Bad cop, bad cop

Venezuela 1979

The cop jumped out from behind some bushes and frantically waved us down.

We had just rounded a bend on the Maracaibo-Caracas Highway and the cop was signalling for us to pull over on the soft shoulder which was marked by a white line. It was Good Friday and the highway was very busy. First reaction was to wonder why we had been singled out.

The cop claimed that my colleague, Wilton, a New Zealander, had driven across the white line marking the edge of the highway. We did not think this was correct but our denial made the cop aggressive.

The conversation in Spanish, mine transactional and rudimentary, went something like this:

Cop 1: Crossing the white line is a serious offence

Me; I’m sorry. We are business visitors to your country and we do not know all your traffic regulations. We won’t do it again. Tomorrow we are leaving your country.

Cop 1: (Unimpressed) Crossing the white line is a VERY serious offence

Cop 1 then signalled for us to follow him into a clearing behind some bushes. This made us feel very uncomfortable but, as he had his hand on his pistol holder, we decided to follow. Here we found Cop 2 seated at a picnic table.

Cop 2: You have got two options, either pay an instant fine of $US 50 or go before a judge in the nearby town.

Me: (trying the confused foreigner role) I am sorry. I don’t understand. I don’t speak much Spanish..

Cop 1 (to Cop 2). Esto tipo miente ( Trans: This guy is lying). Habla castellano muy bien como un madrileno (Trans: he speaks Spanish like a toff from Madrid).

Cop2: So (turning to us) $US 50 or the judge

Me: The second option sounds better

Cop2: Good. The judge is on his Easter holidays and will not be back till next Tuesday. Meanwhile we are going to have to lock you up. till then

Wilton (pulling a crisp greenback from his wallet): Here is your $US 50.

The two cops salute smartly, accompany us back to the car and even politely open the doors for us before saying they hope we enjoy the rest of our stay in Venezuela.

Postscript 1: Looking back on this incident after so many years I realise these cops were on the lookout for a hire car driven by a couple of Gringos. They must have had a tip off. That is the only explanation as to why they singled us out from all the heavy traffic.

Postscript 2: Later that evening at dinner with friends in Caracas, we tell them about our adventure.

Idiotas”, they said “The cops would have been satisfied with fifteen dollars!

ROBIN SEN

Sydney, April 2021

Poppy for a Bobby

In class-conscious, snobby, mid-century England, the family kept quiet about my father, now a respected and much-loved general medical practitioner, having once been a successful market trader.

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London 1943

“Won’t be long , sir” I said as I put the cork liners in the perfume bottles. I was almost five years old and helping my father as he set up his stall to sell perfumes.

This was my father’s first day in the business. Dad was a medical student. He earned his living, fed and housed his family and paid for his studies by a variety of jobs, always self-employed. At one time he sold tips at the races. At another he hired space in a department store and told fortunes, capitalising on his exotic Bengali appearance and the mystic East. At some time he and my mother ran a fancy goods store in south London.

His most successful business venture was going to be making and selling perfumes. During wartime there was a scarcity of luxury goods and perfume provided a great opportunity to earn some real money.

The night before he had mixed all the ingredients at home in our small flat in Brixton,, sorting them into a number of large glass jars. At the market the contents would be transferred, according to popularity, into small bottles for sale to the customers. That morning we had set off walking to the tram stop at the top of the road, my father carrying everything in a large leather suitcase. The case must have been unimaginably heavy, but this is where his early athletic fitness would have stood him in good stead. He had been an Olympic swimming triallist for India.

By tram we travelled to the East Lane outdoor market, a piece of London history dating back to the 16th century and still in existence today. Here he hired a stall and commenced trading.

Dad had an aversion to bureaucracy and had not bothered to get the obligatory traders permit from the authorities.

Not long after we set up stall we were approached by a burly London bobby who asked to see Dad’s permit. When my father was unable to produce it, the policeman asked, “Where’s my poppy?” My father was unaware that “poppy” was cockney slang for a bribe.

Innocently my father replied, “Sorry, we don’t have poppy. How about a bottle of June Rose?”

Remember this was wartime and luxury goods such as perfume were almost unobtainable.

The bobby burst out laughing and went away delighted with his bottle of June Rose, as was no doubt his wife or girlfriend.

ROBIN SEN