UNLIKE too many of our representatives in the world of politics, Squinter is assiduous in declaring an interest as and when one arises. And so he must declare at the outset that the victim in the following little imbroglio is a nephew – a youth of tender years and even more callow sensibilities, unversed in the intricacies of the criminal justice system, unused to the attentions of Constable Trevor.
St Patrick’s Day and the lad emerges from his city centre place of work at 4pm full of the joys of spring and ready to launch himself enthusiastically, if a little belatedly, into the celebration of our Patron Saint’s Day. Clad in seasonal green and yellow (Squinter saw it an hour later – it was actually quite cool), the teen made his way soberly and correctly out of the bustling, tipsy city and along the Lisburn Road. Near the junction with Eglantine Avenue he crossed the road with the intention of entering a phone box, as his mobile had run out of charge. As he punched in the numbers, a stern rap on the phone box glass made him lift his head...
There stood PC Trevor and WPC Trevor, with a look on their faces like somebody had just turned their own pepper spray on them. With impatient hand gestures they ordered the teen out of the phone box. The following is paraphrased, naturally enough, but is a generally accurate reflection of what had brought the wrath of the state down on a young boy’s head in a city en fête.
– You realise you just crossed the road while traffic was passing?
– You shouldn’t have done that.
– Well, I do it all the time, and if you’d care to look behind you there are at least four other people doing the same thing as we speak.
– Don’t worry about them, this is about you.
– Right, fair enough.
– We are going to issue you with a fixed penalty notice requiring you to pay a fine of thirty pounds.
– Is this, like, a St Patrick’s Day joke?
– No, we are being completely serious. Now, if you’d just like to give us your details...
Pictured right is the penalty notice issued to Squinter’s nephew. It’s actually a traffic ticket but they’ve just scribbled out the bit about the registration number. Inside they’ve accused the lad of ‘jaywalking’, but since there is no such offence known to the United Kingdom justice system, Squinter’s not sure whether the ticket is worth the paper it’s written on. The victim is currently seeking advice on why walking on a jay is considered illegal and will proceed accordingly.
Some other thoughts occurred to Squinter as his nephew told this sorry tale over cabbage and bacon at the family party to which he had been making his way before the Trevors intervened. All over the city – North, South, East and West – young people were drinking openly and loudly in the streets. In the city centre thousands were assembled at Custom House Square. The Holyland was locked down. Surely there were more pressing matters that two officers of the law on duty in South Belfast could have applied themselves to – threatening though the problem of ‘jaywalking’ undoubtedly is to the fabric of Ulster society.
And if the youth’s affront to the majesty of the law was indeed incapable of being ignored on this busiest of days, might it not have been better dealt with by way of a lecture and a cheery smile instead of wiping out the bulk of the wages he’d just earned while others partied on the streets? That way This Here Pravince might have dwelling within it a boy well-disposed towards the officers of the law instead of a disaffected youth convinced that his only crime was to put on his brightest colours for St Patrick.
Further, what dread penalties are handed out to those Trevors from the nearby Lisburn Road barracks who daily parade across the same thoroughfare at all times of day in search of food from the myriad of takeaway estabishments that face those imposing gates? Do they ticket themselves for walking the jay? Perhaps they do, but Squinter suspects when they return with their food the only paperwork they have are the receipts stapled to the plastic bags.
And finally, and perhaps most crucially, this epic tale deserves a final question with an epic sweep. In all the 90-plus years of this little statelet, during which the loyal brethren have trodden the roads of This Here Pravince more times than Lisburn barracks has had hot carry-out suppers, during the 100 and more St Swally Days they’ve had every year for nearly a hundred years, how many tickets for walking the queen’s jayway have been handed out?