By indexer
149 days ago

Three Policemen Bitten: a story

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Every week the Hinckley Scribblers writing group, to which I belong, sets a challenge, and this week it is to make sense of the above newspaper headline, which is purely fictional. What could possibly have been the event that gave rise to it? Maybe something along the following lines - or maybe not!

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Barry’s career as a journalist was – it had to be admitted – off to a slow start. As with all young cub reporters, he dreamed of becoming the editor of a major national newspaper, this being the culmination of a glittering career liberally spotted with earth-shattering scoops concerning the great issues of the day. It would be his digging and delving that revealed truths that the high and mighty would prefer to keep hidden, and his incisive analysis would cause dishonest businessmen to spend years behind bars and force government ministers to resign in disgrace.

But that was clearly going to be a long way into the future. In the meantime, his reporting skills had to be limited to telling the good citizens of Market Snodsbury who had won the prizes at the local flower and produce show. It was going to be difficult to attract the attention of the London dailies with headlines about dahlia displays and giant marrows.

As any reporter worth his salt would do, Barry had made contacts with local people who might be the source of good stories. Any local gossip that might turn into a few column inches was worth seeking out, and there were plenty of people in Market Snodsbury who would spill the beans for the price of a pint or two. Likewise, Barry had cultivated an old schoolfriend of his who was now working for the local police force. So, when PC Paul Smithers gave him a call one morning, Barry was ready to listen in the hope that his luck might change with something juicy on which to exercise his journalistic skills.

And on this particular occasion, Barry really thought that this was the moment he had been waiting for. Paul’s voice on the phone was almost a whisper, as though he was trying to make sure that he was not going to be overheard, which was indeed the case.

“Barry”, Paul murmured down the phone, “I’ve got something great for you here”.

“You have?” Barry replied, suddenly excited.

“Shh!” said Paul, “You need to keep this quiet. It’s top secret.”

“OK,” said Barry, “go ahead. What is it?”

“It’s only that the Pope is due to read his poems on Friday afternoon at Little Snodsbury village hall.”

“You what?” said Barry. “The Pope? You’re pulling my leg!”

“I’m not,”, said Paul. “I’ve got the note in front of me. It says ‘Pope poetry recital. Little Snodsbury.

Friday, 3 pm’. The sergeant wants a vanload of us to provide security, but he says it looks like a big secret, because nobody has said anything about the Pope even being in the country, let alone round here.”

Barry’s emotions were suddenly all over the place. He knew that he had to contain his excitement at this astounding news, and that he could not let anyone else see how enthused he was. But this could be the one opportunity he needed to make a name for himself. He could picture the scene. His Holiness would land by helicopter on the field next to the village hall, he would be whisked inside to present his latest poems to an invited audience of local literature buffs, then hustled off back to the helicopter and away back to Rome. And only Barry, the ace reporter, would be any the wiser.

Of course, it would probably have been more sensible for Barry to make a few enquiries about what the Pope was actually likely to be doing on Friday, and he would then have known that Pope Francis was actually on a tour of Latin America at the time; and he might also have asked a few questions about the likelihood of His Holiness descending on an English village to do what PC Smithers had indicated he would be doing. But the chance of a major scoop of this importance was enough to put paid to any vestiges of commonsense that should have been to the fore in Barry’s brain.

So, at around half past two on the following Friday, Barry turned up at Little Snodsbury village hall in full expectation of the arrival of the Pope to give his poetry recital. When he arrived, the police contingent, including his friend Paul, was already in place, occupying the entire back row of seats in the hall. There were only two other people there, on rows one and nine, so Barry had plenty of choice among the many empty chairs. He assumed that the bulk of the audience would turn up in due time.

They did not.

Barry also assumed that the Papal helicopter would also make its presence felt before long.

It also did not.

Instead, as the clock moved to the stroke of three, the man who had been sitting on the front row stood up and climbed the three steps to the stage to stand behind the lectern that was already in place and on which was placed a number of ominously thick volumes.

He cleared his throat and began:

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I was hoping for a few more people here this afternoon, but I am glad to welcome Mrs Walters who represents the Guinness Book of Records”. He duly pointed to the lady sitting in Row 9.

“I am hoping today to set a new world record by reading aloud, in a single session, the complete poetic works of Alexander Pope. This is a special occasion, marking as it does the 330th anniversary of his birth, and I believe that this feat has never been attempted before.

“As you will know, Pope was a prolific poet whose works ran to several volumes, and this attempt will clearly take a long time to complete. I am grateful to the Village Hall Committee for allowing me to occupy this stage for as long as I like, and I fully anticipate that we will still be here well into the night.

“I shall therefore begin with ‘The Essay on Criticism’. It took Pope three years to write this – hopefully it will not take me quite so long to read it.”

And off he went.

After the first hour, it was quite clear that everyone in the audience had clearly had about as much of this as they could stand. Barry’s eyelids felt distinctly heavy as he took note that the same was true of most of the Police contingent. When he was next aware of anything, he could see that three of the policemen, and two policewomen, were no longer there. Mrs Walters from the Guinness Book of Records gave two or three gentle snores. The man at the lectern ploughed on relentlessly, now well into “Eloisa to Abelard”.

Barry needed a change of air, so he slipped out of the building as quietly as he could manage.

The village hall was adjacent to a large open field in which several horses were grazing. Leaning against the fence, and admiring the horses, were the five missing police officers.

The sergeant in charge of the police squad now took the view that their presence was a complete waste of time. This had obviously been the case after only the first five minutes, but the sergeant reckoned that abandoning the task so soon after it had started might not look too good when it came to writing up his report. Apart from that, having a bit of a rest on the back row of the village hall was preferable to doing the paperwork that awaited him back at the station.

He therefore led the rest of his team out of the hall just as the five absentees headed back to join them.

“Bloody horsefly”, said one of them, rubbing his arm.

“You been got?” said another, “Me too”.

“And me” said the third victim.

The police contingent got back in their van and headed off. Barry, meanwhile, had a quandary. The event had not proved to be anything like as newsworthy as he had hoped, given the complete absence of anyone worth writing about, and he did not even know if the world record had been achieved, but the journalistic streak in him was not to be thwarted so easily. He could still get an eye-catching headline if he put his mind to it.

By abbreviating his name and leaving out a full stop, the answer was there sure enough. Hence the posters for the Saturday edition of the Market Snodsbury Telegraph read:

B RAWL AT POET’S RECITAL. THREE POLICEMEN BITTEN
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Justin Very interesting 👍👍👍👍
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indexer @Justin You must be a very quick reader, Justin!
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RasmaSandra This was interesting and it made me think that like journalists so writers also strive to come up with the most eye-catching headlines.
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indexer @RasmaSandra Indeed so! As it happened, I suggested this title to the Scribblers last week, following a visit to the annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, where I took a photo of the artwork you can see above.
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