Notes from the Sofa Raymond Briggs
Meeting a near neighbour just outside here yesterday, he immediately started grumping about Jury Service. Two weeks! he wailed. Two weeks of hanging about waiting to be called. Done one week already, sitting about day after day and was never called! Got another week to do now.
Never mind, I said. It’s a great privilege to be asked to do it, to Serve your Queen and Country and above all, the Cause of Justice. It’s an Honour! Gad! You should be pleased and proud to do it!
You don’t get paid for it, he said. Two weeks with NO MONEY! I’ve got four teenage kids to support. Just the cost of their clothes! And shoes! Never mind their FOOD! Eat like donkeys. Thank God they’re not into drinking yet. Oh, that will come soon enough, I said, consolingly, one of them is sixteen, isn’t he?
He then looked closely at me: Have you done it? he asked. No, no, I said, with smug satisfaction. Never been asked. Too old? he said, rudely. Far too old, I should think. They don’t take anyone over seventy. Seventy is the cut-off point, too dotty after that. You used to write for some old folks’ mag, didn’t you? When you were younger ... what was it called ... the Oldun? What a title for a mag! Who’s going to buy that?
Thousands do, I said. There’s thousands of us oldies still tottering about – ever increasing numbers. It’s called The Oldie, by the way, you’re obviously losing your memory. Not good for a juror.
I wonder why you’ve never been called? he said. You’ve not got something wrong with you, have you? Apart from being arty and eccentric, of course.
No, nothing wrong with ME, it’s just that I have a Criminal Record.
What! he cried, recoiling in horror, hands raised as if to ward off crime. Admittedly he is a Chartered Something or Other, and possibly felt that if it became known that he was living almost next door to a convicted criminal, his Chartered Integrity might have been compromised. What on earth did you do?
Forgot to pay the Rates, I said, casually. Just got married, 1963, gave up both of our thirty-bob-a-week bedsits in Wimbledon and tried to buy a brandnew, three-bed semi for the colossal sum of £3,500. I remember walking along to see the house with the agent and he asked, What is the status, sir? I had no idea what he was talking about, but eventually told him: £980 per annum. even in 1963, this was an embarrassingly low figure.
The whole business of moving, buying a house forty miles out of London, with all my self-employed work to be done for London, with no phone, took weeks to get one in those days, my wife, Jean, in and out of mental hospital with schizophrenia ... in the midst of all this chaos along came something called a Rates Bill. Never seen one before. I was still only a kiddy of 29. It had probably got lost in one of the heaps.
Next came a Summons to appear in Lewes Crown Court, on a certain date and time, unless I paid it immediately.
I was petrified. My Mum would have died of shame. I dashed outside, clutching cheque book, no cards in those days, leaped into my BRAND-NEW mini-van (£395) and zoomed off to the Council Offices. Phew!
I was told later that if you are ever Summoned to appear in a Crown Court from then on you have a Criminal Record.
I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it has certainly worked for me.
They’ll never get me now. Over my dead body.