Tales of a Jobbing Photographer #1: Fenland Family Feud

It’s about time I went into a little more depth about my now ten (10, really?) years as a working professional photographer. So here’s a tale from a few years back which definitely counts as the most dangerous job I’ve had. Names and places though perhaps recognisable to some have been redacted, naturally.

The call came while I was out.

“A bloke rang, wants you to take photos of his property” my wife informed me upon my return. My heart leapt! A job! Fulfilment! Money (though not necessarily in that order). “And he’s in March, here’s his number.” Oh, someone selling their house who wants a better class of photo than an estate agent with an iPhone, I like him already. I imagine our future business relationship. Him patronising my art, us toasting his property profits in his penthouse suite. Fast cars and caviar. That stuff.

The phone call to him put all of those wild fantasies to rest quickly enough. He owned a bit of commercial land on the edge of town on which several small businesses operated. I shall not comment on anything else which I may or may not have seen which doesn’t relate directly to this job. In a nutshell, his son was living on the land in question in a caravan and the pair had fallen out with each other in a big way. Father wanted him gone, son would not co-operate so today was to be D-Day.

The father warned that his son was a little on the “handy” side. This is what we in the south of England (my origin) call blokes who think with their fists. “Uh-oh” was my first thought. “In for a penny, in for a pound” was my next. My brain wasn’t functioning too well at this point as most of my blood was working on producing enough adrenaline to make me question my career choice.

We clambered aboard his rusty 4×4 (what we used to call SUVs here in Britain) and drove slowly towards THE CORNER. This was the contested area and was protected by a curve of rotting car corpses, some heavy vegetation and (as I soon discovered) a BBD (Bloody Big Dog). I like doggies and feel I have a Dr Dolittle streak in me but immediately upon hearing its BARK BARK BARK I realised this mutt was built for one thing only: killing intruders.

I took photos as we went. The layout, evidence of the son’s dwelling on the property as well as certain other aspects that shall remain undisclosed that may have helped in the (legal) battle ahead. Suffice to say it’s something that probably would have landed father in more trouble than son. Let’s skip that bit.

We were parked about 20 yards from the separate entrance to the son’s own mini compound when we heard a rattle. Son had spotted us and was coming at us at a rate of speed with the biggest chain I had ever seen. To me they looked like the ones from that famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel photo where the links are bigger than his head.

"Daffodils on the River Great Ouse in Upwell/ Outwell, Norfolk" (2017). Fenland is quite nice really.
“Daffodils on the River Great Ouse in Upwell/ Outwell, Norfolk” (2017). Fenland is quite nice really. Not all like the image you probably have in your head about it right now.

Words and grunts were exchanged as father (none too sprightly) retreated to the cab of his 4×4 and I though initially rooted by fear, leapt in, closed the door and pointed my only weapon at the now close-by assailant: my telelens. You know how they say to befuddle a wild animal if ever attacked by one? Shout at a bear, confuse a tiger? Those kind of things. Well in my case I had the perfect weapon to hand to do just that. Unless someone is in a mindless rage, if they still have an ounce of wherewithal and can imagine the consequences this can be a powerful deterrent indeed. I clearly wasn’t a bystander with a phone, I was a reputable professional paid to be here and document the unfolding event.

I grabbed a single shot of him and he slowed down. Turning instead to his father’s side of the car he pummelled the door and front wing with his chain several times doing a large amount of damage. GULP. Rather you than me I thought. Father reached for his phone which son immediately ripped from his grasp and smashed against the car. “OK, my business is done here” I thought, at exactly the moment that father decided rather wisely to switch the engine on and reverse the hell out of there.

Parked safely on our side of the property. We called the police and father briefly related the incident on my phone. Yeah, careful with that please mate, I saw what happened to your last one. Members of the local constabulary promptly turned up and I gave my side of the story. It was about this time that I realised I’d been set up. My role there wasn’t really to document the layout but more to be a witness (and possible victim) of son’s violence with the added bonus of my reliable statement to the law.

Things moved swiftly after that. A court case was arranged, I was called to give a witness statement. Upon realising I was in court on the day his brief folded. He pleaded guilty without me needing to set foot inside the hallowed halls of Peterborough Magistrates Court. Which is great because it’s not really been on my bucket list. Father was grateful, I was confused and the matter ended there.

As is often the case with episodes like this (I don’t have that many that are work-related thankfully), emotion fades and the memory is supplanted by the knowledge that something happened but I’m not sure what. At least a tale to tell my sister’s grandchildren and indeed you dear reader.

Weddings and christenings? Piece of cake!

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