many of us Venturers would go for a drink together at a pub close to our rehearsal room, as Drama Club members often do. But one night one of the ladies, middle-aged (well, to me, aged only 25 or 26, definitely an older lady, but very attractive, very sophisticated, very friendly towards me) suggested we might go to a different pub. I must admit I was intrigued - the pub she mentioned, within easy walking distance of the police station, was known to be the haunt of the Wife Swappers, as we called the people who attended the key parties. And sure enough there were quite a few of them in the bar, including my friend's husband. Looking quite pleased with herself, she led me over to him. 'Here we are ... I've brought Janet.' He beamed. 'Can I buy you a drink?' I thanked him and asked (I think) for a gin and tonic. I have no doubt he thought he was onto something here. So I took great delight in chatting whilst finishing my drink and then saying sweetly: 'And now it's time I went home.' Which I did, bursting in the door scarcely able to wait to tell Terry: 'You'll never guess where I've been - with the wife swappers!' It was my first and last encounter with that merry band.

Oh, I loved Nailsea. I loved the little shops, the greengrocer's, the butcher's, the baker's, the hardware shop, the newsagents. I loved the people, all really friendly. Terry's shift pattern was perfectly manageable. Little Tracey (now known as Terri) started nursery in Tickenham and was picked up outside our door in a minibus. And my writing career began to really take off. My first short story, which I had sold to Annabel, the monthly glossy mag, appeared after we moved to Nailsea, and I was busily writing in every spare moment - after Suzie was born in 1970 that usually meant when I was up after feeding her in the middle of the night!

I know, I know, I haven't talked much about the sometimes bizarre, sometimes frankly scary, things that went with being that Heartbeat wife ... there were so many of them they deserve an episode all their own. I'll do that very, very soon ....

Watch this space!

Friday, 14 June 2013

g hait
 'HEARTBEAT' WIFE
 
PART 3
 
 
 
 
 
North Hill, Minehead
 
 Minehead, South Somerset .  Minehead, with the sea lapping the golden beach.   Exmoor and the Quantocks on the doorstep.  Terry's dream posting.  He had achieved his ambition to drive a powerful Road Motor Patrol car - his area stretched from Bridgwater in the north to the Devon border.  We were expecting our first baby.  We planned to get a dog.  We would be a real family.  What could be more perfect?
 
Except that I hated it.  I was so lonely, particularly in the evenings!  Terry was working 4 shifts - nights, lates, days and earlies, with one weekend in four off.  On nights he was getting ready to go to work at 10 pm, on lates (2-10 pm) he was at work, on earlies he wanted to go to bed early so as to be up at 5 am, and on days he often disappeared in the evening for a game of snooker with his partner.  I'd always had a good social life, centred mainly around my various amateur drama clubs, but now, pregnant and perhaps a bit homesick, I found it difficult to become involved.  Besides, we had the dog we'd wanted, an adorable yellow labador puppy we named Kim, and she couldn't be left alone for long, or she'd have chewed up everything we owned, just as she was chewing up my poor hands and arms!   I found young women neighbours on our estate distant and unapproachable - perhaps they were wary of the long arm of the law! - and the other police wives were a tight little clique who'd known each other for ever, so that I felt like an outsider.  In summer the town overflowed with visitors, in winter it was shuttered and bleak.  When our longed for baby arrived, she cried incessantly when she was put down in her pram or cot, then fell asleep and refused to feed when she was picked up.  I think now that maybe she had a neck problem, but it was very trying, and all my plans to walk her out in the afternoons, serene and beautiful in her huge Silver Cross pram, came to nothing.   The dog kept going for walkies on her own, and to top it all, we were very, very hard up.  I remember checking my purse at the end of the week to see if I could afford half a pound of sausages!
 
If it hadn't been for all these problems, though, my writing career might never have taken off.  Between washing nappies, feeding little Tracey Louise, walking the dog, cleaning, cooking and ironing, I began writing short stories.  Turning the ideas over in my head helped keep me sane, and I had the idea of trying to sell one and earning a little spare cash.  I tried a story on Annabel, a glossy monthly, and to my enormous delight it was accepted!  The cheque they sent me bought a much needed winter coat - £16 it was! - and the thrill of seeing my story in print has never been surpassed. 
 
 Not everything about Minehead was bad, of course.  In fact, some of it was lovely.  When Terry was due off duty at 2 pm  we'd take a picnic up onto North Hill and sit amongst the gorse and heather.  We'd drive down to Tarr Steps or the Devon coast.  One early morning Terry took me down to the front to see the waves crashing over the sea wall; another time he brought home a huge red mullet (I think!) that a fisherman had given him.  I loved our house, which had a long garden with a plum tree in it, and when Tracey had passed that interminable crying stage, I used take her for long walks in her push chair to the park and the sea front. 
 
 Somewhat amusingly I had my first encounter with garlic in Minehead.  I'd found a recipe for spaghetti Bolognese (how exotic!) and it called for "a clove of garlic".  I had no idea what that was - and neither did the lady in the greengrocers.  She tried to sell me cloves.  Eventually I was enlightened, and I still use that recipe today, a great favourite with the grandchildren, who can scarcely believe there was a time when nobody was familiar with garlic bulbs!
 
But just when I'd got used to the place, it was time for another move.  Nailsea - where we lived in the police station that was also the police house and I truly was a real life Heartbeat wife.  But that of course, is another story ...! 
 
 AN EXPLANATION AND APOLOGY
 
In happy times .... last year.
 
You may have seen an apology on my web site for the fact that I haven't been blogging over recent months - 'due to illness in the family', as I put it.
 
The stark truth was that my darling husband, Terry (pictured above with me and our youngest grandchildren, Dan and Amelia, was suffering from a devastating form of T-cell lymphoma which was diagnosed in January.
 
Though the prognosis was not good, he underwent a number of sessions of intensive chemotherapy, but unfortunately the disease was too aggressive.  By April it was apparent the treatment was not working.
 
After a spell in hospital I was able to bring him home, where he wanted to be, and looked after him for 3 weeks until the end came, on May 25th.
 
I still find it difficult to believe my fit, healthy, strong husband is gone - it all happened over such  short period of time.
 
Now, however, it is my intention to continue with my series of blogs about my life as a 'Real-life Heartbeat Police Wife'.    I'm very glad I began it ...  and as I write it will recall for me the happy years Terry and I spent together.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Christmas baubles from our first home




Christmas baubles from our first home ....
HEARTBEAT WIFE

PART  2

Back in 1966 in the police force things were very different to today.  Single policemen 'out in the sticks' had to live in approved lodgings - no cohabiting then! - and when they did marry, were not allowed to buy their own house until they had achieved ten years service.  Until then, you lived in an allocated police house wherever you were sent.  And when you married,  if no police house was available in the town where you were stationed then you found rented accommodation for which you received an allowance. 

Our first home was a 'flat' on the top floor of a tall old house in Locks Hill, Frome.  With hindsight, we should have realised it was far from ideal, but at the time we were too excited to take notice of the warning signs and obvious drawbacks.  To begin with, the 'flat' consisted of just three furnished rooms, a sitting room, a bedroom and a kitchen all opening off a landing.  'Opening' being the operative word.  We had three keys, one for each door, but the landlady considered the landing her territory and was liable to come upstairs at any time to water a plant she kept in the window there, so it was quite possible to bump into her whilst heading from the bedroom to the kitchen in the morning, or at any other time!  The bed was lumpy, the cooker less than reliable, and the only form of heating was an electric fire.  Our electricity was metered, and the owners had clearly set the meter to their advantage - the money we fed it seemed to go nowhere.  It was fortunate indeed that we had young love to keep us warm - but I remember plenty of shivering when winter came in.  Our luxuries were the things we bought to equip the kitchen - a fridge (I insisted on a fridge) and a tall kitchen cabinet with a pull-down that formed a work surface for such things as rolling out pastry. 
The bathroom and loo, believe it or not, were a floor down and were shared.  The bathroom was also kept locked, though mercifully the loo was left open!  And then there was the little matter of use of the washing line in the garden.  As I was at work all week I had negotiated that it would be left free for me on Saturdays, but more often than not I'd come back from a shopping trip in town to find my laundry all pushed to one end of the line whilst the landlady's blew freely in the breeze.
But the final straw came when Terry was on 'lates' - 6pm - 2am.  I woke at about 6 am the following morning to find myself alone in bed.  Terry had not come in.  I panicked - I felt sure something terrible must have happened to him during his shift.  I got up and hurried to the telephone kiosk at the end of the road (no mobile phones in those days, and we didn't even have the use of the phone in the house).  I rang the police station, and asked Debbie, the operator, if she knew where Terry was.  To my astonishment - and relief, of course - she told me he was asleep in the cells.  When he got home at 2 am he had been unable to open the front door with his key as our dear landlady had dropped the catch inside.
After that we didn't waste any time in looking for somewhere different to live, and found it in a flat over a newsagent and tobacconist shop - the owner was very keen to have a policeman on the premises as he thought it would deter burglars.  This time our rooms were spread over three floors, a large kitchen on the ground floor and stairs leading up to the rest of the accommodation simply partitioned off from the shop by plasterboard.  I don't think it would be allowed today, it was a terrible fire hazard, and there was a horrible smell of drains downstairs, but I loved that flat.  We 'adopted' the shop's mouser, whom we named Kitty One, so she became our first pet.  We spent our first Christmas together there - Terry got a second-hand black and white TV from a little shop nearby, and I bought decorations for our Christmas tree.  Some of them survive today, though quite a few have been broken, as they were made of glass.  I still get them out each year - see picture above!

It was at our flat in Badcox that I had my first scary experience.  Being winter, darkness came early, and when Terry was on 'nights' and the shop had shut I was quite alone.  One evening I was sitting in the kitchen reading when I heard what sounded like someone knocking on the door.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.   Soon it was my heart that was thumping too.  I was convinced someone was trying to break in.  The bumps and thuds continued intermittently for a good hour.  I was terrified, but what could I do?  I had no more access to a telephone here than I had in our first flat.  I just had to sit it out.   And was much relieved to discover next morning that what I had feared was a burglar was in fact nothing more than empty boxes and packing cases the shopkeeper had left in the yard outside being blown by a high wind against the back door.

Oh, I loved that flat!  Our first daughter was conceived there - I got confirmation that I was pregnant by ringing the doctor's surgery from the phone box on the opposite side of the road.  And I have to admit that drainsy smell didn't go well with morning sickness ... 

But we were soon to move on.  Terry had applied for what was then known as RMP - Road Motor Patrol - and what would now be termed 'Traffic Cops' or something similar.  He was successful, and in February we learned we would be moving to Minehead.  A world away, it seemed to me!  

I'll tell you about that in the next instalment ......


Thursday, 31 January 2013

I WAS A REAL LIFE 'HEARTBEAT' WIFE

PART ONE - ROMANCE ON THE POLICE STATION LAWN

When I see episodes of the sixties police drama HEARTBEAT I become very nostalgic indeed, and not just for the musical memories the soundtrack evokes. It's the whole thing - the village police house with the blue light over the door, the uniforms, the cars, the motor cycles, even the story lines, though I have to admit some of them in later episodes did become a bit far-fetched. Because I was there, a police wife who lived in a country station during the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, where people knocked the door for assistance at all hours of the day and night, and my husband, Terry, covered his rural beat on a motor cycle. Not with an overcoat flying out behind him, he would be at pains to point out - he actually had some very nice leathers - but on the whole HEARTBEAT really conjured up life in the police force as it was in those days. And what a life it was! In future posts, I hope to share with you some of the episodes I experienced - the hilariously funny, the tragic, the really very scary. But for now I'll tell you how it all began.

Life as a police wife didn't come as much of a shock to me - I'd been working for the police at our local Divisional HQ for several years before I met Terry. To begin with I was a secretary with special responsibility for looking after all the officers in our Division, keeping their records up to date (in a ledger - no computers in those days!), and arranging for their police houses and stations to be kept in good order - redecoration, emptying of septic tanks, repairs to burst pipes, all this and more fell to me. Later, when one of the constables in my office was moved back to the beat, I took on his duties and became what was known as Accident Queen, dealing with all the paperwork that arose from road traffic accidents. Sometimes I even took 999 calls. Locating an officer to deal with them wasn't always easy. There were no personal radios back then, if there was no-one in the station to attend we had to either call a traffic car or wait for an officer to 'make a point' which they did regularly from telephone kiosks. I loved the work, I loved the life. It was exciting as well as interesting and the policemen were, for the most part, enormous fun. I was taught the principles of Advanced Motoring by the traffic crews, got to meet the police dogs, and never knew what the day would bring.

Then one day a new policeman was posted to our station. That policeman was Terry.

The funny thing was, I spotted his car before I ever set eyes on him. He always says it was his car I fell in love with, and his fate was sealed from the moment I saw it. And that isn't far from the truth. I looked out of our office window and saw it in the station car park, a smart, sporty Triumph Vitesse, just like the one pictured below. 'Who does that belong to?' I asked. And one of my colleagues replied: 'The new policeman, who's just been posted here from Weston-Super-Mare.'



The 'new policeman' was on 'earlies' - 6 am-2 pm; my friend Brenda, who worked in CID, and who I usually had lunch with, was on holiday, and so, instead of playing a game of table tennis or skittles with her, and eating together in the recreation room, I took my sandwiches and a book outside. It was a warm August day; I sat on the lawn reading, and, truth to tell, waiting. Sure enough, just before 2 pm Terry and his tutor constable returned from patrolling the town, and made some comment about me sunbathing. He offered me the use of his lawn for the purpose, I think. They went inside, then, a few moments later Terry was back - on the pretext of getting his gloves from his car, he said. He began talking to me, asked me out ... and the rest is history. We were engaged at Christmas and married the following September, on what was my father's birthday and what would become the birthday of our younger daughter, Suzanne.

And so I became a police wife. A whole new adventure that I hope to share with you .....from the night our landlady locked him out and he had to sleep in the cells to the time when our country station was besieged by Hells Angels seeking revenge ... from the lady who thought the Martians had landed on the school playing fields and were burning her in her bed with lasers to the one who tried to enveigle me into the local wife-swapping circle. But they are stories for another time.

 

The happy couple! September 3rd, 1966!