THERE I was the other night, laying in bed, minding my own business, when I heard a cry from next door.
“Help!” a voice shouted, followed by banging and what sounded like kicking.
For a second I was faced with a dilemma. How should I respond? I couldn't ignore a pleas for help on the grounds that I might get hurt?
I mean, perhaps burglars had invaded the abode of my neighbours? Were John and Alison being attacked? Should I call the police and throw a brick through their front window as a distraction and warning that help was at hand?
The shout was repeated and, as I threw back the bedclothes, the situation became clearer.
“I'm locked in. The door won't open.”
At least no violence was involved. And others had arrived to solve the problem. I remained in bed. And thought about the split second of a dilemma.
Whether or not to respond is a problem in this day and age. Years ago, if youngsters swore in the street when women were about, an adult might say: “Mind your language,” and they would. These days you would likely get abuse at the least.
Thirty years ago, I was walking through town one Saturday with my wife, when a woman shouted: “Stop thief. He's got my handbag” and a very large chap hurtled past me from the market hall into the Piazza. I gave chase.
Fortunately, I didn't catch him. But the shout was taken up and an even larger chap stuck out a foot and brought the bag snatcher to the ground where he was detained.
“What on earth were you thinking?” Maria said. 'He'd have killed you, if you'd caught him.”
But I didn't think. I just reacted.
Another time, I had parked outside a shop in Meltham when two groups of youths – aged 14 or 15 – were squaring up to each other one quiet Sunday. I had just had a back operation and was using a walking stick. I put myself between them, thinking they might respect my age and the fact that I was infirm, and began talking to quieten them down.
Did they really want the police coming? Did they really want to risk being arrested?
The posturing stopped and I think they were glad of the excuse to ease apart and go their ways. Maria, waiting in the car, again said: “What on earth were you doing?”
What would you do today if violence flared, someone was robbed, or vandals began trashing property? Today people think twice about getting involved. You read about good citizens being attacked by gangs of knife-wielding youths and ending up dead or in hospital.
Or am I making a comparison between now and then through rose tinted glasses? Did violence lurk 50 years ago, just as it does now?
The day after the cry for help in the night, my neighbour came round to explain. Jason, one of their sons, had become locked in the front room. The door handle had become worn and the door wouldn't open. They had to cut a chunk out with a hammer and chisel to free him.
“I hope you weren't disturbed,” they said.
“Not at all.”
“The door was old.”
“Ours are older. I might get locked in and then I'll be shouting for help.”
If I do, I can be sure Alison and John will respond and chisel me out. Just as long as they don't throw a brick through the window first.