Thursday 20 October 2011

Having a go, un-heroically

Alcoholics' Corner: site of 98.6 per cent of crime committed in Lewes (roughly)

As a child, I dreamt about getting my chance to act like a superhero. I had the strength and bravery, I was sure; all I needed was the occasion. The fantasy never completely died. Since becoming a keen runner, I’ve often thought: Wouldn’t it be great to put my fitness to heroic use? – to run down a criminal and teach him a harsh lesson about the foolishness of committing crime while in a state of mediocre cardiovascular health. Well, my chance came today.

It was meant to be a routine, easy run. I’d set out from my house and was jogging along Southover Road when I heard some commotion.
“Oi! Stop! Come back here!”
It was a male voice, urgent, almost frantic.

He’s yelling at his runaway dog, I concluded, uneasily. But the shouts grew louder. The fugitive, it soon dawned on me, was a man, not a dog. I looked back.

Not one man, but two, both middle-aged, grey, and gaining on me fast. How could this be? I was running yet being caught by old blokes in overcoats. The leading veteran runner, I realised, was being pursued by the other, but it wasn’t so much a race as a chase. “Stop him, he’s a thief,” shouted the chaser.

By now, the pursued was a mere 20 metres away. I had a decision to make. Questions and doubts shot through my mind: 1. Is the chaser telling the truth? 2. Is the chased dangerous? 3. Should I help? Damn it, am I superhero material? 

My ad hoc answers revealed a fair few prejudices, I’m ashamed to say. 1. Yes, the chaser must be telling the truth – he isn’t dropping consonants. 2. No, the chased isn’t dangerous – he’s puny, pallid and probably a smackhead. So hell yeah, 3. This is your chance to be a hero!

What happened next I can’t quite explain. I made an attempt. Or did I? I stuck out an arm with about enough purpose to intercept a wafting balloon. He palmed me off, easily, and kept going.

Across Station Street he dashed, and then, for some reason, just sort of gave up. The chasing man clinched him in a bear-hug and wrestled him to the ground. It was impressive, heroic even. 

I’ve repressed whatever might have happened next. I can only assume I was standing around, leaning on something, dazed.

My only excuse: confusion. Was the chasing man’s allegation genuine and correct? What if it had all been a mistake and the chased man was innocent? In hindsight, it was no time for moral ambivalence; after all, the chased man ran away – people wrongly accused of theft don’t run away.

The next thing I remember: two stockier, less ambivalent citizens arrived on the scene and helped pin down the alleged thief, while I stood around shivering in my running kit – clingy base layer and flimsy gilet – trying to assume an “I’m on hand to help if help is needed” expression. 

Meanwhile, the accused man moaned (though didn’t swear) about being uncomfortable, pinned down on the pavement. Another bystander, a smartly dressed woman, kept him informed, at regular intervals, that she had no sympathy, in light of his (alleged) offence – though she didn’t qualify it ‘alleged’. 

After an agonising wait of at least 10 minutes, one police car arrived, then another. The officers - two calm, seen-it-all-before women - handcuffed the accused and bundled him into the car. “He ran like an athlete,” the accuser told them. I couldn’t help but worry about the context: Like an athlete compared to the skinny, limp-wristed jogger whom he so effortlessly deflected. 

The accused had stolen a woman’s handbag from the family history bureau, alleged the accuser, and had discarded his swag in an alley before the chase caught up with him, and me.

Still, it’s one man’s word against the other’s. What if the accused man was innocently researching his mother’s uncle’s mysterious estranged son when the accusing man – who, let’s conjecture, is a paranoid fantasist – shouted at him “Oi! Thief!” The accused man simply panicked – his mind full of Victorian family feuds and barbarism – and fled in fear. Perhaps. 

Or what if the accused man is the long-lost brother of the accusing man and had stalked him to the family history bureau to steal his historical documents (stashed in wife’s handbag) in an attempt to prevent the uncovering of a dark family secret? 

Hard to believe? That depends. Some people reckon super-heroes wear Spandex…

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