My Own Battle of Hastings

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                      First off, the Battle of Hastings, where William The Conqueror and his Norman forces defeated the English troops in 1066, didn’t even happen in Hastings, but on Senlac Hill, six miles inland from Hastings, where the appropriately named town of Battle is today. Battle isn’t even named after “the battle,” but after Battle Abbey, constructed on the battle site to commemorate the soldiers lost. Truly a case of not going for the obvious. Reminds me of a silly dialogue on the original Bob Newhart show, where the scatter-brained neighbor Howard, (who got all the best lines) is preparing to cook and has a new chef’s hat. “Oh, and your hat has an H on it for your name,” says Emily; he replies, “Gee, I thought the H was for hat.” And H is for Hastings, so we better get back to that before I completely lose focus.

                           I have been to most of the major towns in Britain, but somehow I’d missed Hastings, until I received a Christmas Day invite to come down to stay there. A friend of a friend had just bought a place in the adjacent town of St. Leonard’s that looked out onto a beautiful view of The Channel, and the beach was only about a five-minute walk away. Great place to go in summertime, but not a horrible place to be at this time, when it has been declared the coldest UK December on record. There would be just a bunch of adults my age who like myself had managed to reach the autumn of their years without bearing any offspring, thus Christmas was a lot less of a stressful time for them. I’ve usually been around families at Christmastime, but some of the most memorable ones in my adult life were the ones where I wasn’t.  

                            The night before, I had spent Christmas Eve at my friend Ellen’s house in Plaistow, East London, with a family of four where I was essentially the eccentric uncle. There was a lot of music and a substantial amount of wine, to the point of me not really remembering going to bed, or much else until I woke up at 9:00 the next morning with a fairly substantial hangover. Still, we had a big breakfast, with lots of tea, and got the bulk of the presents opened by the time I decided it was time to head down to Hastings.

                                 The drive took under two hours, since as expected, the roads were nearly deserted. When only a few blocks away, I called the house to let them know I was close by, and probably needed to be directed the remainder of the way. Dumb mistake, as my mobile doesn’t have a hands-free, so just as I pulled in to park, there was a honk from behind, and it was indeed a police car! This wasn’t even the Hastings police, no, this was the Bexhill police, so probably nothing more crucial this day than apprehending a guy for talking on his mobile while driving!

                                I was caught, so I parked and got out, their first words being “Well I guess you know why we stopped you,” and when I responded in my funny accent, the next words were “Do you have a UK driving license (oh sorry, they spell it licence here)?” I had also made a bigger mistake of not showering before I set out, so the next question was, “Have you been drinking?” I told them I hadn’t had anything for about 14 hours, but they could still smell the alcohol on me. They had already agreed not to cite me for the mobile violation in a benevolent show of holiday spirit, but if I failed the breathalyser test, they would have no choice but to arrest me. 

                                  Just to build the drama a bit more, they didn’t have the breath test kit in their car, so they summoned another car to bring one. I sensed in the way we were talking while waiting for that other car that I probably was going to pass the test, as they weren’t giving me any lecture, and in fact they were asking about why I came to UK, and what I do here. I was really hoping they weren’t going to say, “Oh you’re a comic, tell me a joke,” for all I could think of was the infamous road story of the drug-addict comic in the US who was holding while with an unsuspecting young comic. As they were walking late at night in a ghetto area, they were stopped by two cops. The cops are preparing to search them, and the young comic is on the verge of crying. He mentions that they’re comics, and the younger of the two cops says, “Oh yeah, well tell me a joke then.” The junkie comic says, “So these two cops are blowing each other…” everybody cracks up, the cops let them go.   

                                     The Hastings/Bexhill cops really just wanted to get this over with. Both were family men who’d agreed to do a Christmas Day shift, which would be over at 3:00, and wanted to get home to their kids. It was now about 2:30. If I had failed the test, not only would I have been arrested, but they would have been delayed further filling out all the paperwork. When the kit was set up, I had to take a deep breath and blow as hard as I could, and when the cop explained that this test would determine if all the alcohol, particularly that in my lower extremities, was truly flushed out, for the first time, I got worried. By now, my hosts, two of whom I’d never met, were all on hand to offer support, and even to plead my case a little. The cops truly did seem regretful of the fact they would HAVE to arrest me if I came through over the limit, for we were genuinely liking each other. When at last the machine flashed the word “pass,” I almost hugged them, and the rest of Christmas Day went on the way it was supposed to, perhaps with me drinking a little less than my hosts. 

                                        So unlike the original Battle of Hastings, no prisoners were taken. No one was shot in the eye with an arrow, as various depictions have indicated happening to defeated British king Harold. The one other connection worth noting here is that William The Conqueror was declared King of England on Christmas Day, 1066, two months after the legendary battle. It wouldn’t have been too cool to celebrate that 944th anniversary in a Hastings jail. 

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