ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: Sergeant hightailed it in the gloom of London’s Christ Church
Born in 1925 in Croydon, England, Ed Pearson volunteered to join the British Royal Air Force at the age of 16 and during World War II served in India and Burma. His blog continues here upon his return to the UK, where by now he is a fresh graduate of the UK Police College and working as a London police officer.
Other than nabbing a suspect, there’s nothing more satisfying to a young constable than putting one over on his sergeant. For me, one particular night comes to mind.
I was walking the beat in the Borough of Tower Hamlets in London’s east end. It was a fairly typical London night – foggy with drizzling rain. While my helmet kept my head dry and I was clad in the traditional black police cape (no sissy raincoats for us) I felt damp and rather bored as not much was happening. Even the criminals had more sense than to venture out on such a miserable night. I trudged along until I reached the corner of Spitalfields Market and Commercial Street where the imposing Christ Church stood in all its glory.
The church was built for the seriously religious as you had to climb 149 steps just to get to the entranceway. I decided it was worth the effort to get out of the rain in one of the hidden alcoves behind the large pillars where I could also take a little break and still see what was going on below (and keep an eye out for my sergeant).
Christ Church has a reputation for being haunted, which isn’t surprising considering over 1,000 victims of The Great Plague are buried in the graveyard in the rear of the church. Of course I don’t believe in such nonsense and readily hunkered down in my handy shelter from the elements.
Given that it was a particularly gloomy night, I was surprised to see a civilian climbing the steps of the church, looking over his shoulder the whole way. Now, he could have just decided it was an opportune time to worship, or be seeking shelter himself, but there was always the chance he had a more nefarious intent.
Which brings me to the lost art of male public urination. Perhaps it was a British thing, but there seemed to be a mindset that rather than pushing through patrons to the loo, it was easier to go outside and relieve yourself on the pub wall, or, if you were stricken on the way home, to take advantage of an alley gate, someone’s garden or the back of a public building. As sacrilegious as it may be, the corners of a church might even be at risk, which I thought might be the case in this instance.
I thought of my friend, Pat, who had been visiting New York and was onboard a train awaiting departure. Instead of travelling through the compartments to the restroom, he decided to hop off and empty his bladder against the side of a fence. To his chagrin, he was approached by a police officer while performing this function. The officer took out his notebook and demanded the offender’s name. Ever quick-witted, Pat responded “Walter Faucet” and as the policeman pondered the seemingly appropriate name, Pat jumped back on the train and was on his way.
These thoughts were interrupted when I saw my sergeant approach the church and start trekking up the steps. Not wanting to be caught in a state of idleness, I decided to present myself to the civilian and ask what he was up to. In hindsight, I must have cut quite a harrowing figure in my black cape when I suddenly stepped out of the shadowed alcove into the fog like a shrouded apparition of death.
The civilian let out a shriek and sprinted down the steps at such a pace that I thought he should consider training for the upcoming 1948 London Olympics. About halfway down, he encountered my sergeant who was on his way up. The sergeant must have been taken aback by the look of terror on the civilian’s face. He lifted his eyes to the top of the stairs and peered through the misty haze at the shadowy figure in the shimmering cape, then gave a shriek of his own, beat the civilian down the remaining steps and disappeared up the street.
I met up with the sergeant a little later that night. He was now less breathless and I’m pretty sure he’d put two and two together, but didn’t know if it was process of elimination or that my sly smile gave me away. Not a word was exchanged as he squinted at me, then acknowledged my presence with a dignified nod. I returned the nod and we went our separate ways, but I can tell you I didn’t wipe that smile off my face for the rest of my shift.