Wednesday, 17 September 2014

You know you're getting older when the police officers look young ...

.... but the flashers? Because that's what happened to me on Sunday afternoon, in broad daylight, in the alleyway that leads up from our flats to the church at the top of the hill. The culprit of this indecent exposure was about eight.

It's not something I've ever experienced before, and I can't say that at other times in other places and with different personnel, it would have been remotely upsetting, but this was rather different. I was walking up to Headington to the shops with my friend's dog, Sandy, who was staying with us for the day, and saw two small boys on the path ahead. One was standing rather oddly in the middle, as if about to have a pee, which was curious, because it was the middle of the path, and that's not what most chaps do, and it was also uphill, and you don't need to be wearing sandals to know that's daft. A few paces after I had passed them I heard "Oi, Mister!", and turned round to see the boy with his trousers and pants round his thighs, gesturing at his evidently very prepubescent genitals, who then shouted "Wanna suck on this?" My primary instinct was to get fast away, so I shouted a rude retort (a friend suggested "I've sucked on bigger peanuts, ducky", but that might not have been entirely kind) and Sandy and I continued our walk.

But it rankled. It was just two boys of a certain silly age being silly, one, with his willy. But why me? Do I look gay? Shorts and sandals are eccentric except in high summer, but not exactly camp. I'm no Elton John, and I'd audition badly for the Village People. Or was it the dog? Sandy is a bichon frise, which is by no stretch of anyone's imagination a paragon of butchness, and having been forcibly shampoo'd by HL that morning, she was at maximum fluffiness. Was she the reason? But so what? Shouldn't anyone be free to go about their lawful business unaccosted by small boys and their smaller penises? And I started to wonder what it might be like for an older generation of gay man, going home alone, or, worse, to his mother, after such an incident. Or what if it happened to someone who didn't have a clean CRB certificate in the filing cabinet, and lived in fear of persecution and the rattling cage of ancient sins? And where did the kid learn the language from? A friend suggested the internet which, given that I virtually live on it, it's absurd I didn't think of. But what if it had been from home? Aren't we meant to say and do something when children report or display untoward sexual behaviour?

So, I did. The next afternoon I went into our local CPSO office here on the estate (we say "on Barton" here, which is very amusing and peasanty), and said I wanted to report an indecent exposure. They were remarkably calm about it - to be honest, I was expecting to be laughed at, or put on a register myself. The lady officer said I could make a formal report, but it seemed to me that would make a big and possibly lasting deal out of what was only passing silliness. Then the male officer asked "what was he wearing?" I couldn't honestly answer, as I have no memory for people's clothes or haircuts, or cars, or all the things they hold most dear, and have caused much offence thereby. "Might it have been blue shorts with a white T-shirt?" "Not impossible, but you really are leading the witness!". "I think I know the boy, and his family. I'll have a word about not making a fool of himself in public".

Well, well. I was deeply impressed that the officer knew the patch so intimately, that I was listened to, and taken seriously. I doubt anything like it will happen again. And I get a tiny buzz of satisfaction from the fact that years ago when I was working with the Lilac Project in the West End of London, we reported back to the Home Office that much though we appreciated that the police enjoyed doing "intelligent policing" (which is not actually a contradiction in terms, I've seen it done, and it is most impressive), the local residents wanted to see uniforms on the beat. We were not, I'm sure, the only committee to make this recommendation, but that is how the Community Police Support Officers came about. My first suggestion that, given we had the headquarters of Equity (the actors' union) in our parish, out-of-work actors should just be issued with uniforms was quietly ignored.

Civic duty done. A rather peculiar experience. One I very much hope never to experience again. But I do hope that officer does remember to have a quiet word, because there are people round here who would not respond with caustic words, but with a good belting. Maybe they chose their victim well.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
September 2014


  1. one of my sisters was one of the first cpso's in a different city as a trial run, and they seem to be cheaper versions of coppers wage-wise so your idea of employing actors may have had more weight than you thought...

  2. You did the right thing reporting the children's behaviour.