John Walsh on Monday: The sheriff of Dulwich Village County

"IN A police interview," said the prosecuting counsel at a recent murder trial in Warwick, "(the defendant) said he felt as if he were in a movie like the Terminator, some sort of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the streets of Leamington Spa. The video shows scenes in which the character of the Terminator drives a truck at other vehicles which get in his way. (The man) told police he felt he had been `locked into the Terminator mode'."

I wonder if this could explain the behaviour of Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. The man responsible for implementing his party's manifesto commitment about "being tough" on crime, the man nominally in charge of all law- enforcement personnel in the country, Mr Straw sometimes sounds like a chap stuck in a dream of tough-guy adventure who cannot awake from it.

Every few months he is reported as having had a pop at some villain. Either he is mugged, upon which he informs the mugger "You're making a big mistake", like Harrison Ford in Witness, and runs after him until the miscreant trips over a convenient tree-root and is apprehended; or Straw is burgled, whereupon he murmurs "A man's gotta know his limitations", like Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, and pursues the fleeing intruder until he is trapped in some impassable handball alley, gives himself up and Mr Straw carves another citizen's arrest on his truncheon.

It seems to have happened all through Mr Straw's career; the other day he was at it again, "intervening" when he saw a teenager spitting at people. ("He gave me quite a lot of lip, but after a while he calmed down" said Straw modestly, unaccountably failing to add, "It's all in a day's work for Home Office Man ...").

I'm not saying the Home Secretary invents these exciting excursions; but they seem to happen to him so much he must have started believing he's living in some tough-guy movie. We can all, I think, imagine Mr Straw standing before the mirror in his bathroom, levelling a can of Gillette eezy-foam at his reflection and saying "You talkin' to me? Who are you calling Four Eyes?"

And now this doughty crusader, this silver-haired vigilante, is suggesting we should all have a go at crime in the streets. We should, he thinks, create more "capable guardians" in society, by which he means capable of standing up to criminals and getting away with it.

By spooky coincidence, the same day the Home Secretary's initiative made the papers, I got a letter from a friendly neighbourhood WPC called Zoe, asking if I'd like to join a neighbourhood watch scheme. Why yes, Zoe, that seems a lovely idea. And, fired by Mr Straw's example, I set off around the neighbourhood.

Outside the dry cleaners a young thug hawked vigorously and spat on the pavement. I remonstrated, demanded he clean it off the ground and put it back in his mouth, which he did, apologising for his uncouth behaviour. Past the Crown and Greyhound a man was playing the three-card trick to gullible passers-by. I intervened, explained the error of his ways, confiscated his cards, took his money and his upturned cardboard box and sent him packing. He apologies humbly for any inconvenience. By the Pizza Express I subdued a violent rapist by shouting "Hold the pepperoni!" and other distracting cries before sending him off with a resounding kick in the pants. Outside the post office I bumped into three robbers with balaclavas and Uzi automatic weapons. "Look," I told them, "This simply will not do. It's just not on, d'you hear?" They removed their headgear. "He's right, you know," they told each other, and handed in their guns to the lollipop man at the pedestrian crossing.

Outside the local school I chased away the swarthy youths with terrible skin who were offering syringes to the scholars. As they ran off they shouted "I am frankly ashamed of my anti-social modus vivendi". I foiled a ram-raid on Dog Kennel Hill by saying "I am the Home Secretary and this is an intervention" quite loudly, before commandeering a truck and giving chase as far as Nunhead.

It felt great. Thanks, Home Sec. Life becomes so much more interesting when you're locked into Jack Straw mode.

uBlimey, kids say the damnedest things dept: The son of a friend found his father watching a programme about the Beirut hostages. Seeing footage of Terry Waite, newly released from captivity, he said "Who's that man, Daddy?" A very brave man, his father explained, he worked for the Archbishop of Canterbury as a sort of missionary. And when some British folk were kidnapped in the Middle East by these awful people called the, er, Druze militia, Terry Waite went out to Beirut, this big city in the Lebanon, to get them out of jail. But instead, he was himself captured and imprisoned - and for four years, can you imagine this, he was chained to a radiator. "Golly," said the six-year-old. "Was it on?"

The saga of Oxford University Press and its decommissioned poets continues to roll along nicely. The universally vilified publishing house is still in discussions with the Oxford English faculty about how it might make poetry profitable, a discussion that could take decades - but along the way it has thrown up an interesting sidelight.

Writing in the TLS two weeks ago, Sir Keith Thomas, chairman of the finance committee that rubber-stamped the Press's decision to bin the poets, denied standards were falling at the publishing house. Standards were, au contraire, "exceptionally high ... enforced by a legendary copy-editor who can read 40 different languages".

Who is this polyglot? His name came up a week later, when Henry Hardy of Wolfson College replied in the TLS, pouring scorn on Sir Keith and on the OUP. "Leofranc Holford-Strevens," he wrote aloofly, "edits the books in his care with genius ... but his writ does not run more widely".

Leofranc! A quarter-century has gone by since I last heard that unfeasibly peculiar name. He was a legend even then, the archetype of the eccentric Oxford don, without actually being one. Now 52, he has worked for the publishers since 1971. Awestruck undergraduates pointed him out in the street - not difficult, since he walked like a man in the grip of St Vitus's Dance, gesticulated like Joe Cocker at the climax of "A Little Help From my Friends", pulled faces like someone with toothache and wore jumpers with enormous holes, the result of their owner's nervous habit of plucking woollen strands with fidgety fingers. He was, allegedly, denied entry to the academic Valhalla of All Souls College because his table manners were too medieval. As the most junior member of the Senior Common Room at Christ Church, his flood of erudition from the corner of the room so amused W. H. Auden that he shushed his fellow dons' attempts to make conversation, in order that he could eavesdrop in peace.

My favourite Leofranc story concerns the 1967 Classics Mods exam paper, on which a passage of Homeric Greek was accompanied by the word: "Translate." It didn't say, "Translate into English", so Holford-Strevens translated it into something else. It seemed to be some form of German but the German faculty couldn't make head nor tale of it. Refusing to admit defeat, they sent it to the Saxon Philology department, but they were none the wiser. The university then tried, successively, the Bavarian Dialect Society, the Black Forest Patois Association, the Hohenzollern Advanced Linguistics Symposium, but they all shook their heads and said "Sorry". Finally they sent it to every university in Germany - and finally got a reply.

"We think it's a specialised form of peasant argot spoken by Frieslander farmers in the 19th century," said the letter. "There are only two people in the world who speak it now. One's an elderly shepherd who's in a nursing home in Leipzig. And the other is a bloke called Leofranc who lives in Oxford."

"It's a good story," he conceded when we spoke last week, "but it's very exaggerated. What actually happened was an exam question asked for comparisons between Homeric and other forms of epic, so I wrote about The Singer of Tales from the Bosnian epic tradition, and happened to quote a chunk of Serbo-Croat. The rest is just humorous elaboration by people at the Oxford Union."

How did he come to speak 40 languages? "My father started me on French, Spanish and German in my early childhood, and always regretted not having studied Latin and Greek, so I did those too. I began the Slavonic languages when the Sputnik went up and a boy in my class decided to learn Russian. The same thing happened with Arabic. As for Chinese and Sanskrit ..." What a guy. Or should I say, quel homme? Or quello uomo? (Unfortunately, that's all I can say).

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    SAP Data Migration Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice