One of the charitable activities carried out by village police officers was keeping a discreet eye on vulnerable people.
They included the aged and infirm and so we were constantly alert for signs of concern such as no house-lights during darkness, no smoke from chimneys, full milk bottles gathered on doorsteps, newspapers stuffed into letter boxes, no sightings in the village shop. Many people would never ask for help and so any offerings had to be made with great tact. We should never appear intrusive.
Such a man was Laurence Howarth, a widower who lived in a small house and cared for himself. He had enough money for his needs and spent a lot of time in the pub where he obtained his main meals. He enjoyed the camaraderie and was known to everyone as Larry. Despite his advanced age, he was something of a charmer who grew flowers which he generously presented to barmaids, shop assistants and any pretty woman he encountered.
Then one summer he vanished. Early one morning his neighbour, Mrs Denton, told me: "Larry's not been around since Saturday, Mr Rhea. He hasn't any family and never goes away, so I'm rather worried."
She explained she had been to his house but the doors were locked, the lights were off and there was no sign of him. Together we looked around the house but there was no mail sticking out of his letterbox, no milk on the doorstep and no smoke from his chimney. The curtains were open but the house looked unoccupied.
Before breaking in to make a thorough search, I assured her I would make inquiries. Everyone I asked gave the same answer – Larry had not been noticed on his usual rounds. Then I thought I'd ask at the pub which was directly opposite Larry's house.
"Oh yes, he's here, Mr Rhea," confirmed George, the landlord.
"Here? At this time of morning?"
"He's having his breakfast. You can have a word with him if you like. He's in the dining room."
"So what's he doing here?" was the obvious question.
"He's on his holidays, Mr Rhea."
And so it was. When I spoke to Larry, he said he'd never ever been away for a holiday and had often wondered if he would enjoy the experience.
"I like it here," he smiled. "I get my paper, all my meals with no washing up, my bed made. I'll tell you what, Mr Rhea, I wish I'd gone on holiday before."
There was a similar event at Whitby. Charlie from Hartlepool always went to Whitby on boozy day-trips with his mates. One summer he went alone by train for a full week. The pub he went to on his bus-trips was ideal and so he booked in. That same week, his pals arrived on their usual outing and joined him for a day in the pub. There was much happy quaffing of ale and at closing time the party-goers left to catch their bus back to Hartlepool. Charlie went with them.
We discovered this because the landlord thought Charlie had absconded without paying his bill. When we asked Hartlepool police to check at his home address, Charlie couldn't remember how or why he was back in Hartlepool. He'd expected to wake up in Whitby. When reality dawned, he caught the next train back to Whitby to complete his holiday.
YP MAG 22/1/11