Sally Ann Blues

I’m not religious. I don’t accept or agree with any organised religion that I’ve heard of. I don’t call myself an atheist because I don’t think I should be defined by degrees of beliefs in what other men have invented.

I resent the fact that my taxes go to support religions, and their attempts to indoctrinate youngsters but, given that I had a religious upbringing and it had an opposite effect on me, then I have a degree of resigned ‘knock yourself out’ in the schools, marriages and burials.

If you believe in something supernatural and find it beneficial to your lifestyle, then I’ve got no problem with that. Good on you. But I am irritated by concessions awarded to the religious groups when all they do is say the same as me, i.e. all the religions are nonsense, but unlike me, suggest that theirs is in some way different and true.

So it might come as a surprise to find that I support the Salvation Army regularly, at least financially. Not a lot given their costs I suppose, but it is a significant amount to me. So why should I pay money to the burgers of a religion which, even compared to other religions, is a bit on the weird side.

It’s not as off the wall as mormonism, but then very little else is. But its beliefs are rather odd. To me, though, all religions are bizarre, so the degree of nonsense they preach is of little account. It is rather like wondering who is the deadest person in a cemetery.

In the late 70s and early 80s when in the police I used to patrol dark and dingy places where vagrants and the homeless would congregate. These were sad areas where the derelicts of society ended up as there was nowhere else to fall. Chatting to one or two I found that each had a story, at that time it often revolved around the war. A number had left the army, which had defined their days for most of their lives, and then found that they had no idea how ‘normal’ people lived.

Marriages failed, often due to unreasonable expectations on both sides, or sometimes on revelations that one or the other could not cope with. There was a lot of common ground, the most startling of which was the speed of their plummet. One chap was wearing a suit, the last vestige of his old job, which would have cost me a month’s wages.

Prejudice made me think that it would be privates that would have all the problems, but there were officers, both commissioned and non. Some had led men into battle. Some couldn’t cope with the fact that they didn’t come out the other end with all of them.

These were virtually invisible. A sort of transparency came over them once they stopped having a place to live. People on their way to work would, one assumed, be just like I’d been, completely unaware of those who were sitting in shop doorways as I passed. Once your eyes are opened, you see them everywhere.

In the evening, into the wee smalls, they would gather in certain locations, but not to socialise amongst themselves. They would wait until the Sally Ann van arrived, giving out food, hot drinks and ears to problems. Although I didn’t see one, I was told nurses and doctors would on occasion turn up.

One time I saw someone in an expensive overcoat, a man with a certain manner about him, chatting to one of the SA women in the van. He turned towards me as I approached and walked off. This seemed odd, not the walking off, many did that on the sight of a police officer, but the way he carried himself.

Questions to the Sally Ann woman were blocked, so crudely that it spoke volumes of her honesty, but did nothing to slate my curiosity. So I asked others. The chap was almost certainly John Profumo who had just been awarded a CBE for charity work. I looked him up.

He landed on Normandy on D-Day and was awarded both a CBE and a Bronze Star Medal, the latter from the USA, for services during the war. He retired a brigadier during WWII and then moved into politics, becoming an MP. He was Secretary of State for War when the scandal broke that bears his name. He deserves reading about. He’d married Valerie Hobson, a famous film actress. If you haven’t seen the film Kind Hearts and Coronets I envy you the delight of seeing it for the first time. Hobson is one of the stars. She stayed with her husband throughout the scandal and its aftermath. My father knew her to an extent, he was a chauffeur to a film star, and said she always impressed him by her conduct.

He did the honourable thing; he resigned. This allowed the press to print all sort of comment about him. He was vilified, and without evidence, but that stops few papers nowadays as well as then.

His reaction to the disgrace was help out at the Sally Ann, and doing menial tasks. Hence, I assume, his visits at unearthly hours to others in difficult circumstances.

It wasn’t a case of ‘If it was good enough for an MP’, but that I’m sure that he did not believe the weird teachings of the bizarre sect, but saw it as the only help and hope for those no one else can be arsed to consider.

When on car patrol in Brighton, I had to remove a woman from her sister’s house. She had her hands around her sister’s throat. I couldn’t just leave her in the street as she obviously had a mental problem but she’d just been released from the cell block after being taken to a place of safety as a doctor and social worker said she was no risk to herself. A woman, suffering from mental trauma should not be left to wander of a night in Brighton.

We tried the vicars of both big churches, but they were unable, they said, to help. After taking her on patrol for over two hours, I saw two Sally Ann, in full uniform, walking towards the town centre. I explained the situation to them and, without asking permission, they went up to the car, talked the woman out and promised to look after her for the rest of the night at the local hall, and later get their social side to see if they could help long term.

So next time you see the cold people in their weird clothing standing around asking for money, put a couple of quid in their tin. You don’t have to take a War Cry, and even if you do, there’s no obligation to read it. Remember that these people are so odd that they take care of those no one else gives a damn about.

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