STOP! Memories of a Lollipop Man.

As I have written before in this here blog, when I used to work in an office, a real office that is not the small ‘office’ bedroom at the back of the house, my route walking to work took me through Chesham Cemetery. At either end of the cemetery there is a busy road but once you are in the cemetery there is a certain level of peace and quiet as you might expect from such a place. Working from home permanently now I don’t have much excuse to walk through the cemetery which is a great pity. I started out taking a morning stroll through the cemetery and back home again before starting my day’s work but when you don’t have to get out of the house, after a while you tend not to. Oh, come on Tone, you really must do better, get up, get out, take a walk…

Some mornings on my way to work I used to encounter a woman walking her two children to school, we were all walking in the same direction. The children were around 5 or 6 years old I suppose, a boy and a girl, and this woman was forever shouting at them. The kids weren’t wilfully misbehaving, they were just being kids, running around, racing ahead, lagging behind, but the woman shouted at them almost constantly.
Do this, do that, don’t do that, pick yourself up, stop whinging, come along, hurry up… and so on.

One particular June morning in 2019 I saw, and heard, them in the distance as I took my path through the cemetery, I was maybe some twenty paces behind them by the time they got to the cemetery gate and exited onto the pavement, turning right and heading for the Crossing Patrol Officer, the Lollipop Man if you will, so that they could cross Bellingdon Road and then go up Deansway to Elmtree School.

Being (somewhat) more grown-up I elected to cross the road opposite the cemetery gates and walked along the other side of the road. The young boy had run-off along the pavement and the woman was bellowing at him to “Come back” and “Don’t run off”.

When they got to the Crossing Patrol Officer, he greeted them, and some others who had approached from the other direction, with his usual cheerfulness, addressing adults and children alike. He too had witnessed the woman shouting at the boy and stooping towards the child asked, “Are you going to stop running off for you mother, are you?”

I was thinking that if she were my mother I’d be running away as fast as my little legs could carry me…

The Crossing Patrol Officer’s name was Tony, I say ‘was’ as I learned the other day that he had died recently. He was a jolly soul and he always chatted to the children and their parents as they cross the road. He always had time to say hello when I passed him, and we’d exchange pleasantries and remark upon the weather or some such.

The last time I saw Tony was in 2019 and he’d just got over a bout of pneumonia or something, but he didn’t want to give up the crossing patrol, he liked doing that and by all accounts many a child liked the morning encounters with the cheerful man with the lollipop.

One day back in 2017 I’d done the same thing, walked through the cemetery and crossed the road opposite the cemetery gates, in spite of the fact that, as Tony once told me, the Crossing Patrol wasn’t just for children. “I can cross you if you want,” he said, then looked me up and down, “well, you know, I wouldn’t want to cross you, if you know what I mean.” We both laughed but the point he was making was that yes, School Crossing Patrols aren’t just for children, adult can avail themselves of the service too.

Anyway, I’d crossed the road and as I approached Tony at his position for the crossing, I could see a young woman on the other side of the road with two children in tow; they stopped at the kerb and resplendent in bright yellow and reflective strips, Tony stepped out into the road holding his “lollipop” up to stop the traffic. A car passed me and stopped, another car approaching from the other direction however tried to swerve around Tony; I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Tony, quite rightly, was having none of it, he lunged forward with his trusty lollipop causing the car to veer slightly towards the kerb and stop.

I was closer now and I could see that the offending vehicle was being driven by an Asian woman and another woman was sitting in the passenger seat and there were two or three children in the rear of the car. Now before anyone climbs onto their soapbox, the fact that I mention that this woman was Asian isn’t racist, it’s merely an observation. A small and rather one-sided remonstration ensued, Tony was telling the driver, amongst other things, that she could be “Done for that”. The driver didn’t wind down her window or even responded to Tony’s quite justified tirade. Maybe she couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English, she just sat there looking quite perplexed by the whole thing.

The young woman who was waiting at the kerb had been joined by a few more parents and children and they crossed at Tony’s bidding. Tony then invited the driver of the vehicle to “Go on, get out of it!” As the car drove past, I could see a look of righteous indignation on her face, she probably saw herself as the victim.

Then I imagined Tony being accused of being racist and acting in a threating manner causing the driver of a car to take evasive action. The next day as I passed Tony’s crossing position that incident was the topic of our conversation. As far as I was aware, no action was taken against Tony and it’s a pity that no one had the presence of mind to record the errant car’s registration number.

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