The Runaway Horse

A Story In English, By An Englishman


Douglas (Spike) Sharp

Copyright 2002 by Douglas Sharp


Photo of a London policeman in front of Big Ben.

 During the early 70's I was a PC in central London. My division had the somewhat dubious benefit of a Special Constable, whose altruistic vocation did not extend to patrolling the streets, preferring to annoy the 'reserve' officer by his presence in the communications room operating the old 'Dolls Eye' switchboard on a Saturday night, the telephonist's night off.             

The Special threw all his effort into his duty and frequently took messages, or more truthfully, parts of messages with addresses, informants, and other critical details omitted, passing scribbled notes to the Reserve (the Met parlance for radio controller at that time).            

A colleague and I proposed a scheme designed to persuade the Special not to get involved with message taking. Attending a friendly security post with a telephone, a call was made to the switchboard shortly before 4am.            

The special was regaled by a story of how the informant was out walking with his girlfriend and had seen a stray horse on Milbank, by the Tate Gallery.            

So enthralled was the Special in the story that he started asking questions instead on transferring the call. Having given much information on the stray horse the informant said 'I'll leave it with you officer' just as the Special started the sentence 'And you are…?.'             

Informantless, the Special looked across the table to the Reserve Officer and told him of the stray horse on Milbank. An instruction to put the caller through was met by an admission that he had rung off without having taken details. 

Suitable advice, the exact words of which are unprintable here, followed. The necessity to ask for informants details was uppermost in the Special's mind when an apparently drunken well spoken man telephoned, admitting that he was (and sounded) very drunk but complaining that an "F*ing great horse was eating the roses in his front garden".             

The Special was particularly keen to get a name and address and the informant was equally keen not to divulge such information fearing the attendance of hoards of police at 4am to further annoy his wife (he confided in the officer that his return home drunk had already created an element of marital discord).             

He did, however, indicate that any front garden in Grosvenor Road containing a large horse was worthy of further police investigation and described the beast as "Huge, with a leg on each corner and a big head" and suggested that it would not be beyond the detective abilities of even the Metropolitan Police to find it if they looked hard enough.             

The details were recounted to a now sceptical reserve officer who declined to take any action, no doubt sensing the dubious nature of the call.

Some time later another call came, frequently interspersed with guttural 'mates', 'guvs' and other terms of working class endearment and spiced with the crude expletives much beloved of those of cockney origin.             

The details were duly taken from 'Fred,' allegedly the head stableman at Watney's Brewery, Mortlake, informing police that he had been exercising the dray horses earlier and that one of the B*ds had bolted over the bridge to the north side of the Thames.

At this point knowledge of London geography by the Special would have ended the scam, Mortlake being some considerable distance upstream from our division but then the Special seldom emerged from the warmth and comfort of the Police Station to pay much attention to where the division was actually situated.             

In a triumphant manner the Special announced to the Reserve, who had never been convinced of the existence of the stray horse, that it wasn't a hoax 'It belongs to Watneys you know….'             

A gentle little scam rapidly went downhill thereafter. It was clear that the Reserve proposed to take no action. The Special, frustrated that the incident he was effectively controlling was not being taken seriously, took it on himself to dial CO77 and tell those nice people at Information Room at New Scotland Yard - they would take him seriously. And so they did not realising the lowly status of their informant and the attendant circumstances.             

As we drove away from the security post, the police car radio bust into life after a considerable period of inaction 

"All Cars Inner, All Cars Inner, Millbank towards Grosvenor Road attention is called to a stray horse. Message ends IR 0435hrs".          

It was a very quiet and pleasant summer Sunday Morning with RT cars taking any call to alleviate the boredom. The car in which I was a passenger was called in to pick up the section sergeant who announced that he believed it to be a hoax but was treating it as real (an attitude apparently conditioned by his proximity to retirement).             

We tried to show enthusiasm in a search we knew to be a futile. By the time we joined in I was amazed at the number of cars from all over the centre of London that had joined in the search.  There was a veritable traffic jam of police cars so early in the morning aimlessly circling a small area in more hope than expectation. The Divisional Duty Inspector and a worldly-wise
acting sergeant also took part in the search.             

Unknown to us 'Brillo,' one of the panda drivers, had written himself a walk-on part in our little piece of theatre.  Returning to the Station, which had a contingent of Mounted Branch, he entered the stables armed with a shovel and an up-turned dust bin lid. A few shovelfuls from the floor of the stalls and back to the search area where the contents were up ended from the dust bin lid onto the roadway in Tachbrook Street.           

The dustbin lid had just been replaced in the boot of the panda when the supervision car came into sight and spied the officer inspecting a slightly steaming heap of  'you know what' liberally mixed with straw bedding material.
The Inspector stopped, got out of the car to where the PC was standing and exclaimed 'So it's not a hoax!' and raced back to his car. The Sergeant, whose knowledge of equine digestive by-products was far greater than that of his Bramshill boss quietly remarked to the PC,  'And I suppose it brought it's own straw to wipe its backside with, did it?' before rejoining the boss in the car and driving purposefully away.
Incidentally, this is not fiction, the bobbies in the Met (Metropolitan Police) in the times of peaceful
, and what could have been rather boring, night duties played all manner of tricks on each other, just to break
the monotony.

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