The drive home to Cheddar for Christmas was given the added frisson of danger, with news reports about high winds and dangerous conditions. There was a fair amount of traffic and lots of spray and I got tired from all the concentration required, but we made it through. We had stopped for lunch at a service station and the Apocolyptic spirit had clearly had some effect as the shelves were completely empty of sandwiches. Which might be the most middle-class depiction of the end of the world imaginable. "Fuck this," said someone entering the shop just after us, "Let's go to Burger King." The storm would kill us all very slowly, by making our diet slightly less healthy.
It was pretty much impossible (and certainly inadvisable) to speed in these conditions, but at one point I saw a traffic cop in his car waiting to pounce on any idiot who was breaking the speed limit. "Watch out," I said (unnecessarily as I was driving), "It's the fucking pigs!" As we approached the waiting car I surreptitiously flicked the Vs at the policeman behind the dashboard, making my wife laugh. I was cocking a snoop at authority, just like the Great Train Robbers. I was giving my old school friend Phil Fry a lift back to the house where he grew up and he was able to remind me why I use this offensive catchphrase every time I see a policeman, despite never having had a serious run in with the law.
When we were teenagers we had noticed that there was a little weir up the Gorge which acted as an unoffical wishing well. Tourists would chuck a coin into a pool created by a little boxed area of water (presumably there to stop the river swelling too much or calming the flow - not sure). It was about 10 feet deep and a bit fenced off, but we noticed the money and realised we could get over the fences and so determined to pop up there one night and see if we could dive in and help ourselves to the cash (I am pretty sure it would be donated to charity - at least that was the idea, but I later heard stories that the then somewhat fraudulent manager of Cheddar Caves might have been stealing it themself). I was too much of a chicken and a goody-goody to be part of such a heinous crime. I was also terrified of doing anything even slightly dangerous, (convinced I was destined for an early grave) and wouldn't have risked drowning. I did not go along with whoever it was who was there and I am not a snitch and as the criminals have never been brought to justice and are now respectable family men (mostly) I will never name them.
But anyway, Phil Fry was there, though like me he was not dumb enough to jump into this freezing river, so elected himself to stand watch over the swimming thieves and make sure no one saw what they were up to. The Somerset youths dived in, grabbed coins and brought them to the surface, whilst Phil scanned the road for trouble. And trouble there was, as a police car made its way up the road. This in itself was pretty unlucky. There was a tiny police presence in the town and those policemen rarely ventured out into the town. Had there been a tip off? Not from me, I am not a snitch, like I said.
Phil saw the car and alerted his gang of hardened and wet criminals, harshly whispering, "Watch out. It's the fucking pigs." The police did not see the young men bobbing in the water, but ironically perhaps they did hear Phil's warning, stopped their car, got out and apprehended him, pinning him to the wall by his throat and telling him, "We don't like that name." This was the 1980s and the police could get away with such brutality and Phil was perhaps lucky not to be killed and thrown into the water and have the whole thing passed off as an accident. But the police were as incompetent as they were violent and sharp-eared and went about their duties without realising what was going on just yards away.
Phil told me today that they gathered a total of about £1.80 for their time, and then headed to the White Hart pub where they spent their swag on three halves of beer. I meanwhile was tucked up safely in bed, avoiding possible arrest, but also the excitement of living life close to the edge. The gang had a story to tell and the phrase "Watch out, it's the fucking pigs," passed into legend. So much so that I continue to use it 30 years later without remembering where it came from.
Luckily today the pigs weren't as sharp eared and didn't spot my hand gesture, though my wife tweeted about it and now I've written a blog about it, so I guess I have given them all the evidence they need to book me, lock me up and throw away the key. Only my story of their previous brutality against Phil Fry is standing between me and a lengthy prison sentence. Your move, pigs.