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No wonder Eric Morecambe came South
My CV records a variety of modest achievements as a newspaper editor, football writer and author and charity worker ... but no mention of the days when I stood accused of a variety of offences ranging from housebreaking to assault.
I hasten to add that I am not listed at the Criminal Records Office as a villain nor is Google covering up when it fails to mention any misdemeanours from the past in the pages devoted to yours truly.
In my younger days as a reporter in Hendon I and my colleagues were always on call to make up the numbers at identity parades at police stations in the borough. I can recall vividly standing in line at Golders Green when a lady who had been assaulted stopped in front of me and gave me the most searching of looks.
She then moved on to the end of the line and came back behind us. I was aware that she was behind me and, even though I was innocence personified, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck bristling.
Suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder and a voice said: "That's him". The line-up was disbanded and, as I walked away quietly smiling to myself, a young policeman I had never seen before grabbed my arm and said:"Come this way".
Luckily, Detective Sergeant Reg Harris, who had invited me to the parade, appeared from the canteen to point out that while I might look villainous I was, in fact, a blameless solid citizen.
I can remember Sports Editor Fred Harris getting the nod from a witness for grievous bodily harm and the classic day when photographer Rod Brewster, not the tallest of fellows, stood in line with a bunch of six-feet tall Irish labourers from a building site at Mill Hill East all wearing wellington boots. Rod, with sports jacket, collar and tie, looked miscast. "Demand a blood test", I advised.
I reminisce on these lines following a trip to Morecambe with Mrs S at the weekend to take in Barnet's 2-1 defeat and a pilgrimage to the excellent statue of Eric Morecambe on the front.
Before the match Mrs S suggested that we fill up with petrol for the four-hour journey home immediately afterwards. We pulled in at a Texaco garage and Mrs S went in to get a bottle of water and some change for the M6 toll road as I put in £41 worth of unleaded.
She was back in the car when I joined the queue to pay. I offered my Barclaycard - the one I had used to pay the hotel bill a bit earlier - and put it in the machine.
"Not working", said the young man behind the counter, whose vocabulary seemed limited. "Try again". Again he said "Not working".
There were half a dozen people behind me so, on the basis that it could be three attempts and a card is blocked I stepped aside."I'll get my wife", I said.
Mrs S appeared and tried her NatWest card. "Not working", said the young man. She had another go using a second machine - still no go.
Other people in the queue holding credit cards expressed their concern but the only response we got from the lad in charge as each attempt failed was "Oh my God" and a dramatic shake of his head as he slapped his forehead with his right hand I asked what we did next. "Free petrol all round", said a voice from a card holder in the queue behind. Sounded a good idea to me. Instead,the chap behind the counter asked us to wait five minutes while he dealt with those in the queue carrying cash.
He then rang who I took to be his employer and spoke in a language I have never encountered. "What did he say?" I asked. The lad replied:"You pay £41 cash". I pointed out that, like the Queen, I don't carry £41 of cash in case a credit card is rejected.
Another lady in the queue who lived round the corner said she had to get back to work and asked if he would let her come back later to pay. "You pay cash", he said. We were a group of trapped innocents A few cash transactions later, plus a couple of phone calls to his boss and the incessant "You pay £41 cash" and "Oh my Gods" relief arrived to aid our flustered friend.
"What's the problem?" asked this amiable newcomer. I explained that credit cards were being rejected willy nilly and the machines were obviously faulty.
The newcomer picked up the machine and banged it down on the counter. "Try now", he said. The card worked this time and, after 45 minutes, my £41 transaction was completed.
"Oh my God", said the flustered one as we left and the card holders in the lengthy queue moved forward.
No wonder Eric Morecambe moved to Harpenden!