I was driving to the Annual Meeting of one of the local Parish Councils, when I saw a teenage boy in a wheelchair, propelling himself along the pavement on the opposite side of the road. Nothing remarkable about that. Then, as I drew level, half a dozen youths leapt from behind some bushes, assaulted him, tipped him out of his chair and started kicking him. When I stopped and got out of the car, they disappeared, leaving the young lad motionless on the pavement.
As I crossed the road to help the injured party, the yobs suddenly re-appeared. My right hand shot down to my holster – not to reach for my gun, because I drive round the country lanes of North Hampshire unarmed. But for my digital camera, to get the necessary mugshot to send the culprits behind bars, if my camera and I survived the likely imminent onslaught.
At this point, the injured boy got up off the ground and, together with his mates, mocked at my gullibility for falling for what had been a carefully rehearsed prank.
This had not been comparable to the Sting at the beginning of the film of the same name, when Hooker (Robert Redford) lifts 12,000 dollars from a passer-by with a similar Good Samaritan ploy. But it was a plausible copy, with some good amateur acting.
I had mixed emotions; relief that a disabled boy had not after all been mugged; irritation at being the butt of an adolescent practical joke; and concern that this was how young people passed the time of day. What if, instead of stopping, I had simply called the police?
I have nothing against practical jokes, but I think there has to be an element of proportionality about them. I hope my amusement at a similar age fell on the right side of the boundary.
About forty five years ago, when Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, the Oxford University Conservatives, of which I was a paid up member, invited one of his Ministers up to Oxford to speak to them, offering him dinner before hand, in a five star hotel. This was in the days of relaxed security, and before the creation of the Government Car Service. The Minister said he would come by train, and asked to be met at the station. As was usual in University politics – and has sometimes happened to the Party nationally - there were within the Conservatives two warring factions.
Group B, who had missed out on election to the key offices and were excluded from the dinner, devised an alternative strategy. They sent a telegram (older readers can explain to younger readers what a telegram was) to the controlling Group A, saying that the Minister could not come in time for dinner and would make his own way to the venue.
The Minister was then met at the station by Group B, and he was of course unable to distinguish between one set of Conservative students and another. He was regally entertained and delivered, suitably refreshed, to Group A, who were mystified as to how their guest had fallen into enemy hands.
The story has a happy ending. Both groups became represented in the House of Commons and worked well together in Mrs Thatcher’s administration; but they were cautious about returning to Oxford for speaking engagements.