There are always police officers around when you don’t need them

2012-03-02 00:00

IF you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Well, that has been my experience since recently taking to the sprawling plantations above Boughton.

The rough idea is to exercise four large dogs as painlessly as possible, while allowing them to lay landmines in foreign fields rather than on our doorstep.

The oldest of the gang of four, a devoted border collie, is a retired police dog, fired by the drug squad because he couldn’t tell the difference between a Camel and a joint. The second replaced a goldfish on my wife’s visit to the pet shop (that’s impulse buying for you), and the third was a reward for co-sponsoring a successful wedding. We not only gained a son, but also a dog.

The fourth, a floppy, nine-month-old Belgian shepherd, is a temporary boarder (he said hopefully).

Anyway, we set out daily in a battered Toyota and park deep in the plantations away from the madding crowd, their refuse and rival dogs. It works a treat, a slow stroll on my part and a hectic dash by the dogs in pursuit of wild scents and each other, and we all return home exhausted. There are other obvious attractions, the prolific birdlife, regular sightings of the common duiker and more fleeting ones of reedbuck, bushbuck and, can you believe, caracal.

But there have also been surprises and several strange encounters, mostly with the police.

The first came with a call on my cellphone while I was resting up on a log. It was a fellow from the motor vehicle theft squad. They had stumbled on the car in the plantations and then tracked my number plate and contact details.

“Your car has been stolen,” he said firmly.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“It has. We just found it in the forest and we are here now with the vehicle. That’s what these blokes do. They steal cars and hide them in the forests until the heat is off.”

“No, no,” I said. “Everything is fine. The car’s with me. I’ll be back there soon.”

A couple of weeks later, my wife was surprised by two brown-folder-clutching policemen in the driveway. I had been gone half an hour.

“We found your stolen car,” they told her proudly.

“Can’t be,” she said. “Our car hasn’t been stolen.”

“Yes it has. We’ve just found it up there in the trees,” he said, pointing.

“Oh, no,” she said, “that’s my idiot husband. He’s taken the car into the plantations to walk the dogs.”

The strange encounter of the third kind was just last week.

I had returned to the car after my walk, and was just driving off down the track when I saw a police van charging up the hill towards me, pursued by a red-faced mountain-biker.

I generously reversed 20 metres back to my parking spot to allow them to pass and continue up the narrow road. They obviously thought I was making a run for it, and the van stopped abruptly as the fellow riding shotgun burst out the door, running to my car. Curious, I thought, but what was even curiouser was that he was clutching a large handgun, favouring the double-fisted grip popularised in television movies and police-training videos.

This is a first, I thought, as the gun was thrust in my face. Even the dogs in the backseat stopped panting.

Anyway, it all ended happily and we swopped stories. The conscientious mountain-biker had happened upon my abandoned car, immediately thought murder most foul and Lance Armstronged it to the nearest police station.

There was a certain relief on my part that the shoot-to-kill instruction from on high (“use deadly force”) had not filtered down to the Prestbury police station.

The only casualty was a SAPS-issued pen, lost by the burly copper as he leapt from the van. But, really, a hefty pat on the back for the police. That’s three times they have recovered my car before it has even been stolen.

Now, there has been a fourth walkus interruptus. The pack of dogs and I had returned to my car to find two men alongside it. From a distance, I had seen them peering up into the trees.

“Hi, you guys from the police?” I asked, trying to condense another long story.

“No, we manage these plantations for the municipality,” the one said. “And we’re really pleased to see you.”

(I was chuffed. No one has said that to me in years.)

“Last time I found a car left like this,” he added, “there was a body hanging from a nearby tree. We were looking in the trees for another body.”

“Oh,” I said. “You have no worries there. I haven’t the energy to climb a tree. Or the will,” I added, “even though the Sharks lost.”

Still, we do live in a weird country where just occasionally the goodies pose more of a threat than the baddies. And I need to display a “happily parked” sign.

But to end on a cautionary note. If you go down to the woods today, you’d better go in disguise. And, if you are plotting some secret liaison, do not, for goodness sake, use your own car. Your wife (or husband*) might be the first to know. * Delete where applicable.

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