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Rear View Mirror: Dandelions

A missing Sundance Kid and a fragrant gift for the wife....our taxi driver from the west, Tony Schumacher, finds it's not just weeds that turn up where they aren't meant to be

Published on September 16th 2010.


Rear View Mirror: Dandelions

I often used to wonder what made a weed a weed, and a flower a flower.

Then someone told me that a weed is any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that is found where it is not supposed to be.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of dandelions, yellow and crumpled, looking like little sploshes of paint on a grubby palette

A long time ago, in a past life, many years and many miles before I sat behind this wheel and drove you home, I sat behind a very different sort of wheel. And back then, if you were in my back seat I wasn’t taking you home, I was taking you somewhere you probably didn’t want to go.

No, I didn’t work for Arriva... I was Police Constable 1774 of Merseyside Police.

Honestly, I don’t know how it happened either, but bear with me, because this week, that life, and this one crossed.

I’ll start back then.

It was going dark in that late summer way - a quietly-creeping-up-on-you sort of way - when I was sent out to look for a little boy who had gone missing.

His mum had dialled frantically after shouting for him in the back yard and then finding the gate open when she had gone to look.

A panicky call-out to Merseyside’s finest ensued, but all they could rustle up was me, standing in a chip shop queue being berated by pensioners who were having a game of “Batter the Bobby”. I was almost glad to get out and miss my scoff.

The sun had dipped and the sky was turning pinky blue when I spotted the little fella wandering in Sherdley Park. I shouted him and we walked towards each other, like mismatched gunfighters in a dodgy western.

We met in the middle of an empty car park. Even his shadow was short.

He told me his name nervously and wobbled his bottom lip as I gently admonished him for not telling his mum where he was going. Sheriff Tony, the only law west of Rainhill.

He took my hand and we walked across to my car, I asked him where he had been. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of dandelions, yellow and crumpled, looking like little sploshes of paint on a grubby palette.

The poor things looked like they also were missing their mother.

“I went to pick flowers for my mum, cos she hasn’t got any.”

At this point it was my bottom lip that was starting to wobble.

“Come on Sundance, get in the car.”

“Can I play with the siren?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have to be very good to play with the siren.”

“I’ll be good.”

“You have to be very very good for a long time to play with the siren.”

“How long?”

“Well it took me 27 years.”

“27 years? That’s forever!”

“Trust me, it feels longer.”

When we pulled up in his street, a small welcoming committee of anxious neighbours were huddled around a teacup-clutching, tear-stained mum. They parted as I approached and, for a moment, I thought the whole street was going to burst into cheers (as a policeman, it’s not very often people are glad to see you, so when you get the chance to smile on arrival you make the most of it).

I beamed.

“Where the fucking hell have you been?”

I stopped beaming.

Sundance and I glanced nervously at each other, I don’t know who was holding whose hand tighter.

“WHAT have I told you about going out of that yard without telling me?”

Silence.

“What have I told you?”

We all waited...

“....Not to go out without telling you...”

I breathed a sigh of relief; I was worried that if he couldn’t remember we’d both end up having to write, “I am not to go out of the yard without telling you” 100 times before I could leave, and I was thinking about the kebab in my hat on the back seat of the car. It was going cold - and believe me, there are few worse things than your hat smelling of kebab, especially when it starts to rain.

His mum held out her hand and I transferred ownership of Sundance back. He knew what was coming as she pulled up on his arm and made ready to whack the back of his legs.

He dangled like a conker going up against a cricket bat. Mum poised and the neighbours nodded, like an angry posse looking for a lynching.

But little Sundance had a trick up his sleeve, or rather his tracksuit pocket: he deftly dug and, like a slightly taller Paul Daniels, he magically produced the dandelions and thrust them in his mother's direction.

“I was getting you some flowers!” he howled, waving his desperate bid for last-minute clemency above his head.

A massed chorus of “Aaah....” went up and Mum's arm hung in the air like an axeman's waiting for a priest to finish a prayer.

Little Sundance spun on tiptoe in the wind. He waved the weeds in his outstretched hand, staring pleadingly at his mother. I willed a stay of execution, as did, I believe, the posse.

If there had been a church bell it would have tolled as Mum delivered the first stinging smack.

“Don’t give me that brought-you-some-flowers-shit, you little bastard! I wasn’t born yesterday!”

SLAP!

“You told me that”

SLAP!

“Last”

SLAP!

“Time”

SLAP!

“Little shit! Now get...”

SLAP!

“...In!”

Sundance wailed and the posse shook their heads. He’d been found out and the walk of shame up the short path was a painful one, punctuated by yelps, hops and tears.

The door slammed and I stood in the dusk, like a bounty hunter who’d tracked down the guilty but felt a bit guilty himself.

I thought of little Sundance the other night. I had a slightly older Sundance in the car. Instead of dandelions he was clutching a carrier bag full of fish. Yes, fish. Judging by the hour, and the inebriation of the carrier of the carrier, I’m guessing that the fish had been bag-bound for a while.

“Jesus Christ mate! Open the window!”

“Yeah sorry lad... got some fish for me bird, like.”

“What is she? A penguin?”

“She’ll be like Emu if you don’t get me home soon.”

He hung the bag out of the window as I drove. I kept glancing in my mirror expecting to see a stampede of feral cats setting off the speed camera on Scotty Road.

“Have you been out all day?”

“Yeah... ow’d you know?”

“Well judging by the smell of the fish, I’m guessing they aren’t still wet from the sea.”

“Deese? Deeses are a present for ‘er like.”

“Is it Valentines already?”

“When you’ve bin married as long as I 'ave lad, you learn neva to go ‘ome widout a prezzie, e’specially if you’ve bin on der lash... which I ave like,” (just in case I hadn’t noticed).

I thought there was a twisted logic in what he was saying: just like the weedy dandelions, maybe the fish would soften the blow – never mind how undesirable or unwelcome its appearance might be to anyone else right now.

We pulled up at his house.

“I’ve gorra go get der money, do you want me to leeve deese fish ere?”

“Good god, no!”

He got out and wobbled up the path, tucking his pungent parcel under his arm. I didn’t know who I felt sorrier for, the fish or the armpit. He wobbled and fumbled with his key and his pocket, but before he reached the door it opened and his wife greeted him with that familiar, loving query.

“Where the fucking hell have you been?”

“Ah aye girl, I bought you some fish.”

“Gerrin, gobshite! I suppose you want me to pay the cab.”

I was there all over again, the bounty hunter, this time waiting for his pieces of silver, palm outstretched, the killer's collection plate.

“Jesus Christ lad, it stinks of fish in der!”

The hell it does.

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NortherngeezerJuly 13th 2010.

Go back 40+ years and i was that soldier, i've still got the marks on me calves to prove it. We've got a more recent family story refering to me buying Mrs Geezer a handbag when i was just a little too inebriated. Great article Tony

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