A Day And A Night
Spent a day and a night in the Malvern Police station cells years ago.
Not the first or last time I would sleep with one filthy blanket on an even filthier steel bench with a stainless steel toilet pretending to be another piece of furniture.
I was there because I didn’t have the money to pay some fines. So quite rightly I refused to pay the fines. Stupidly or not, I also still retained my youthful defiance, fuelled by an accurate or inaccurate belief that the fines were unjust.
I also had some gigs coming up. So, just in case the police came for me with a warrant or picked me up randomly and saw that my name was on the blue-coloured list of the defiant - I’d checked my diary, made sure the gigs were far off, then handed myself in. I might have missed the gigs otherwise.
I got to share a cell with a nice bloke.
Of course, initially, I wasn’t sure if he was a nice bloke, as we had to get to know each other first. We had time. Small talk from me - grunts from him.
I eventually won his trust when the copper on duty came to our cell to give this bloke, my cellmate, a cigarette. He’d been politely yelling out for hours to get a smoke but had been rudely ignored. But the new copper on the new shift finally relented, came down from the watch house, reached through the bars of the cell door and let him take two smokes from a cigarette packet. I had given up the smokes by this stage but the cop, not knowing this, turned to me and offered the open cigarette packet to me as well. I accepted and slowly drew from the packet twice as many smokes as my cellmate had taken.
Mr. Plod said nothing about my greediness, but my cellmate shot me a deadly glance and said, “Go easy!”
You see the smokes belonged to him. He must have had them on him when he’d been arrested. We weren’t allowed to keep the lighter so Mr. Plod offered a light to the owner of what would be six chain-smoked cigarettes, and then departed back to the watch house. Once Mr. Plod had gone I handed my ill-gotten smokes to my cellmate and told him I didn’t smoke anymore. He smiled. Apart from the bonus of getting extra smokes, he was sharing a cell with someone prepared to trick a policeman.
He stopped grunting and we got talking.
Like my old man, my new friend was an electrician - when he wasn’t locked up.
Amongst other things electricity related, we talked about crawling under houses and inside ceilings laying wire.
I never wanted to go to work with Dad. But he couldn’t tolerate me staying at home, “wasting your life playing that blasted guitar”, while he had to go to work.
So with no say in it all, like my two brothers before me, and the two after me, I found myself crawling under houses and in ceilings.
With hindsight I now know that it had nothing to do with wasting my time playing the “blasted guitar”.
It was all about him having had enough of years crawling through dark, spider webbed infested, filthy, cramped cavities; and anyway, why would you do it when you had a son to do it instead.
To be fair though - the old man never let us do anything dangerous until we had learned how to do it safely.
I told my cellmate how Dad nearly got killed once when the mains power blew the tip off his favourite big screwdriver. Dad had pushed the screwdriver down the back of a dodgy switchboard, attempting to lever older wires out of the way to make room for a new wire that we had installed to get electricity to a newly built granny flat at the back of the house. His screwdriver must have touched the live bare mains wire that shouldn’t have been bare. Like I said, dodgy. Nothing is out of sight, out of mind when 240 volts is involved.
I heard the bang from where I was working in the granny flat at the rear of the property, ran around to the front of the main house where Dad was standing in a haze of smoke, staring at the burnt, blackened, smouldering and now mangled tip of his favourite big screwdriver.
He’d always had a good tan, but he was quite pale for a few minutes.
After he’d regained his colour and composure and had stopped laughing crazily, like you do when you’ve just narrowly missed the last appointment you’ll ever keep, he showed me, just as any good teacher should, exactly how to feed a new wire into the back of a switchboard - especially a switchboard that you hadn’t wired up yourself and therefore couldn’t trust.
You do it like this. No other way but this, even if you ruin your favourite screwdriver in the process.
My cellmate said, “Your Dad’s a smart man”.
We also talked about real jail time in a real jail, as he had done, as opposed to this present inconvenient and temporary loss of freedom.
He thought it was a bit weak of me for handing myself into the coppers instead of getting arrested properly - but agreed that missing gigs would have been worse.
I asked him if you were allowed to have a guitar in a real jail and he said yes.
But then added that most likely someone would eventually take it off me or smash it into pieces just to put me in my place.
I said that surely if I was friendly and didn’t piss anyone off that they’d leave my guitar and me alone. But he insisted that someone would do as he’d said. They play games he said - either the screws will or the other prisoners will.
I remember briefly thinking about my main fear I’ve always had about real jail.
I hadn’t seen Shawshank Redemption the movie yet, because it was still 10 years away into the future, but I had certainly heard about the things that can happen to you. Scary things.
I then found myself thinking long and hard about which of my guitars I would have to choose and possibly sacrifice if I happened to end up somewhere worse than the Malvern Police Station cells. Which precious guitar? I couldn’t choose back then. Still couldn’t.
We were released at the same time the next day, shook hands and walked off in very different directions. I hadn’t walked far when a dark green, white roofed, 1968 HK Holden sedan pulled up beside me. My new friend was sitting in the front passenger seat. He leaned out the window and told me to jump in…. “Get in, we’ll give you a lift home”.
I hesitated momentarily - thinking I might be embarking on a proper life of crime. But he just wanted to give me a lift home and introduce me to his wife, who was driving, and their three little kids that were bouncing around on the back seat.
No talk of our next job - just a lift home. I never saw him again, but a few years later I did end up owning a red ’68 HK Holden sedan with a white roof. It was serendipitous at first until it turned out to be just another shit heap.
Originally published 9.1.16