Foolish Citizens All
Author(s): Prof Christian Kay
Copyright holder(s): Prof Christian Kay
I did not, of course, admire these activities. My sympathies were wholeheartedly with the handsome police officers who thwarted them. If I noticed the criminals more than the intricacies of the plot demanded it was only to pour scorn on their foolish attempts to outwit the masterminds of the constabulary.
Even more than the criminals, I scorned those members of the television public whose feeble-mindedness frustrated the maintenance of law and order. I felt that there was simply no excuse for their gullibility in the face of cunning tricksters, their subsequent inability to supply coherent evidence to the hard pressed police. I might still be sneering happily to this day but for one thing: I became a real-life addition to their ranks.
I was alone in the house one morning when two authentic looking workmen called. My mother, they said, had asked them to plaster some cracks in the front of the house.
I had no idea what negotiations my mother had entered into and questioned the men closely, fearing that they were wasting their time at the wrong house. They explained reassuringly that they had come without an appointment because they had the necessary material handy and had kindly thought of us. They pointed out cracks that certainly seemed to warrant attention and elaborated on how the damp seeped through until my bones creaked with incipient rheumatism. By the time I gave them the go-ahead I was so overwhelmed by their goodwill that I did not even protest when they demanded cash on the nail.
Half an hour later, I sallied forth to see the results. I could hardly have missed them.
Instead of merely filling the cracks with little pieces of cement, they had painted on a broad sweep of plaster, rising from the ground to a height of five feet, and covering the entire length of the building. Since the rest of it is British-Rail-smoked grey, the effect was impressive. Numbly, I paid up and began to chip plaster from some shattered rose bushes in the vicinity.
Already I was wondering whether my mother had intended such a drastic operation. Throughout the day, my doubts increased, and when she eventually returned, I was not really surprised to discover that she knew nothing about it. Sadly I realised that I had proved myself as big a sucker as any inept T.V. citizen.
The next step was to report the outrage to the local Z-cars branch. Here, I felt, was a chance to redeem myself by the clarity and precision with which I delivered my evidence.
I began with aplomb. Having just switched off the radio when the bell rang. I knew that the criminals had appeared at precisely 10.31 a.m. Moreover, communication with the gang’s spokesman had been made difficult by his total lack of teeth. I elaborated on this point, nonchalantly adding sketches of his dirty green jacket and even dirtier red hair. I half expected the policemen to exclaim, “Aha, Tom the Toothless Terror, we know him well!” But he didn't. He just sighed softly and interrogated me about the other miscreant.
Here, to my undying shame, I began to play the part of the gullible householder as if I had been rehearsing for weeks. Try as I might, I could not remember one significant thing about this man. The trite phrases rolled remorselessly from my lips: “He was just an ordinary looking man;” “I didn’t really notice his face;” “He had an .. a … well ... ordinary voice.” I was not merely a sucker, but a sucker of the most unobservant sort.
The policeman also seemed to think that my efforts were less than adequate. He tried to get me to estimate the extent of the damage – well, how many people know how long the front of their house is? – and bade me a sad goodnight. Crushed, I began to feel a deep sympathy for the innocent victims of crime whom I had previously derided.
For days thereafter, I roamed the neighbourhood trying to spot similarly affected houses to console me that I was not alone in my folly, but there were none.
If there had been, I should surely have noticed, for it was good, lasting plaster. Luckily, we’re managing to convince ourselves that the two-tone effect adds a touch of distinction to our modest dwelling. We can even raise a smile at the incident.
Nevertheless, one ineradicable scar remains, From that day to this, I haven’t had the heart to watch a single crime programme. Somehow, when one is forced to identify with the ignorant masses instead of the eagle-eyed boys from the C.I.D., it isn’t quite the same.
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Foolish Citizens All. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 6 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1527.
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