Great narratives of the year so far must include the North Island prisoner who eluded capture for some time in spite of having dreadlocks, hands cuffed behind his back, and being naked except for a weed mat.
Okay, opinions remain divided on whether handcuffs and a weed mat constitute a disguise. In certain Karangahape Rd premises, they apparently constitute a uniform.
The history of criminal disguise is flecked with such ingenuity. There’s the Frenchman who tried to steal a suit of armour by wearing it out to his getaway vehicle. (The clanking woke several neighbours.) The Yorkshire crim who held up his village store while wearing his distinctive crimson and purple motorbike helmet.
And there’s the disguise I once wore as party to a semi-legal activity.
It was in the years of university capping stunts. Years when our nation’s brightest young minds showed the way forward by behaving in a manner that was backward.
We replaced the sign for Wellington’s Lady Norwood Rose Gardens with one reading “Lady Chatterley Rose Gardens”. We bought a shop mannequin and hung it by the neck from Kelburn Viaduct. We were droll and inventive. We were dreary and irresponsible.
Then we decided to slander the Prime Minister.
Then, as now, the PM lived in Thorndon. Then, but not as now, a pub stood on a corner nearby. One of us – I think it was Gary, who went on to become a top barrister – suggested making a pair of cardboard templates in the shape of feet. With these and a bucket of whitewash, we aimed to hit Thorndon around midnight, painting footprints moving purposefully L-R-L-R from the PM’s place to the pub, and then moving erratically L-R-L-L-RRR back again. No mean feat, eh?
Lookouts were needed while the pavement artists did their work. We decided on disguises. Mike and his girlfriend would hang around on one corner, doing their impersonation of a Passionate Student Couple Parting For The Night. (In those days, Passionate Student Couples did Part For … ) As I recall, it was Mike’s own idea.
The other lookout would be me. Dressed in rugby shorts and rugby jersey, I was to jog up and down the streets nearby. My wardrobe made it clear that I was training for rugby. That’s right: at midnight.
I’d like to say I was chosen for my athletic appearance. In fact, I was chosen because I didn’t know my L foot from my R, so I’d have messed up the templates.
Midnight. We arrived stealthily at Dunrulin’. The painters crouched and began their narrative. The Passionate Couple headed for their post. “Remember to keep your eyes open while you’re doing it!” someone hissed after them. It still strikes me as an excellent rule in relationships.
I started training. It was a typical Wellington night: cold as hell. But after 10 minutes of jogging the small circuit, I was warm. After 20 minutes, I was puffing. How long would the painters take? It was only 50 yards to the pub.
After 30 minutes, I was worried. I rounded the same corner for the tenth time – residents were surely peering through curtains and picking up phones by now – and stared about. Not a painter or any passion in sight.
I hesitated, hesitated some more, then trained down the street. Nobody. Just two lines of shining white footprints, one straight and one staggering. I stood beside them and wondered what to do. A set of headlights came round the corner.
The vehicle slowed, stopped. The window wound down and a head stared at the painted pavement. “Hey!” called an official-sounding voice. I concluded my rugby training with some sprints.
They were all there when I got back to the flat, of course, drinking coffee and gloating. “Thought you’d gone home,” was their inadequate explanation.
It remains my only attempt at disguise. Ever since then it’s been the same naked me. Except, of course, for that time I had to visit Inland Revenue …