Black ties and the boys in blue

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The Independent Online
Once, some time ago, I was a member of a musical cabaret group called Instant Sunshine, whose chief distinction sartorially was that we all dressed in dinner jackets. Some people thought this made us look a bit toffee-nosed, but we claimed that in fact the DJ was a classless garb with no sociological overtones. "If you go to a party dressed like this," we used to tell critics, "nobody can tell if you're a guest or a waiter. With luck you can get a whole tray of drinks to yourself."

What we were never sure of was whether the DJ had a good or bad effect on police. We often drove home from jobs late at night in our classless garb, and if we ever attracted the attention of the police, would it help or hinder the proceedings if we were dressed like toastmasters? Alan, one of the group, used to maintain that the sight of a DJ would enrage the policeman and bring his class hatred out, and he would probably throw the books at us, being careful of course to leave no bruises. I disagreed, if only to annoy Alan.

We had an opportunity to try the theories out once. I was driving him home from Tunbridge Wells when I took an illegal right turn in Clapham and was stopped by an observant policeman. He peered in the car at the recumbent double bass, Alan and Alan's various drums, and asked me to get out.

"May I see your driving licence?" he started.

I put my hand in my pocket, pulled out a penny whistle which wasn't normally there and gave it to him. It was not an auspicious start. After a little discussion of driving in London, he asked me not to turn right there again and let me go.

"You see," I told Alan, "a DJ does help."

"I was watching you closely," he said. "It was just your disgusting oily middle-class charm that got you out of that one."

I was careful after that to drive home slowly and soberly from gigs, whether wearing a DJ or not, and was not stopped again until I was passing through Salisbury at midnight a year ago. I was driving at 20mph or less, looking for signs for a diversion round Warminster, when a police car cut in front of me and stopped. The driver got out and strolled back. I got out to meet him.

(Golden rule No 5 of police encounters: Never let them stand and talk down to you in your driver's seat.)

"In what way can I help you?" I said, though not quite so formally as that.

"We couldn't help noticing that you were driving with undue care and attention, " he said.

It suddenly occurred to me that driving very, very carefully must be one of the sure signs of drunkenness, and that the only people who go along at 20mph or less are elderly farmers, women with white hair and drunks trying to look unobtrusive. I wasn't over the limit. I had a choice of several answers.

"Could you settle an argument with a friend, officer? He says the sight of a DJ enrages you - I say it calms you down. Which is right?"

Or, "I'll go faster if you like, but there might be some police around."

Or, "Wanna see a penny whistle, chum?"

Instead, I lamely talked about coming back from a concert and looking for the Warminster diversion, and his face cleared and we got chatting, and we swapped names and addresses, because we obviously had a lot in common, and off I went, and I would have thought no more about it except that earlier this week I received a letter from the Salisbury police:-

"Dear Sir, You may remember being stopped by us last year on a charge of driving with undue care and attention, which we chose not to press, and I am glad to acknowledge that you have caused no further trouble to us. However, at this time I wish to point out to you and other members of the careful and cautious community that the vast majority of people who cause trouble through careless driving claim at all other times to be careful and cautious. Most of those who are involved in muggings also insist that they are careful and cautious, especially the victims. It is a sine qua non of many crimes to be cautious and careful, such as fraud, embezzlement and forgery of police statements.

"I must therefore ask you as a leading member of the careful and cautious portion of the community to seriously examine where you and your sort have gone wrong, and to attempt not to be so blatantly careful and cautious in future."

There was no indication as to whether this letter was meant to be private or to be mentioned in public. But if Sir Paul Condon's letter is anything to go by, I think it is my duty to let the contents be known to the public. I only wish the letter had cleared up the DJ question for once and for all.