TERRY PRONE: Sight of a Garda uniform gets me all hot and bothered every time

Something about a Garda uniform causes Terry Prone to have panic attacks, believing she has done something vile beyond belief and that they’ve caught her at it. 

Minding my own business, I was. Driving along happily in the late afternoon, heading home from a meeting, talking hands-free on the phone to a friend, when I noticed, on the left, a vast articulated lorry pulled in with a squad car behind it, blue lights busily flashing.

As I passed, I cast a casual glance at the two vehicles, wondering what the artic driver had done. At that precise moment, a garda leaped between them, pointed a forceful and accusatory finger at me and yelled “Pull in!” My heart stopped.

“Do you know, I’d pull in if I were you,” said the person at the other end of my phone call. “I presume that was a cop?” At the other end of a mobile phone call from inside a car with all the windows rolled up, he had heard the message, loud and clear. I bad him a swift farewell and pulled in.

As God is my witness (to quote Brian Cowen), I have to confess that for one mad moment I thought of making a run for it, as did a university lecturer who was in court just before the weekend. This academic, who shall be nameless, clipped the mirror of a car and then took off like a bullet, chased by the mirror-clipped car, at the wheel of which, unfortunately for the clipper, was an off-duty garda who wasn’t having any of this escape lark.

It did help that the car she was driving was a Merc, because a Merc can rustle up a good bit of speed when you put the foot down, which she did, flashing her lights at the same time. It nonetheless took her 30km to catch the academic and force him to pull in, although she eventually did it. His defence was that he thought he was being pursued by a road rager. Wouldn’t have thought that was a daily happening, but some people have a high anxiety level. I blame media.

In my case, flight was but a fleeting option and when I was safely parked, I rolled down the driver’s window and waited, shivering in the bright sunshine, the possible penalties for whatever I was about to be found guilty of flowing in front of my mind’s eye, starting with execution or deportation and moving down to life imprisonment pre-empted by public burning of my drivers licence.

The guard responsible for my terror came loping up to the car.

“Sorry for shouting at you, Miss,” he said, “but your tax disc is out of date.”

The “Miss” floored me. I was pathetically grateful to be Miss. It made me seen grown up and young at the same time, and I’m neither. I was, however, more concerned about the tax disc. I knew I could not be guilty of not having the car taxed, because Stephanie devotes half her life to taxing and insuring me. When I told the Guard this, he looked sceptical but said he’d check, took my driver’s licence and retreated to the curb, where he talked into his radio, waited, eyes on the passing traffic, no doubt waiting to spot another bad ‘un like me, received information, and finally came back to me. Yep, my car was taxed as I had claimed. But my tax disc was still out of date. So I needed to find it, fast, at home, or get a new one, OK?

“D’you mind if I ask you a question?” I ventured, getting a nod accompanied by the instant glaze-over of the eyes indicative of an expectation that I would ask if he didn’t have bigger and better perps to chase than me.

“How did you spot it? I wasn’t travelling fast, but I WAS travelling, and you were taking details from that trucker...?”

He laughed.

“Tax discs are a different colour every year. And I’ve been in Traffic a long time.”

We parted the best of friends. Which didn’t prevent me pulling in as soon as it was safe — not on the hard shoulder, which is arguably a more dangerous place to stop than right in the middle of the motorway — to calm down and stop shaking. How pathetic is that?

It always happens, though. Something about a Garda uniform causes me to have panic attacks complicated by the belief that I have done something vile beyond belief and that they’ve caught me at it. No other uniform has this affect on me. I’m good with pilots, with firefighters, and show me an Army or Navy uniform and I get a warm glow all over, particularly since the Navy guys have been such heroes in the Med.

But a Garda uniform is a different set of threads altogether. I was even nervous when I went, that very afternoon, to the local copshop to get paperwork signed to get a €6 replacement disc. The guy behind that ridiculous cuckoo clock window they have was perfectly pleasant, but the last time I was there, I inadvertently parked in one of the spaces reserved for Garda cars and they ticked me off like I had walked in with a Uzi and shot a figure of eight pattern in their wooden floor, so I was fearful one of the officers from that incident might appear and remember me. I escaped without being identified, however.

This terror of police officers isn’t confined to when I am at home. A few years ago, driving in Florida, I saw the dreaded red and white lights flashing behind me and in a frenzy of compliance, pulled in immediately. In the rear view mirror I could see the cop approaching with a wariness I didn’t think I justified. And then he drew his gun. Ah, here.

I rolled down the window manually, because this was a Chevy Monte Carlo about 25 years old, if not older, with completely blacked-out windows, and nothing in the car was electronic or electric. The sheriff looking in at me seemed simultaneously astonished, disappointed and outraged. He demanded to know why I was where I was, which was the median. I tremblingly told him I thought his flashing lights indicated he wanted me to pull in. Where was I from? Ireland.

He exhaled, holstered his gun and leaned both arms on the roof for at least a minute before telling me I should have pulled in to the side of the road. I apologised. Then he wanted to know why the windows were blacked out. I said I didn’t know, the car belonged to a friend. He shook his head for a long time, said blacked-out windows were illegal, and let me off. It was only afterwards I learned that black windows are the mark of a pimp, which would have explained his astonishment at finding the car driven by little white-haired me. I have a lot going for me, but I’m demonstrably lacking in pimp potential.

I may have to get treatment for this all-pervasive phobia, which is not confined to officers on the beat.

The Garda Commissioner looks grand in civvies, but once she’s in full uniform, to me she looks one smile away from a briskly applied truncheon.


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