It’s midnight and instead of being tucked up in bed as any sane person should be at this time of night, I am in Horsham park with twelve hundred other people as part of the charity walk my wife signed up for.
But, you ask, if your wife signed up for it, why are you there? That must be the young, single men asking the question, the rest of you—the long-time married men and, of course, the women—completely understand.
The truth is, I wouldn’t have missed this and was, in fact, planning to go out and watch it anyway, so I figured I may as well sign up to and help out.
When they told me I was going to be a marshal, I thought I was going to be issued a Stetson hat and a tin star; a six-shooter, I figured, would be too much to hope for. As it stands, a six-shoot might come in handy because I have been assigned Station 11, which sits at the epicentre of five popular pubs and is in front of the only kebab shop on that side of town. Now, Horsham is a safe enough place, but the night belongs to the young and, as a fifty-five year old man, I would be enough of a target just being on that same corner with 157 youngish revellers who are drunk enough to want to eat a kebab, and all I am armed with is a bright yellow vest reading, “Marshall.” It may as well have a bull’s eye embroidered on it.
My job, they tell me, is to guide one thousand women wearing blue shirts and bobbly headgear safely across the intersection at prime chucking-out time. I am there to protect them, but who is going to protect me?
I’m back home now. Having been ordered to “Stand Down” (my, but aren’t these ladies very military?) I found myself with nothing to do but return home and loyally wait up for my wife, who is due to finish about 5:30 AM. Then we’re going out dancing.
It all went very smoothly. The kebab shop was inexplicably closed. And on a Saturday night. I have to wonder if this was not somehow arranged because, when those women began arriving at around 1:30, there was certainly not enough room on the side walk for them, me and the usual horde of intoxicated, rowdy and yurking-up-in-the-gutter youngsters. They began appearing in dribs and drabs (the walkers, not the drunk people) but once the main body arrived—wearing their signature shirts and the glittery, ping-pong ball antennae they were issued—it looked liked the world’s largest, and most orderly, hen night.
I also turned out to be not alone. For the first hour, I guarded the corner on my own, but with the shop closed all I saw were a few puzzled partiers lurching by—lads in saggy jeans and untucked shirts accompanied by teenage girls skinny as the stiletto stilts they teetered on and wearing nothing but knickers and a bra—wondering where they were going to get their kebab. But just before the walkers arrived two young men in Marshall jackets appeared and helped guide the long blue line safely into the town center.
Afterward, I returned to the park and hung around long enough to see my wife return from the first leg of the route and set off on the second. They tell me they have raised over £140,000 for St. Catherine’s Hospice so, all in a all it has been a safe and successful night.
The only downside is, I had to give back the marshal vest, so all I am left with is the tee shirt. I really wish they had given me a tin star.