Shadow in Toy Town

The nearby folk festival brought hundreds of people to the town’s shops at the weekend, many of them in family groups. They attend year by year and the festival has been going for nearly half a century. Parents in anoraks, with toddlers in buggies, toured Waitrose gathering supplies. There were beards and bobble hats and haversacks, and smart teenage girls in shorts, defying the rain and mud. And a 1940s red Routemaster London bus ferried the visitors from the town hall to the festival village, its conductor hanging on to the rail at the boarding platform, just as they did in my childhood. ‘Three halfpenny half please’ … Ding! And there remains a traditional red telephone box outside the Toy Town-like town hall, where Mr Mayor presides at meetings, and we still have a fire station, as in Trumpton, the sixties toddlers’ TV programme.  At night, where I live I could just hear the sounds of accordion music. An idyll indeed.

And if you know where to look, you can catch crayfish in the many local brooks and streams. But that really is traditional local knowledge. I would never dare ask about it. And there are bridleways and footpaths and you can see for miles to the distant range of hills.

In town today, a youngish man and woman, possibly strays left stranded by the festival sat on the pavement outside a shop They were engaged in a mild disagreement. They were in hippie gear and had braided tangled hair. From their voices they must have been taking drugs of some kind. They were quiet. With them there was a large, healthy. golden retriever-type dog, but with long hair. It dozed peacefully. This was not exactly a pit bull or a half-trained ‘Staffie’. The young woman was holding a can of Kronenberg lager.

A few paces away a young Police Community Support officer kept a watchful eye on them.

After I left the newsagent’s with Mrs Llew’s ‘Radio Times’ for next week, I saw that two fully-fledged policemen were standing over the couple. One was hectoring them. I’m not sure what the police were doing: trying to move them on, maybe. The couple was probably too much ‘out of it’ to take in the message, hence, maybe, the policeman’s forceful tone.  On a couple of occasions the old dog roused itself and barked. It was worried, clearly, but undecided as to its response. Lucky it wasn’t a pit bull.

One of the policemen was holding the young woman’s can of Kronenberg. He poured it down the drain (there is a byelaw forbidding the drinking of alcohol in public in the town centre). That’s his decision but the woman wasn’t exactly rowdy.

The policemen were an intimidating sight to me, in black combat-style gear, festooned with various gadgets.  It’s a long time since I saw a policeman in traditional dark blue. Or in the summer uniform of white ‘shirtsleeve order’, tie, and tall helmet. We still talk in England about the ‘boys in blue’. That is not the routine image of our policemen today. Nor are they a reassuring sight. Here, in my version of Toy Town, with the sweet harvest countryside all around, and the red telephone box and the half-timbered pubs, and the cricket field  neighbouring the ancient church and its graves, there seemed to be a moment of harshness.

I was not near enough to make a fair judgment of the behaviour of the police and I do appreciate that no shop would have wanted the couple to take up residence in front of their windows.

And I remembered, as this blog has dwelt on a traditional England, that happy song of Roger Miller’s 1965:

‘England swings like a pendulum do
Bobbies on bicycles, two by two
Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben
The rosy red cheeks of the little children.’

Not today.

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