It was a light bulb moment.  At least, it seemed that way over a few pints in the Fox and Duck.  Harry said he’d do the driving, him being an ex-Para and the only one of us who was still safe behind the wheel without a responsible adult telling him what to do.

  “What could go wrong?” he asks.  “It’ll be a piece of cake.”

  Yeah, right.

  “’Course, we’ll have to time it right.  Anyone got a stopwatch?”

  Stupid question.  What use would any of us have for a stopwatch?  We weren’t kids running round the school playing fields any more.  One of us never was.  I’m not saying who.

  “Let’s nick one,” says Fred.  That’s his answer to most things.  That’s why he’s spent half his life behind bars – the prison variety -, but Harry was having none of it, didn’t want to attract attention, see, so we all troops off to Decathlon and buys one.  A stopwatch!  I ask you!

  But hold on!  Why do we need a stopwatch and someone who’s still safe to drive?  I hear you ask.

  Cast your mind back to last year.  August.  Hottest day of the year.  Hottest day ever, they reckon.  Great day for a wedding.  Or not, depending on whether you like it hot or not.  And whether you like weddings, come to that.  Me, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em.  Phil had no choice, though.  His eldest was getting married and, naturally, he’d been invited – well, told he’d got to go, actually.  Daughter, sister, ex.  They’d all told him.  Only thing is, he’s doing seven years for armed robbery.  I say armed, but they was only rubber swords, just looked like the real thing, especially when he was waving his arms around like a windmill – no-one was going to look too closely.  Mr. Najjar behind the counter of his convenience store definitely wasn’t.  All he could do was empty the till and tell Phil he was disappointed.  Not half as disappointed as Phil, though, when the judge said that it was immaterial what the objects in question were actually made of, Phil hoped to give the impression that they were made from the finest Toledo steel, whatever that might be, so he had no choice but to send him down.

  Now, Harry – the one who’s going to do the driving, remember - spends most of his time when he isn’t in the pub watching action films, heists and the like, on Netflix.  He knows all the Mission Impossible films backwards, and, being an ex-Para, he still has a hankering for a bit of action himself, so he comes up with this plan to save Phil from having to go back to prison after the wedding.

  They were having it out Broadfield way in some swanky hotel, reception was going to be a barbecue, not that Phil would be allowed to go to that – HM Prisons are not that compassionate.  They’d let him go to the service at three o’ clock, but that was it – straight back to jail afterwards, no vol-a-vents, no chicken wings in spicy sauce, prison grub for him. 

  And, obviously, the prison governor wasn’t going to say to him, “Off you go, Phil, enjoy yourself, give my regards to the bride and be back here for tea.”  ‘Course he wasn’t.  He’d make sure he was in a prison van with some prison guard keeping a beady eye on him, which was why we needed a driver - for the prison van, see, once we’d got rid of the guards.

  That’s where me and Fred came in – getting rid of the guards, I mean.  Not in a nasty way, though – we’re thieves, not thugs.

  “Who’s the last person you’d expect to be a villain?” Harry asks.

  Me and Fred shrug our shoulders.  As far as we’re concerned everyone could be, given half the chance.

  “A bloke in a wheelchair,” Harry says slowly, as if he’s explaining the bleeding obvious to someone who’s not too quick on the uptake.  “And if he’s an old bloke with some doddery old carer - they walk out into the road in front of you while you’re motoring along, what you going to do?”

  “Stop,” Fred and me chorus.

  “Exactly.  Even prison guards are human.  Has anyone got a wheelchair?”

  “I have,” says Fred.  “Nicked it from a charity shop.”

  See what I mean?

  “Perfect.  I’ll book us a room at the hotel the night before the wedding and Bob’s your uncle.  Hope you don’t mind sharing.”

  “Hope you don’t mind me getting up every couple of hours to wee,” says Fred.  “But you still haven’t told us why we need a stopwatch.”

  “Because,” says Harry, still talking as if he’s explaining to a five-year-old, “we need to time the run from the hotel to the airport.”

  “Do we?” I ask.

  “’Course we do,” says Harry.

  “Why?” says Fred.

  “’Cos we don’t want to miss the plane,” says Harry.

  “What plane?” I ask.

  “The plane to Spain,” says Harry.

  “We’re going to Spain?” says Fred.

  “Only if we catch the plane,” says Harry.  “That’s why we need a stopwatch.”


  And we nearly did go to Spain.


  Me and Fred played our parts to perfection, even if I say so myself.

  This is the scene: the wedding’s over, Phil’s back in the prison van ready for them to take him back to prison, Fred’s in the wheelchair – it’s his wheelchair, after all –, I’m standing with him at the way out of the hotel car park looking as if I’m on my last legs myself, and Harry’s behind a tree pretending he’s been caught short.

  The prison van starts to move.

  “I hope Harry’s right,” Fred says.

  “About what?” I ask.

  “About prison guards being human.  I don’t want to end up splattered all over the road.”

  “Have you ever known him be wrong?”

  Fred doesn’t answer.  His knuckles turn white as he grips the wheelchair’s arms tighter.  He’s the one who could end up splattered all over the road, after all.

  The prison van squeezes between a Merc and a Honda, negotiates a tight corner, then comes towards us.

  I let it come a bit closer, then start to walk out in front of it, pushing Fred ahead of me.

  The driver sounds the horn and slams the brakes on.

  Fred falls out of the wheelchair.

  I collapse, holding my chest.

  The driver jumps out and runs up to us.

  Harry was right – prison guards are human.  He comes out from behind the tree, goes over to the prison van and gets into the driver’s seat.

  Fred grabs the driver’s wrist, I grab his handcuffs and between us we handcuff him to the wheelchair.  You should have seen the look on his face.

  The guard who’s in the back with Phil gets out to see what’s going on, sees the game’s up and lights a fag.

  Me and Fred get into the prison van - it’s a funny feeling getting into one of those things voluntarily – and it’s Spain here we come.

  Or so we thought.


  Harry’s already timed the run to the airport.  He reckons it’ll take about an hour, give or take, depending on traffic. 

  We make a good start, tootling along the motorway at fifty MPH – we’re in a prison van, remember, not noted for speed.  But then just outside Spurfleet traffic starts to slow.  Then we see a sign – LANE CLOSURE.  Traffic’s crawling now.  Then, blow me, if Harry doesn’t see flashing blues in his rear view.

  “Expect there’s been an accident,” Fred says, hopefully.

  Believe me, when you’re in a van that by rights belongs to HM Prisons with an escaped convict in the back and you’ve left the rightful owners in a hotel car park, you definitely hope that the reason you’re seeing flashing blues is that some poor devil’s had an accident.

  When we finally get to the scene, we see what’s up.  It’s a breakdown, not an accident.  A mini-bus, to be precise.  The AA man’s there with his box of tricks and – get this – sitting on the grass verge, large as life, there’s half-a-dozen clowns dressed as bears, and on the side of the mini-bus it says The Teddybears’ Picnic – Children’s Entertainers.

  It would have been entertaining if the cop car with the flashing blues hadn’t pulled-up at the side of us and out steps our old friend D.I. Deadwood.  He’s had us all bang to rights at one time or another.

  Harry winds the window down and shouts, “We thought you was dead, Deadwood.”

  Deadwood smiles that wicked smile of his and shouts back, “You shouldn’t believe everything you read in The Beano.”

  “Not The Beano,” Harry replies.  “Police Gazette.”

  “Full of lies,” says Deadwood.  “Now, if you’d like to follow us, we’ll have you back in the nick in no time.”

  He says something to the copper that’s driving, then turns his evil smile back to us and says, “If only all criminals were as thoughtful as you boys.  Providing your own transport.  Exceptional.  You’ll be the talk of Strangeways.”


  So we never did get to Spain.