Saturday, 28 October 2017

A tale of two Dicks in a bygone era

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The Palmerston North squash club was holding a weekend tournament with a fancy dress cabaret in their clubrooms on the Saturday evening. The good-natured Masterton Police people had lent me two uniforms after I had displayed my mob clearing abilities on the Friday night over the road from the Masterton police station. “Uniforms” is a bit of an exaggeration; all we needed on a cold winters night were two great-coats and two helmets. We could supply the dark navy pants and substantial black shoes to complete the illusion.

My partner in crime was John Booth. Older residents who want to put a face to a name would be helped by knowing John’s father was well known stock buyer Randell Booth and his mother was Sister Booth, for many years the matron at Glenwood Hospital. John had joined the navy and seen the world after leaving school, but back in the early sixties, when this tale unfolded, he was managing the Masterton Metal Company at Waingawa.

The reason for wanting to dress up like law enforcement officers was because all sports clubs in those days operated illegal bars for their members to thwart six o’clock closing. We saw an opportunity to cause all sorts of havoc by bursting into the venue wearing police uniforms while the cabaret was in full swing and interrogating the hapless revelers. There would be members of the Wairarapa squash clubs in attendance but we relied on the collars of the coats being turned up high and the helmets down as low as we could get them, to avoid recognition.

We drove over on the cold wet night in my Volkswagen with our two girlfriends who later showed exceptional taste by marrying us, and when we got to the club we sent them on ahead to mingle with the party goers while we chose the best time to make our assertive entrance. The club lounge was upstairs and we wanted to carefully time our arrival to give full effect to the pandemonium we were hoping to create.

Finally we braced ourselves, ran up the stairs and burst through the doors, notebooks in hand. People recoiled instantly at the sight of us. Glasses were hastily hidden in a variety of places and many imbibers fled into the toilets which now became unisex, and were soon full to over-flowing. Some had glass shaped bulges in the most unlikely parts of their persons. John started to take down the particulars of those nearest the door while I marched up the bar, slapped my notebook on the counter and said authoritatively to the ashen faced barman: “I want names!” To be fair, and to avoid exaggeration this all happened in less than a minute or two before a Masterton club member recognised John Booth, knocked his helmet off and when mine was forcibly removed the cry went up: “It’s Long and Booth,” and after much relief-based hilarity, the party was back in full swing.

There was a prize for best fancy dress, which we won, and the evenings revelry might have ended there save for a conversation around the bar with a couple of Dicks that revealed a new opportunity. I use the word Dick in its true sense. These coincidentally were the Christian names of the two men who feature in this story.

To protect the innocent I can reveal that one Dick, was the manager of Masterton’s largest insurance company and the other was the professionally qualified superintendent of Masterton’s largest institution. These two thoughtfully considered that rather than waste the uniforms we might go in to the city centre and have some real fun. They were both competitive squash players and had not brought fancy dress over as such, but had for the occasion dressed up as a couple of larrikins. They had blackened their faces with burnt corks and wore disheveled clothing, the complete antithesis of the type of dress they wore, commensurate with the positions they held, back in Masterton.

We agreed to motor on down to Broadway where the two Dicks would create a disturbance and John and I would subsequently arrest them. A fairly simple procedure. Marion and Judy accompanied us in the Volkswagen; the two Dicks traveled in Dick Insurance’s car. It was pouring with rain but true to the era Broadway was a busy place thanks to the Saturday night picture-goers. Broadway had two theatres quite close to each other, the State and the Regent which shows you how much imagination the people who chose the names for New Zealand’s cinemas had back then.

We parked the Veedub about midway between the two theaters, Dick’s car was a few spaces down. John and I walked up the street with our hands clasped behind our backs nodding to the general public who being disgorged from the theatres and ensuring that the doors of the retail premises were locked and secure. Archetypical police behaviour back then before there was a plethora of patrol cars available to the gendarmery.

Behind us the two Dick’s started an altercation with each other which we turned around to inspect. We rushed back and attempted to break them up. Onlookers did not recognise any play acting. In fact the performance of the two Dick’s would have rivaled anything the moviegoers had seen on the screen that night. They rolled over and over on the footpath as John and I tried desperately to pries them apart. They both ended up in the gutter which was streaming with rain water. The illusion was complete. We “policemen” tried to elicit help from the onlookers who were now literally in their hundreds, lining both sides of the footpath. We got no help. Even back in those relatively law-abiding times, the larrikins were the heroes and were being egged on by the baying crowd.

Dick Insurance decided to take off and I followed in hot pursuit, while my colleague struggled without public assistance with Dick Institution. I yelled to the crowd: “Stop that man” but they parted like the Red Sea to ensure him a safe passage and actually jeered at me! One lady did try to help. She attempted to trip Dick Insurance up with the hook end of her umbrella and very nearly succeeded, but he only half fell and then regained his balance.

The last man to leave the confines of the Regent, he must have been sitting in the front row, came to my aid. He was well built but elderly, perhaps in his seventies, possibly a world war one veteran even, who said: “I’ll get him officer” and dive tackled Dick Insurance, spreading him all over the footpath. I got him, now half stunned, in a full-nelson and dragged him back to John who was struggling to get his charge into the waiting Volkswagen. By now the crowd were cheering, not the two successful policemen, but the two larrikins, who had put up such a good fight.

All this was witnessed by Marion and Judy who both surprisingly accepted proposals of marriage from us not long after. They had to stay on the footpath while we drove the arrestees around the corner and hid in the backyard of a closed service station. We waited there until the crowd had dispersed and then went back for Dick’s car and to pick up our potential fiancĂ©es. They told us that we had fled the scene at an opportune time. As we had pulled away the real police arrived in real police cars, apparently alerted by a member of the public who would have told them that two of their colleagues were in all sorts of trouble on Broadway. Reports of the arrest, and of their fellow policemen leaving the scene in a lime green Volkswagen, must have seemed surreal.

Marion just happened to work at Dick Institution’s institution. He didn’t want to hear a word of this back at work on Monday, he cautioned her, given that discipline was an essential ingredient in the smooth running of the organisation.

As far as I know, she never told one other nurse.

(First published May 3rd 2000)

“Son, when you participate in sporting events, it’s not whether you win or not, it’s how drunk you get” - Homer Simpson


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