My First Day in England; Stonehenge, Mad Cow Disease and a Robbery

Running no more than two cars off the road, I pull out of the car rental agency at Heathrow and head out to find Avebury and Stonehenge (more on those later). Thirteen hours on a plane, several more driving and walking around England. I ended up staying the night at an Inn in Marlborough (Wiltshire). Where I had a good meal of roasted beef and potato – and now I can’t donate blood. I didn’t know about mad cow disease then. But if you ate beef in England from end of the 80’s to sometime in the 90’s they won’t take your blood.

I know Britain isn’t noted for its cuisine, but the only bad meal I had while I was there was from some English hamburger chain that used wall paper paste mixed with shredded cardboard in place of meat. Other than that I had no problem with the food. But then I also believe Chef Boy Ardee makes the best ravioli in the world.

A high shot of Marlborough, courtesy of Wikipedia

After poking around Avebury and Stonehenge I went looking for a place to spend the night. Yup, no reservations. What the hell, I was traveling. I found the town of Marlborough. Marlborough has an exceptionally wide main street bracketed by exactly the style of old buildings you think of when you picture a Middle Ages market town. The Inn is housed in an old building that leaned in several directions at once, the pub comfortable and friendly to non-locals (which isn’t always the case in England), the food good. My room and thus my bed had about a six degree tilt off the horizontal, half the window is blocked by a column added long after the original construction, and there were pubic hairs on the soap in the communal bathtub. What the hell, I was traveling.

I’m asleep for a few hours when the sound of  glass and metal crashing to the ground and general commotion outside wake me up. I’m on the second floor and I look out the window to see three guys robbing the Radio Shack like electronics store across the street. One guy is the lookout while the other two are running in and out of the store, ducking through the ruined door and leaping through the smashed window, loading up their cars with answering machines, phones, radios and whatever else they could grab.

The alarm to the store has been going off since they rammed one of the cars through the front and they’ve been mad shoppers for a good while now. Numerous trips into the store; copy machines, fax machines, lamps, fluffy talking stuffed animals – everything available at your early 90’s retail electronics establishment is getting tossed into the front seat, back seat, hatchback of these two cars. I’m thinking two things; first, what are you guys doing hanging around cause the cops should have been here already and second,  should I try to get a picture of them. Maybe the flash will scare them off. Next day’s headline, “Brave Yank Foils Dastardly Villains With Minolta”.

I have a plan and a mission when I hear someone downstairs talking to the lookout. Actually he wasn’t talking to him, he was yelling at him, telling him the cops were coming, trying to scare them off, but Brits don’t actually yell like normal people. To me it sounded like a chat. Twenty six hours on a plane, driving on the left hand side of the road (most of the time), learning that parking lots are called car parks and public restrooms are called toilets (not to be confused with To Let which means something is for rent), several hours walking around ancient stone ruins, sheep everywhere, taking a bath with someone else’s pubic hairs, three pints of the local brew, and getting woke up at two in the morning by bad guys – my reasoning powers weren’t at their zenith, but my paranoia was – I thought the people in my building were in on it. So, instead of  foiling a robbery and taking a picture of the bandits to boot – I  slide down and hid beneath the window sill. “Cowardly Yank Hides In The Shadows While Dastardly Villains Rob Our Blind War Hero’s Store Blind.”

Fifty two hours on a plane. I’m dreaming. I think I’m dreaming. I hope I’m dreaming. I’ve just about convinced myself I’m dreaming when the guy watching out for the cops starts shouting. Now I’m seriously looking for, and something substantial to hide behind, because I’m from California and when the cops show up and people are ramming cars into store fronts and smashing open doors and windows and robbing and jumping into getaway cars, someone is  going to start shooting and when one someone starts shooting everyone starts shooting. But this is England. The cops don’t carry guns and the bad guys don’t carry guns. So, no shooting. No wonder these guys were taking their time.

The cops finally show up. Two of them. In a patrol car about the size of a freckle. No siren (how polite, no need to wake everybody), just flashing blue lights. The cops jump out and command the bad guys to halt. They don’t. They hop in their cars and drive around in circles a couple of times trying not to hit the cops who are trying to block their getaway with their, with their, what? They have nothing. It’s like a bull fight where the bull just wants to go home, but the matador keeps waving that stupid cape in his face. The bad guy stops the car, one of the cops, I’m guessing the rookie, jumps onto the hood…

You know, when they do this in the movies they are actually highly trained professionals who spend hours planning and rehearsing, and they are tied to the car with poly-fiber carbon high tensile strength steel cables with buckles and loops and knots and duct tape and velcro and everyone knows the plan and exactly what’s going to happen every second from start to finish and the paramedics are right over there…

Well, this cop was not a highly trained stunt professional, he did not have a plan, he was not tied down and he did not fair well. The bad guy floored it, cranked the wheel hard, slammed on the brakes and the cop went tumbling out of sight.

The bad guys speed out of town. The cop limps back into view and painfully swings into the passenger seat of his motorized freckle and they take off after the bad guys. I hear the door shut downstairs and I slip quietly back into bed – having heard nothing, having seen nothing, knowing nothing. At breakfast in the morning I find out all about this robbery that happened during the night across the street and how they tried to scare the bad guys away and how the cops showed up and chased the bad guys out of town and how this was about the third time that store had been robbed. I told them I was sorry I missed all the excitement, but I’d spent a hundred and four hours on a plane and was bushed. I let them know how much I enjoyed the beef dinner the previous night, said goodbye and went off to find Old Sarum.

A couple of days later I read all about it in one of the newspapers (not one of the naked women newspapers – honest). The robbers had cased the town and knew the police patrol schedules. At that time of night there was only one car on patrol and it was as far away from downtown as it gets on it’s route. They slashed the tires of all the other police cars, conveniently parked at the rear of the police station, and hit the store. Since they only had one patrol car to worry about and it would be awhile and they weren’t going to get shot, they took their time and pretty much cleaned out the store. They had stolen the cars in London earlier in the day, a Porsche and a Datsun I think (did they still have Datsun’s in the 90’s), fast nimble automobiles, much faster and nimbler than a freckle. The police eventually gave up the pursuit because of high speeds and reckless driving. They found the stolen cars abandoned the next day. The only consolation for the cops and the store owner I could think of is that the way the loot was tossed willy-nilly into the cars, when they went flying down those narrow, winding roads and through the numerous roundabouts and small towns with sharp corners, with the fax machines and answering machines and computer monitors bouncing around: they must have felt like they were in a cement mixer.

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