From Pompey Pensioner to Public Enemy

Writer and pensioner Gareth Rees recently found himself on the wrong side of the law – and wonders why.

Down at the Southsea Rose Gardens the other day, I noticed a motto written on the sundial: ‘Seize the present moment for the evening hour is nigh.’ It was warm, the sun was shining. Birdsong and the scent of flowers filled the air. Mothers and fathers wheeled infants through the blooms and silver-topped people looked on from their benches.

I sat on the grass and read about a man who loved books, music, walking under the stars and philosophising. He thought his life was too often about playing parts, seeming to be rather than actually being and thereby becoming a stranger to himself. Then the Second World War came and he found himself in hell on earth as a German soldier serving in Russia.

Are there two worlds? Beauty and renewal side by side with degradation and death?

The autumn sun was low as I walked home. I thought about the little garden in my room at home, the plants stood about my window and lining the sill. I’d bought some nurselings from a car boot sale and they’d grown tall with feathery filament leaves. After that they produced daisy-like, fragrant blooms. I never found out their names. I have a lily and a begonia with mauve shiny leaves and a continuing procession of red flowers. There’s a basil plant that’s flavoured many a meal and a cactus, which of course I’d watered less than the others.

But it was time to say thank you and goodbye to some of the fading greenery which has adorned my room during the summer because, for them, their season is now over. Thank you seven tomatoes but the work is done for that which bore you. It’s not conducive to a future, I was thinking, to cling to what is dead or dying and so I resolved to take the knife to them as soon as I got to my abode.

Unbeknown to me, however, agents of the state had discovered two of my plants and were inside my flat doing some of the work for me.

The concept of private property is well-instilled. Keys are permanently parked in my back pocket. But, isn’t it strange that, not so well-instilled, is keeping guard over the doors of the mind? Even I, in an idle moment in the tavern, have picked up The Daily Mail and found it feeding my fears and prejudices; having the sensation of collapsing while the world collapsed around me.

Just as I’m lazy about protecting my mind from the intrusions of negativity, I’ve become lazy too about locking the front door of my physical home. Whatever intruders I might have expected, the police would not be amongst them. But here they were now, three black-clad enforcers snooping around my dwelling-place. It was like a throwback to the 1960s when pot smokers were deemed to be undermining the Protestant Work Ethic and the Very Spirit of Capitalism.

The policemen had no trace of an apologetic air, just an air of arrogance. Indeed, from their point of view, it was I who was at fault for not securing the premises. Some law was quoted which, they said, empowered them to enter through an unlocked door.

And then I was told that, while I wasn’t going to be arrested, two of my plants would be. The policemen went out to their car and returned with a paper sack and into this sack went my beautiful plants that I’d nursed from seeds and watched with delight as they developed stature and graced my room with their greenery. I was however allowed to keep the plant pots.

I tried not to show my sadness as my babies were carried away to face execution without trial. They’d had a life but the promise of the wine of jocularity was to be denied. I didn’t blame these policemen for the moral rot of society, but I did wonder if they lacked ambition. Why weren’t they tracking down a cheating banker, a dealer in white sugar or a chariot-making diesel-poisoner? But I didn’t ask that, having resolved at the beginning of the episode to act passively and compliantly even though, inside, I wasn’t feeling like this at all.

Perhaps, because of my outer attitude, one of the policeman seemed to want to converse. He said he didn’t regard me as a villain, a car thief. He kept peppering his chat with swear words related to procreation and I nearly reprimanded him for spattering my place with ugly language. When he at last decided to leave, he said I’d been the nicest customer he’d dealt with in weeks. I wondered if this compliment had more to do with authority’s tendency to equate goodness with compliance rather than with actual moral merit.

Lastly, ‘for my own good’, one of the policemen said I should take care to lock my doors. I said that I didn’t think I had much of value to attract thieves. He disagreed, pointing at my guitars. He said he too played guitar and sometimes sang to his little child.