ALEXANDRA SHULMAN': Stopped- for driving a 'woman's car'

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: Stopped and handcuffed – for driving a ‘woman’s car’

Beware of what you wish for… I’ve long complained about the lack of police around here, then one lunchtime last week my 25-year-old son was driving our little Fiat 500 when he was pulled over by a flashing unmarked car.

Out leapt four plainclothes officers, screaming at him to keep his hands where they could see them as he leant across to roll down the passenger window.

They ordered him to get out of the vehicle immediately, handcuffed him and read out some kind of arrest jargon. None of them wore a mask as they shouted into his face up close and very personal. ‘Where have you been? Where are you going? Whose car is this?’

Beware of what you wish for… I’ve long complained about the lack of police around here, then one lunchtime last week my 25-year-old son was driving our little Fiat 500 when he was pulled over by a flashing unmarked car [File photo]

He had no idea why he had been stopped, let alone why he was being treated so aggressively. With racing heart but trying to keep calm, he asked what was going on. 

‘We’ve been deployed as a special task force to counter gang activity in the area. And there’s been a report of someone driving a car like this. If you don’t mind my saying, sir, these cars are usually driven by women,’ was the peculiar answer. 

‘We’ve handcuffed you because you have a weapon in the car and appeared to be leaning over to grab the weapon.’

Weapon? There was nothing in the car but a box of old CDs and a scraper for morning frosts. ‘Have you got anything you shouldn’t have?’

‘Well,’ Sam replied, ‘I’ve got a bottle of hand sanitiser. What weapon?’

The ‘weapon’ turned out to be a miniature screwdriver, scarcely larger than a cracker gift, located near the gear stick.

After discovering the car was registered to me and my son was a legal driver, they finally unhandcuffed him and let him go, although one of the officers was unable to resist pointing out that she was correct. 

‘You see? These cars are usually driven by women.’

Drug-related crime is on the rise in our area and I’ve often lamented the lack of a visible police presence. But I didn’t imagine for a minute that would mean terrorising my son on a drive back from an errand.

To stop him might have been reasonable – it was the aggressive presumption of guilt that rankles.

Sam’s long lockdown hair and beard – which on a bad day makes him look a cross between Jesus and Charlie Manson – might not be to everyone’s taste. And with the police’s bizarre preconceptions about the gender of Fiat 500 owners, I suppose they might have been surprised to discover that the long-haired driver turned out to be male.

But their response still seems wildly over-the-top and leads inevitably to a further thought. If this sort of random and totally unwarranted invasion can happen to a young white man from a well-off family, what must it be like for young black men in far less privileged positions?

Punchy Emma’s knockout start

As a regular listener to Women’s Hour for many years, I’ve been looking forward to hearing what the punchy Emma Barnett would do with the flagship show.

I’ve also appeared on it several times. The long-time hosts Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey were always a bit cool and I sensed not that keen on the editor of what they might consider a frivolous and elitist glossy like Vogue, but their team of researchers and assistants were welcoming and warm – invariably sharing the same trusty and uncontroversial ice-breaker greeting employed by Royals: ‘Have you come far?’

With no green room pleasantries allowed at present, how appropriate that the first controversy of Barnett’s tenure should be caused by a technological mishap.

Actress Kelechi Okafor pulled out of the show last week, minutes before going live on air, after hearing Barnett saying something negative about her without realising her Zoom mic was on.

It may not have been the most professional start to Barnett’s reign but it’s got a lot of people talking about it, which is never a bad thing. And imagine the delight of the old guard at seeing such a spectacular cock-up as soon as they were out of the door of Broadcasting House.

A slur made in the worst possible taste

Incidentally, Barnett’s comments were over a tweet Kelechi had previously supported, claiming the music biz was run by ‘random, fat Jewish guys from north west London’. It made me remember, years back, hearing a colleague describe a pair of wealthy socialites as ‘very North London’.

At the time I had no idea this was an antisemitic slur (even though I am technically half-Jewish) and thought it was a snobby reference to over-the-top taste in interior decoration. Jewish Emma would never be so ignorant.

The vaccine rollout is the last hurrah of the Baby Boomers, the generation that’s enjoyed cheap property and free university education – and kept its hold on many of the biggest jobs in town for decades. Look at the US, with an incoming President aged 78.

And now they’ve notched up yet another privilege. Within a few months, many boomers – and this could include me – will have had the jabs and be free to roam. As the country opens up, it will be boomers who can flood into theatres, cinemas, planes, restaurants and gyms in the glorious knowledge that they are no longer under threat from this virus.

The young are going to be stuck with a degree of uncertainty for ages. Glasto, if it goes ahead, could end up looking like a Saga cruise.

Agony that can hit even the most gifted

The news that the delightful Stella Tennant committed suicide is yet another ghastly example of how no matter how blessed somebody can appear, nobody is insulated from the agony of extreme depression. Her loss is a reminder of how important it is that we learn more effective and accessible ways of preventing it taking hold.

It’s sofa so good for lockdown thrills

Lockdown gloom is even more virulent than the virus. My advice is to rearrange the furniture. After the Christmas tree was chucked out, the sitting room looked a mess and I decided to shift everything around.

It is perhaps a marker of the times that moving the odd sofa could be so cheering but, in our current confinement, even changing the position of the coffee table provokes a certain thrill.

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