A Short, Sharp, Shock!
I must have been 14 years old, at a guess. It was very early morning and I was on my usual paper-round. I had noticed that the postman had left his bike, with his bag of mail still on it, outside of a block of flats, while he delivered letters inside. The street was totally deserted, so I had a peek in his mailbag. I just couldn’t resist it.
Among a lot of other stuff there was a little pack of envelopes in an elastic band that looked valuable somehow, but I didn’t know why at the time.
I bagged the pack of letters without hesitation, or a second thought for the possible consequences, and shot off on my bike to finish my paper-round.
When I got home I went to my little secret hideaway down by a brook, a few hundred yards from my house, to look at what I had.
There were a dozen or so letters, mostly bills and rubbish, except the thick blue one, it was the reason that I had chosen that particular pack of letters. I knew it had money in it by now, as I had felt the coins in the thick wrapping.
The package had “registered mail” stamped on it. It was really hard to open as it was completely wrapped in tons of Sellotape, and I didn’t have a knife.
I eventually got it open though, and inside were two wage packets full of cash, oh shit! I was stunned. I had just stolen some poor bastards wages! I had never even seen that amount of real cash before in my life, I was a bit excited and quite a bit scared.
What should I do? Give it back? I thought. No way, I’d have to spend it. On what, though? I couldn’t buy anything to keep, like clothes for example, as my parents would easily notice. They knew that I never had any money and that I was a thief, so buying stuff to keep was a big no, no. I had to waste it away then.
To that end I treated all my mates at the fairground, we went to café’s for meals, bought fireworks, sweets, cigarettes, went to the cinema etc.
I can’t remember the exact amount that was in the wage packets, I think it was around £200 in total. If you value that up to 2019 wages that would be bout £800 (about $1000) I would have thought. A hell of a lot of money for a 14-year-old to spend in a small town without being noticed.
What got me caught in the end was buying some air pistols. I bought one for myself and a mate called Freddie so that we could go shooting over the fields together. The pistols shot pretty naff .177 pellets that couldn’t hit a barn darn at 40 feet, but they looked cool and a bit like real guns, to us.
After a while, I realised my Mother would discover my gun sooner or later as she cleaned my bedroom and there were only so many places I could hide it. I didn’t like the idea of hiding it outdoors as I had grown to cherish that stupid little pistol, so I came up with a not so clever plan.
One day I walked into our living room with the gun in my hand and said;
“Look at what I have found Mum!”
She went bloody mental and grabbed it off me, knowing I was full of shit, she didn’t believe a word of it and was wondering what he hell I had got into now. I didn’t foresee that reaction from her. I also didn’t foresee her phoning up my probation officer and telling him about the gun, he was round our house within the hour.
Now this probation officer played mind games, I didn’t like him and was a bit scared of him because he used to keep asking me sexual questions all the time and really embarrassing me, nowadays he would have been arrested if I retold the stuff he used to say to me, a 14-year-old boy.
Anyway, he knew how to scare and manipulate me, I’ll cut short the sordid details, but the upshot was that I blabbed the whole story from the postman onward. Fuck knows why? If I had kept my mouth shut and stuck to my bullshit story I would probably have got through.
A few days later two Royal Mail investigators and a copper came to interview me and gave me quite a hard time (I think it was called the GPO then, General Post Office) I was under a lot of pressure to reveal every detail of what had happened especially where I had got the gun from.
A copper dragged me to the shop (in Waltham Cross) where I had bought the gun from (I was underage to buy an air pistol) and asked me to point out who sold it to me, but I said I didn’t know, luckily for the woman.
But they did find out I bought two guns from the shop and they wouldn’t let it go. So, in the end, I caved in to the pressure and had to grass my mate up who I had bought the other gun for. I had no choice really, once the ball was rolling. More shame on me, but be fair, I was 14 years old with all these people giving me shit, non-stop, I was really scared too.
The only thing I got away with was when the coppers searched my bedroom and didn’t find the last of the money (about £20) It was in the inside pocket of my school blazer, zipped up, talk about incompetent. I had said that it had all been spent.
Fast forward, and I now found myself in court for theft from Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, pretty serious stuff. To my bemusement and relief, I got two extra years probation on top of my previous probation order, and ordered to pay back the money I had stolen in installments. A very good result considering.
My now ex-mate Freddie got the same, but as he said he didn’t have any of the money, just the gun, he only had to pay a few quid fine. I had given the shit-bag loads of money! I guess that was his compensation from me for being grassed up, fair enough. So I said nothing.
Over the years I have often thought about the postman I stole from. I’ll never know if he was okay. Hopefully, he just got told off and made to carry his bag inside the flats in future. Maybe he was sacked?
Of course, I also feel terrible for the poor guy whose wages I stole. The package was registered so he would have had no trouble getting paid again from his company or from the insurance. But who knows what difficulties he and his family might have had if he had to wait weeks for it? All I can say is, I am sorry.
Now, let’s fast forward to my next court appearance for stealing the milk money, I was now 15 years old.
To my utter shock, I was sentenced to Detention Centre for three months. I most definitely was not expecting that either!
The Judge said there were no places available in the current Youth Detention Centres around the country, so the court bailed me for three months, after which I had to return to court and if there was a place available I would be taken away to serve my sentence then.
I was also warned that if I didn’t attend school I would be arrested. I guess they had a report from my school there!
So, I returned home, and then went dutifully to school every day, knowing in the back of my mind that I was going into a detention centre in three months time.
Whether you feel I deserved everything I got, or not, I still feel that was a pretty harsh “double sentence” for a child of 15. Whatever, I just carried on being a good boy until the big day arrived.
I recall the previous day telling my schoolmates that I wouldn’t see them for three months as I was going to prison the next day, and nobody believed me of course. This sort of thing was unheard of in our neck of the woods.
That evening I played every single record in my music collection as I knew I would miss my music a lot.
The next morning, before my parents and I left for court, my Father had a quiet word with me, which was a rarity, so I took notice. He said;
“When you get inside, keep your eyes and ears open. and your mouth shut, and you’ll be okay”
And he gave me a hug. Wow, another rarity, that’s why I never forgot those words.
I have to put the record straight here.
As a kid, I was extremely unlike-able (some might argue I’m no better now of course), nevertheless, as a kid, I was very tall, but also very skinny and weedy.
I dressed badly, and usually looked untidy, with unkempt hair and a bad posture. I also wore those self-confidence busting thick black National Health glasses, (now they are trendy of course!) from about the age of 8 years old. NHS Glasses in the 1970’s were very, very uncool, but only rich-kids parents could afford steel-rimmed glasses privately in those days.
I was also ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but I didn’t discover that until I was 40 years old when I was diagnosed with “Hyperkinetic disorder“, and it was too late to do much about it. Nobody knew what ADHD was in the UK in the 1970s anyway, not even doctors. I cover all this in my ADHD story.
I am not trying to find excuses for my actions in the past, but I am looking for the reasons. I know nothing can excuse my awful behaviour as a youngster (see also On The Run) and I take full responsibility for everything I did.