Our offices in London are a seven-minute walk from where my wife Varinder and I live. On my way to work I usually call my mum to let her know I am still alive and that my cholesterol level looks good — I have no idea if it does. On this particular morning (last week) she was very irate.
“Cheghadar khaahar-et khar-e.” (Your sister is such an idiot.)
She went on to explain that my sister and brother-in-law had asked Rob's parents to come over for Sunday lunch. They had all arrived en-mass: mum, dad, sister, sister's boyfriend and a Spanish exchange student who was living with Rob's parents.
I should explain at this stage that Soheila and Rob have a dog (a springer spaniel) called Sam. He is 9-dog or 63-human-years old. He is also cross eyed, fat (like a barrel) and very playful and 'springy' despite suffering from arthritis in his joints. And they love him to bits.
Unfortunately for others, including my mum, Sam farts a fart which can make a song bird fall dead out of a tree 50 feet away. Soheila can ignore these the smell, but in a confined space, i.e. Sunday lunch at their house with 10 or so people in the lounge, the smell is truly unbearable.
That evening my mum had a talk with my sister to explain that a farting dog is unacceptable when guests are around. Soheila, true to form, went on the defensive:
“Peer shodeh bacham.” (My baby has grown old.)
“Khob nabaayast-i raah bereh va begoozeh.” (He shouldn't just walk and fart.)
“Shoma-ham ke peertar beshin be gooz gooz mee-oftin” (When you grow old you will start farting too).
My mum was mortally offended.
“Cheghadar khaahar-et khar-e” (Your sister's such an idiot), she went on, “man-o baa sagesh moghaayeseh meekoneh.” (She is comparing me with her dog.)
“Aslan har do taatoon kheilee khareen.” (Both of you are idiots.)
In frustration it is usual for my mum to swear at both me and my sister, even if only one of us has been guilty of something. I had to chew on the back of my tongue to stop myself laughing out loud.
On my way back home I usually call Varinder to find out if we are going to catch a movie/eat out/eat in or go to her aunt's house just a few miles from us. Let me explain first that part of my walk home takes me past the back of an adult education college. The fence is roughly six feet high. A young chap wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and basketball vest ran past me at some speed.
My attention was drawn to him because he was half crouching as he ran; his left arm dangling almost to the ground. I slowed my walking pace to take in what was happening. I was on the phone to Varinder, relaying that morning's conversation with my mum. I was slowly beginning to ignore Varinder's questions as I tried to work out why this chap's behaviour was making me anxious.
Bare in mind that there are no other witnesses to this scene. My eyes did a double take of his dangling arm when he was some 30 feet in front of me. In his hand was an automatic pistol. I stopped dead in my tracks and waited. He stopped and tried to look through the fence into the college. He then turned and looked at me.
My instant reaction was to drop my head and keep walking towards him as if I was totally absorbed in my phone call. I could hear in my ears the sudden gear change of my heart accelerating to double its normal beat. Varinder's voice was now a buzz in the background.
At this stage I was less than a hundred yards from my front door. The armed youth looked at me three times before placing his pistol in his jeans and jumping over the fence. He looked nervous if not slightly desparate as he tested the strength of the fence. I was extremely relieved when he jumped over it finally. I ran home as fast as I could whilst shouting at Varinder down the phone to open the door.
Once inside I picked up the land line and dialled my local police station in Twickenham. I made a full report and provided what I believed to be an excellent description of the gunman: scrawny, blond haired, black basketball top, blue jeans and an automatic pistol.
Varinder sat and stared incredulously while I spoke to the police on the phone. After replacing the handset she stood up and spoke to me in the same tone as if I had reported naked martians landing in the front garden.
“Where did this happen?”
“There…” I pointed out of the window to the fence he had jumped over 100 yards away.
“Are you sure it was a real gun?”
“Are you positive?” she asked again with eyes narrowed.
“It looked real, he looked deadly serious and I was scared.”
Our conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. I opened the front door to two enormous, armed officers wearing bullet proof vests.
I ushered them into the front room and asked them to sit down.
“It's rather difficult with these things on, sir” responded one of them pointing to his bulky vest.
The static from their shoulder mounted walky-talkies changed the mood dramatically. Suddenly, two 6-foot-4-inch armed policemen standing on my Nain carpet in their dirty boots made me feel very insignificant in my own house. I was no longer the master.
“Could you please tell us everything you saw again please, sir.”
“Before I do, what if it turns out to be a toy pistol?” I asked.
“Well sir, we have cordoned off the entire college with armed police and there is a police helicopter with heat seeking equipment hovering over the site. If it turns out to be a false alarm…”
I felt my mouth dry out when he mentioned the police helicopter and I turned to Varinder for support. She stood not far from me with a familiar expression on her face. An expression which said, “Get yourself out of this one, you complete plonker.”
I took a deep breath and started a very detailed and extremely well reconstructed show 'n'tell on everything I saw. To add effect I even ran down the length of our living room with my arm dangling and my hand gripping an imaginary gun. I turned to face my audience again. All of them, even the policemen, were clearly trying to suppress laughter at my finale — the imaginary jump over the fence.
The officers then asked if they could go to our upstairs bedroom to get a better view of the fence.
At this point I am going to cut a long story short. They caught the guy. He was a 17-year-old with a black water pistol. They told him off and warned him about running around with a realistic looking pistol in public places. The search helicopter and armed reaction force were stood down.
The police were actually surprisingly understanding, “You did a good thing to call us sir. Only last week a man was shot dead by police in Brixton (a few miles from Twickenham) and only later did we realise it was a cigarette lighter.”
“So I did the right thing?”
I smiled and turned to Varinder. She rolled her eyes at me.
Since last night, Varinder has been running around our house 'Starsky and Hutch' style. Occasionally she shouts, “get down — it's the gunman!” then collapses and rolls around on the floor laughing. It helps me to pretend I am still single.
Later that evening she phoned and told her dad to tell him about what had happened. Then she spoke to her 10-year-old brother whom I clearly heard exclaim “Durrrr!” on the phone.