Michael Appleton - Cambridge, student and Heather Bowlan - Cambridge, abortion counsellor

Friday, May 14, 2004

A Cambridge encounter

There has been a "slasher" roaming the streets of Cambridge in the last week. According to police, he rides up to women at night, using a knife to cut them across the face before riding off. Students at my college, Clare Hall, were sent an email earlier in the week advising us to be careful. It read, in part:
You will be aware of recent stabbing incidents in Cambridge and may know that an arrest has not yet been made. While not wishing to cause alarm and panic I believe it is prudent to think carefully about your personal safety at this time. Avoid walking or cycling alone at night - take a taxi or go with friends.
Meanwhile, the Cambridge Union was holding what it had hoped would be a "controversial" debate last night on the topic, "This house believes Islam is the single greatest threat to gay and women's rights."

LP: Lord Periwinkle of Woodville, a suspected Cambridge academic, debating enthusiast, concert-goer, and friend of High Court judges. He is a corpulous, pompous-looking man, wearing a penguin suit with an ornate fob chain and a yellow, silk pocket hankerchief. He is holding a dangerous looking umbrella.
MA: Michael Appleton

Just outside the Cambridge Union building, last night, at around 7:30, half an hour before the debate was due to start. Skies are clear.

LP: [Walking out of the Union Building] The debate's been cancelled.
MA: Oh, really?
LP: They could have let us know earlier, and spared me the hassle of a taxi ride with a less than pleasant taxi driver. There are probably only two English taxi drivers left in Cambridge, who understand English ways and know to drive on the left side of the road. You know, I never used to be a racist before, but I find myself getting angry and racist. I'd really like to be able to conduct my day-to-day business in Cambridge with speakers of the English language who understand the British way of life.
MA: Uh-huh. So why was the debate cancelled?
LP: According to that little girl [pointing inside] with the big wine glass, they couldn't spare any police for security - they're all out looking for the slasher. A couple of them [the attacks] have happened in the Madingley area, where I live. I am getting a taxi home tonight, so it doesn't matter, but I have this [pointing to his umbrella, with a metal ring and stopper at the end] just in case. Though, he's supposed to be on a bicycle, and he creeps up on you really quietly, so I might not even have time to give him a whack. A couple of times it was just women alone, but there has been also one time when he went after a man who was walking with a woman.
MA: Uh-huh. So what does he do, just cut their faces?
LP: Yeah, all the people attacked have had to go to hospital. It has never been fatal, but it could easily be, if he got you in the neck or in the back. I was at a concert last night - and they were describing him as tall, wearing dark clothing, skinny, with a bandana around his head or his face - and the woman next to me said, "That describes my middle son." He sounds like a drug dealer, but the strange thing is that he doesn't do it for money or anything. So it must just be a real nutcase. But, yes, if he came up to me, and I had time to, I would definitely have a go at him [Gestuting to the umbrella].
MA: Uh-huh.
LP: Actually, there's a funny story behind this [umbrella]. I have this friend who is a high court judge [said smiling]. But this was about twenty years ago, so he was a very young high court judge. We were having dinner down in London and I had this with me, and he said "Is that a defensive weapon?" He said he had recently sat on a case which was precisely about this - whether one can use an umbrella as a defensive weapon! He told me that when the case was published in the Law Reports, he would send me a copy. So when I received this case, I made a couple of copies - one copy went straight to my lawyer, and one went in my private papers. My judge friend said that if you use an umbrella like this as a walking stick, like I do, because you are disabled, then you cannot use it as a defensive weapon. Look at this [gesturing to the umbrella]! You can open it right up and sit on it. But of course my fat arse can't fit on it! I said to my friend that if I ever had to use it against someone who was attacking me, then I would just tell the court that it wasn't a walking stick, but a defensive weapon. It defends me against the rain! And, in England, that's a little every day.
MA: Nice to meet you.
LP: Yeah, nice to meet you. Have a good night.