As I write, it is very quiet outside. I’m thinking it’s because of the lockdown; and then I remember – it’s always quiet so early in the morning. Some things change a lot. Some stay the same. I hope to keep writing this Blog once a week for at least the duration of the lockdown. Sometimes, it’ll be serious stuff. But sometimes, it’ll not be serious.
Flipper was 40 years old when the pandemic began. He’d got his nickname from dolphin impressions he did at primary school; and the name had stuck. He sometimes couldn’t remember his real name. He lived alone, in a small flat, near the centre of Dundee. Employed by a firm which made luminous ankle bracelets, he was surprised when the factory had to shut during the lockdown. He’d thought: We’re essential to anyone who wants to buy a luminous ankle bracelet. I thought essential places were supposed to stay open.
Flipper led a simple life. He found it easy to follow the lockdown instructions. Every morning, he went out to a local supermarket to buy milk and any food he needed. In the early days of the pandemic, he had panicked about Kellog’s Frosties, and he now had a spare room full of boxes. But that panic had gone. There wasn’t enough room left in the spare room to panic anymore.
It was a bright Wednesday morning when Flipper was approached by the police outside a pub, near the centre of Dundee. At the time, he was standing at the closed door of the pub and scowling at it. Every few moments he’d forget why he was there and stop scowling. Then, he’d remember, and start scowling again. He wasn’t very good at scowling and looked a bit like Paddington giving his hardest stare. But he was trying, and that was important.
“Good morning, sir” said the first police officer. There were two of them. They seemed to be twins.
“Good morning” said Flipper, interrupting his scowling to look down at the two police officers. It wasn’t that Flipper was tall: he wasn’t; but the two police officers were unusually short.
“Can I ask you why you are standing here, scowling at this pub, sir? It’s a strange thing to do at 5 o’clock in the morning.”
“Oh, yes” said Flipper. “My clock is broken.” And he smiled, as if that explained everything.
“I see” said the first policeman, glancing at the second policeman who was trying unsuccessfully not to smirk. “And, why did that make you angry about this pub?”
“Oh, no, no, I meant – I got mixed up what time it was when I woke up, so I came out too early.” Flipper smiled politely at the small policemen. “I’m boycotting this pub because I saw on Facebook that the owner sacked all the workers.”
“Right”, said the first officer who glanced at his colleague who shrugged.
Turning back to Flipper, the first officer said: “But the pub is shut. So, there’s not much point boycotting it when you can’t go in anyway. Is there?”
“Oh” said Flipper. He hadn’t thought of that. He looked at the second officer who looked friendlier than the other one, although both were identical.
The second officer coughed, looked at the first officer, looked back at Flipper and said: “You could boycott it later – if it ever re-opens” he said.
“I could!” said Flipper, pleased at this solution. He knew, of course, that he did not drink and never went into the pub, but he wanted to boycott it anyway. It was the principle of it. Yes, he would boycott it later.
The first officer glared at the second officer, but the second officer shrugged, and smiled at Flipper. Flipper smiled back. It was a very civilised gathering. Yet, gatherings were not allowed during the lockdown; and it was spotted by two other police officers passing the bottom end of the long street. They’d been drafted in from Forfar and they didn’t know Dundee or their fellow officers. When they saw the three figures at the top of the street, they saw – one man in a grey jogging suit; and what looked like two very small men, perhaps impersonating police officers. Instantly, they began to walk briskly up the street towards them.
In the nearby HQ of the local police, Sergeant Barnes Wallis (no relation to the inventor of the bouncing bomb) was staring in deep frustration at a wall of wonky TV screens. Every screen showed jagged lines, but occasionally the image of an empty street flickered for a second or two, and then vanished again. The operator seated closest to Sergeant Wallis was typing frantically into his computer and speaking into a headpiece, trying to get the cameras working again. Just before they went wonky, there seemed to be figures congregating outside a pub in the centre of town.
“Och, yer kidding me” said Sergeant Wallis. “Nuthin happening fir days, and then there’s a wee somethin’ and a’ the screens are doon!”
“I think it’s nearly back on, Sergeant” said the operator.
Most of the screens flickered back into life: mainly showing empty streets and occasional lorries on the roads. And, outside of the pub they had been watching earlier, there was now a group of five people. The image was still faulty but there was the hazy outline of five people. And then, another five appeared and stood beside them.
“What, in the name of Jesus, is going on down there?” Sergeant Wallis bellowed. “Try to get a better focus, lad. And get the riot squad ready to go in. I think we’ve got our first illegal gathering.” He glared at the screen and hoped that the computers were fixed soon. It was bad enough that a new batch of walkie talkies were proving equally useless, so he couldn’t call the patrols.
When the second pair of officers arrived outside the pub at the top of the street, they nodded suspiciously at the first two officers. The two Forfar police towered over the Dundee officers. Not wanting to voice his suspicions too soon, the first Forfar officer spoke in a sly voice. “Hi there, lads. We’re new to the area. Jist through fir a few shifts, ye ken? I’m Bob and this is Gerald.”
“Tim” said Tim.
“Tim” said the other Tim.
“Oh aye” said Bob, even more suspicious than he was before. “As in ‘tiny Tim’, I suppose.”
The two Dundee officers looked blankly at each other.
“And yourself” said Bob, turning to the man in the grey jogging suit. “What’s your name?”
“Flipper” said Flipper. Then: “Oh, sorry, I mean – George.”
The two Forfar police looked at each other, then at Tim and Tim, then at Flipper/ George; and then at each other again.
“Well” said the first Tim, staring up at Bob. “We’ve got this situation under control. It was nice meeting you both. But we’d all better get on with our patrols.”
Bob shook his head, and his partner did the same. They both folded their arms across their chests, signalling that they were going nowhere. “And, what situation would that be, Tim?” said Bob sarcastically.
Bob had directed his question to the first Tim but the second Tim answered. “This gentleman” he said, gesturing towards Flipper. “He was boycotting this pub because his clock was broken. But I suggested that he would be better to wait until the pub re-opens, and then he can boycott it properly.” The second Tim ended his explanation with a smile. He was proud of his solution.
The first Tim had put his head into one hand, and he was shaking his head, and seemed to be groaning.
A family of five, who always came out early for exercise before anyone else was up, were surprised to see four police and one man talking outside a pub. They paused in their walk, to see what was happening.
In the CCTV room at police HQ, Sergeant Wallis stared for a few moments at the image on the screen of ten blurred figures. “Send in the vans” he barked suddenly. The operator jumped, and then did what he was told to. The Sergeant continued staring at the screen. It could only be a gathering, expressly forbidden by the Prime Minister and echoed by the First Minister of Scotland.
By the time the three riot vans roared into the target street, there was a larger crowd of onlookers: early morning joggers, another family of five, people from nearby flats, and a Blogger called Jojo James who was out for his morning cycle but had forgotten his bike. The original family of five were sitting against the wall of the pub, sharing a box of jaffa cakes. Most of the large crowd were spaced out as per social distancing protocol. The only exceptions were the police, and a man called Cecil Underwood, who had never respected anyone’s personal space, and had earlier narrowly avoided being whacked on the head by a small woman’s handbag when he got too close.
As riot police milled around looking determined and puzzled, a senior police officer with a megaphone was shouting: “This is an illegal gathering. Please disperse immediately.” As everyone was dispersing, including Tim and Tim, and Bob and Gerald who had belatedly found out that Tim and Tim were real police officers, Flipper walked down the road. Behind him he heard the policeman on the megaphone telling his men to return to their vans. Then, the megaphone went a bit wonky and he said something that sounded like ‘sausages’. This reminded Flipper that he should buy some sausages at the supermarket, if there was any.
Coming out of the front of the supermarket was a large woman in a white protective suit and a hood with a clear panel to look through. She was carrying a single toilet roll and muttering about rationing. Tim decided that he would try to buy a toilet roll too. The cardboard from his empty Frosties boxes was a bit uncomfortable.