Notes from the Sofa Ray­mond Briggs

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - To buy copies of Ray­mond Briggs’s ‘Notes from the Sofa’, £24, call 01795 592893.

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.

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