The single noteworthy feature of Isabelle Brash, a small, slim, 85-year-old widow, was a pair of intelligent and kindly grey eyes. The joy of her life was the cinema; the litter that disfigured the streets of her beloved Oxford was her greatest sadness. A timid soul, she’d never had the courage to rebuke, even gently, an irresponsible dog-owner whose pet was fouling the pavement. But one late summer afternoon, as she stood at her bus stop after a matinee performance at the ABC Cinema, two teenagers walked nonchalantly past her, one of them taking a last bite from a burger before throwing the remainder of the chips, burger, wrapper, and all, on to the pavement.
She followed the youngsters through the bus station, past the toilets, and into the market square where she saw a street cleaner. It wasn’t the sort of cart that needed pushing; she probably wouldn’t have been able to manage one of those. It was a sit-on-truck. She clambered on board, with some difficulty, and laddered her thick stockings in the process.
“Oh, bother!” Afterwards, she realised that this was the only moment when she had paused to consider her actions. She was angry; her brother had died fighting for freedom, and she thought it was time there was reckoning for these idiots. Maybe it would have been better to lose the war and have some discipline, like they did behind the iron curtain. She knew this wasn’t really what she thought; she would have missed going to church, and attending the knitting circle. They were knitting blankets for Ethiopians or was it Sudanese refugees this week? She wasn’t sure. It was somewhere in Africa, again; it always was. Did they knit blankets in Russia for the refugees, she didn’t know. She just knew they weren’t allowed to go to church.
She folded her tweed skirt about her and placed her hands on the steering wheel. She missed driving, and her stockings were soon forgotten, as she found, to her delight, the key was in the ignition. She didn’t have a plan; she just wanted retribution. The vehicle started with one twist of the key; she put it into gear and was off `to boldly go’, and shouting at the top of her voice,
“I’m after you two – so get back and pick up that litter.”
The two youths, somewhat startled, stopped in the middle of Gloucester Green precinct and turned to watch the amazing sight of Isabelle Brash waving her compact umbrella, as if to goad on her trusty steed, careering towards them at the top speed of twenty-five miles an hour.
“Go on; pick up all the litter in this square.”
It was at this point that the operator exited the toilets to find his sweeper missing, and joining in the commotion, tried to persuade Isabelle, at the top of his voice, to stop the machine and get down. However, Isabelle was not to be dissuaded from her task of getting the litter picked up by the offenders. This was to be her day of justice for every citizen fed up of the litter, the lack of respect, and the indifference.
“I’ll be back!” she declared. “Well, do you feel lucky punks?” She yelled at the teens, “Well, do you? Pick up the litter, pick it up.”
Gloucester Green square was somewhat in disarray. The traders were in the middle of closing the market; jaunty blue and white striped canvasses were pulled off the frames, trestle tables emptied and folded and tired entertainers, dressed in jester costumes, were sitting outside the Old Fire station drinking coffee. At first, the traders thought this was some form of entertainment associated with the Fairtrade Market. A humorous take on the litter left by punters, fair they may have been – tidy they had not.
The reason for Margaret’s loss of driving license soon became apparent as, judgement impaired by failing eyesight; she clipped the back pole of one market stall. The youths, who had assumed she would not follow them into the market itself, were wrong. Empowered by this large machine, Isabelle was fearless, reckless, and as it turned out a wrecker. Not content with the back pole she turned the corner only to clip the front pole and the striped awning sagged ominously.
Now the operator was frantic, he flipped open his mobile phone and called the police. At first, they appeared not to take his call too seriously, and his increasing shouts convinced them that this situation was urgent.
Two young constables arrived in a Panda car, a minute later, with blue lights flashing and siren in full dee-dah mode, the car edged past the waiting taxis and parked. By now, the event had gathered an audience. The policemen took in the situation, aided by an animated group of laughing taxi drivers who thought the whole proceedings were hilarious, and regaled the policeman with the funny tale, of the old lady, the sweeper and the louts. Finally, Isabelle extracted her sweeper from the aisles of market stalls and proceeded to follow the youths towards the taxi rank.
At this point, they ran back to their taxis and moved out. This left the Police car as the sole vehicle between Isabelle and the entrance to Laser Quest.
The youths, not known for turning to the Police ran towards the constables complaining about the mad old woman who was chasing them. The Police unsure of what the teenagers’ role in the proceeding was, locked them in the back of the panda car, and turned their attention to Isabelle, who was visibly slowing down. The constable walked up to the sweeper and turned off the ignition; the sweeper jolted to a halt, and Isabelle slouched down on the floor, jammed between the seat and the steering wheel. It was at this point that the constable became concerned for her safety, accepting Isabelle’s assurances that if she could extract herself from the sweeper, she would be more than happy to do so. She felt such a fool; her knees were doubled under her chin, and she was firmly wedged. What would they do now? They waited.
The Fire Brigade was the first to arrive, lights flashing and siren whooping, and said it was a matter for the Ambulance crew. The paramedics arrived (yet more sirens and flashing lights) the crew all clean and neat in their green jump suits.
Isabelle needn’t have worried with an ambulance man on one side and an ambulance woman on the other they managed to ease Isabelle out of the sweeper.
The cleaning truck operator arrived on the scene out of breath, having been busy on his phone calling head office, the council, the insurer, his trade union representative and anyone he thought would help him defend himself from the crime of leaving the key in the ignition while taking a comfort break. He was muttering something about locking her up in a home. He went to his truck and removed the ignition key.
The ambulance crew thought that such a frail lady who had obviously had a nasty shock should go with them for a check up at the John Radcliffe Hospital. The Police were not too sure about letting her go; her frailty wasn’t exactly what concerned them. Angry market traders had arrived to file complaints about spoiled stock and emotional damage. The constables called for back up; they needed someone more senior needed to quell the situation. The paramedics gave an assurance that Isabelle would not leave the JR until the Police had dealt with her.
Neatly tucked up in her blanket the Policewoman cautioned Isabelle and asked if she had anything to say. “They are litter louts and should be charged with dropping litter.”
As she told the magistrates the next morning, she’d never done anything like that before, and she deeply regretted the incident.
“What film did you say you had been to see?” asked the Chair of the Magistrate’s bench.
“The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge,” she replied.
The Magistrate suppressed his smile, and bound her over to keep the peace. He was looking forward to seeing the street punks next, up on a litter charge. He fancied giving them a long spell of community service picking up litter, he thought that would provide Isabelle with sufficient revenge for one day.