Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Another Routine Call for the Pigs

It was a 6pm to 2am shift on the Rural Section of Countrytown in the Bumsted Constabulary. All the country beat officers (country beat = `Heartbeat`) which included me, could pretty much work the hours that suited their committments which meant I didn't do much night work. However, we were required to double-crew the rural van on a Friday or Saturday night, for what purpose we could never really work out. We had about 100 square miles of farmland, villages and hamlets and with very little in the way of criminal intel to fire us up, we did occasionally feel a wasted resource. Your crewmate would be from another country beat and so what tended to happen was that we'd use the first few hours to try and tidy up all the crappy loose ends on our respective patches and then settle in to playing back-up to the town section, who themselves weren't exactly rushed off their feet. That said, we had our unfair share of high value burglaries and occasional armed robbery committed, often involving the loss of Canaletto's and other top notch fine art and antiques that adorned many of the large country houses of the Home Counties. On this particular night I was posted with Carter, who was an ex merchant seaman and a bit of a lad. His beat house was about 15 miles from mine and, like mine, was less than 100 yards from the village pub. I think Carter had a thing going with the licencee's wife of his pub, because whenever we were crewed together on the van, he always wanted call in there around closing time to `see out the last of the locals`. Whilst we were at the bar chatting to the staff and locals as they left, the landlady would slip into the kitchen and make us a brew. On this particular night she made us our tea, then nipped upstairs and after a few minutes she called down for Carter, who didn't hear her as he was talking to the landlord. I popped my head around the door to the stairs to see what she wanted and there she was, sat on the top step with a big grin and her legs well and truly a'kimbo! Clearly this grand flash of her flimsy unterhosen was not intended for me as she quickly stood up somewhat embarassed and made a hasty exit stage left! On reflection, perhaps she wasn't wearing any unterhosen, but like my famous alter ego Dirty Harry once said, "I kinda forgot myself, in all the excitment". Just after this, as luck would have it, the following call came in: "Bravo Tango 75, we've had a strange treble-nine call. It sounds like a Japanese man so we can't make much sense of what's being said, but we think he's somehow trapped himself inside the telephone kiosk in Leafy Lane. He's panicking so can you attend and assist". We downed our tea and headed off into the sticks and quickly located the scene of the incident. It was pitch black but I still stopped the van 25 yards short for an approach on foot, as a precaution. Carter jumped out and advanced towards the t/k with the hand lamp. He was back within seconds and could barely speak for laughing. I baled out and followed him to the phone booth where we found a frantic Japanese face pressed up against the glass. Still not realising the full extent of his plight, I looked at Carter who grabbed my arm and wheeled me round to the door and shone his torch. Not able to take it all in at first, the beam of the lamp revealed a massive feeding sow, slumped against the door of the phone booth. She'd apparantly escaped from her sty at a local farm and was wandering the lanes snuffling for acorns and general forage and had got herself tuckered out and decided to lean up against the t/k and rest awhile, thus pinning the door shut tight with her massive bulk. Unfortunately, Mr Sakimoto was inside trying to call out the AA at the time. After much pushing, shoving and coaxing the dear old sow heaved herself onto her trotters and trotted off down the lane into the darkness whilst Mr Sakimoto stood before us bowing repeatedly and shaking our hands before dashing back to his car to await his second rescue of the night. After regaining our own composure we slowly headed off in the general direction of the escaped sow and eventually caught up with her on the edge of a hamlet of generally `exclusive` properties. Knowing the local pig farmer, Carter had already got the control room to call him out to the scene as we tried to contain her. She was trotting in the right direction, so I just quietly drove along behind her at a reasonable distance with Carter walking briskly behind waving the lamp as she casually looked back over her shoulder, keeping a piggy eye on him, like the local publican should have been. We were less than a mile from the pig farm and were just starting to feel that glow of satisfaction of a job well done when, totally unpredicted, she took an immediate left turn towards a very expensive house and, to our horror and amazement at her sheer strength, crashed straight through a sturdy garden fence, demolished a low level wall and splashed into an ornamental fish pond where she halted, a-huffing and a-grunting, with the water lapping over her numerous teats. At this point the pig farmer's Land Rover pulled up, having seen me in the police van. Carter, cool as a cucumber, strolled up and pointed him in the general direction of this very expensive house, where the upstairs lights were just coming on, and then coolly jogged up to the van, jumped in and said, "Thats all sorted then, put your foot down and we'll just about be back in time to book off". Sheer devotion to duty, although I suspect he was going back to the pub for an after hours snifter. ©

Monday, 15 December 2008

Oh Rhodesia... Oh Zimbabwe

A former colleage of mine in one of the `Shire Forces` told me of his time in Rhodesia during the independence elections when, in 1979, British Bobbies were sent out there as a sign of reassurance, decency and fairness for the people undergoing such a massive change. I now wince at the irony. My friend, Dave, spoke of the wonderful people he met, especially the `bush` people, who walked for days to cast their vote. People who couldn't read or write but who could play hand made musical instruments with such skill. One day at the polling station a simple man from the bush came in to exercise his democratic right, but didn't quite get what he had to do. Dave told the interpreter to explain how he must place his mark on the ballot and then he can cast his vote. This was quickly translated into Shona and so, duly instructed in his simple task, the bush man entered the booth. After a minute he was out, standing there very proudly with his A4 size ballot paper, with his little pencilled cross by the chosen candidates name, which also had an image of a Zebra by it. Each political party had their own animal symbol to assist the illiterate in knowing who they were voting for. Dave told the translator to instruct him to cast his vote which he did. The bushman promtly threw the paper back into the booth! Dave chuckled and told the interpreter to get him to pick it up and post it into the ballot box. The bushman picked up his ballot paper, walked to the metal ballot box and tried to push it into the slot, but being A4 size it wasn't going to fit and this simple man just couldn't work out how to do it, after all, in his world he had no need of paper. After more translations and confused expressions, Dave decided to breach one of the rules and took the paper from the bushman, neatly folded it twice and then slipped it through the slot. The bushman's face was a picture of amazement and mirth at the magic trick that Dave had performed. He shook him vigorously by the hand, telling him he was a `good magician`. The polling stations also had an ultra violet lamp and a solution that glowed under u/v. After the u/v screening check was performed they could vote and then before leaving they had to dip their hands into the solution, which would remain on their hands long enough to see out the election process and to ensure they only voted the once. Dave told me that several multiple voters were detected by this method and it was necessary to have a tribal `medicine man` or shaman present because when the `magic` of u/v showed up the marks on their fingers the simple folk thought they were cursed with bad magic. The shaman was clearly briefed on this and `in the know`. He would shake his beads at the poor `cursed` voter, flick a little special water over them and assure them that he had fixed them and they'd leave the polling station a little shocked, but ultimately relieved that the bad magic had been removed. When I look at the awful scenes today, of news footage bravely filmed and smuggled out of Zimbabwe, and that despotic maniac Mugabe and what he and his sort have done to that wonderful country, I think of the stories that Dave told me of his time amongst its people and how they had touched his heart, with their friendliness and joyful, open simplicity when he stood by his polling station in his British police uniform, in the stifling heat of the Rhodesian bush and tried to make sure it was a fair election. Thereafter, the world has stood by and watched those same people sink into the abyss that is now Zimbabwe. May the Gods that they pray to, help and protect them.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Come on...Be Fair!

I've just spent a few days away visiting family and old friends. One of the latter told me this tale of a job advertisement, an interview, a successful candidate........and descent into employer hell. Can it be true? A nursing job in an NHS hospital psychiatric unit is advertised, including in the Ad. all requirements, hours, pay rates, the usual info. Final interview reveals the successful candidate. He starts work. A couple of weeks into the job and He tells the manager "I can't do these hours as I need to finish no later than 5pm". Manager points out that the job requirements actually included the specific need to work beyond 5pm. This was in the job spec and indeed was covered in the interview. Employee says it isn't good enough and gets the union to represent him in what is now a `dispute`. HR get involved and there is a period of too-ing and fro-ing followed by a `hearing`. Employee loses claim. Employee goes sick and then lodges claim that manager has harassed him by being unpleasant and unhelpful. The employee's still there and still being paid. The workforce is one light and the unit/patients ultimately suffer the shortage pending a resolution. Can one make a career out of this sort of thing? I saw quite a bit of this malarkey creeping in to the police in the last 10 years. What's it all about? When I was sixteen I got a job in a carrot packing factory. After 3 days the foreman got on my tits by swearing at me once too often, so I lobbed a carrot in his general direction with no serious intent of it landing on him. It caught him a pearler, right behind the ear. I was sacked on the spot. No complaints, except that on reflection I should have made it worthwhile and used a turnip.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A sunny Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park (Oh and try and get to Britains worst air crash while your about it, there's a good fellow)

So there we were at Speakers Corner listening to Lord Soper (God rest his soul), Mr Hanratty wanting a pothumous pardon for his son James (convicted of the infamous `A6 murder`, executed in 1962 and presumed innocent by his father for 40 years, until DNA was discovered), various religious zealots and a few others speaking about world domination, support for the IRA and the life of snails and other invertebrates. It was pretty much a typical tour of duty at this famous centre of alleged free speech. Then the radio crackles with our call sign; we are called to an rvp and embussed on one of the familiar `green coaches`, the Metropolitan Police's equivalent of the Douglas Dakota troop transporter. Word is passed out by our Inspector that there's been a plane crash at Heathrow and we are going to recover bodies and set up a temporary mortuary. Good job I'd packed my sandwitches. We weaved our way Westbound and were making really good progress until we got to within 5 miles of the location and then it all ground to a halt. Apparantly, the news had gone out very quickly on the BBC radio and TV giving the exact location. A weird, disparate selection of the great British public had piled the kids, dog and granny into their family cars and set off to see the wreckage - well it was a nice sunny Sunday afternoon. Gridlock ensued and we were eventually stood down because we simply could not get through, although we could smell the pungent paraffin-like aviation fuel in the prevailing wind. Another unit had been assigned and managed to get there from a different direction. The below link has a film clip showing some of these strange sightseeing creatures milling about amongst the rescuers. When I got home that night, I saw footage of these sickening `family outings` parked up on the side of roads and even on central reservations, sitting and eating crisps and sarnies. There were reports of police and fire officers being obstructed by these `ghouls`, some of whom were allegedly trying to carry away bits of wreckage as a souvenir. People! Don't you just love `em. This would be Britains worst air disaster until the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 16 years later - and the Met would be there too, with the mortuary and body recovery teams, but on that occasion they managed to get there without joe public getting in the way. Respect, to all those who performed that awful task with such professionalism and to those amongst them who still see those unspeakable, pitiful sights when they close their eyes. Just another day at the office.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Routine Stops - UK style

Having read KO's last post (A Routine Traffic Stop) I thought I'd show him a typical pre-planned UK police traffic stop - with a difference. The Transit van on the left has a camera on a mast and the unit is equipped with ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition). Introduced a few years before I quit, the team can download any selected information from their Intel system with vehicle info that they wish to scan for. It might be known drug dealers, persons with outstanding warrants for serious crimes or whatever the task has dictated. The camera can scan and monitor multiple car number plates and the software rapidly checks it against the Police National Computer as well as the locally downloaded intel. A `hit` will be audibly and visually flagged-up within a second and the job of stopping the vehicle is then underway- Hence the pursuit vehicle in the pic. Out of shot are other units (high speed pursuit car - Subaru Impreza Turbo and a motorcycle unit) strategically placed to cut off anyone who isn't stopped straight away. Be aware 'cos `Grand-Frere` is out there! PS: ANPR was introduced in my last force around 1999/2000, initially as a CT measure at ferryports, but was quickly rolled out onto traffic patrols. All the car has to do is cruise the highways and byeways, doing their crime reduction stuff, and the rear facing cameras scan 45degs either side just watching the traffic roll by. All UK vehicle registrations are now linked to insurance companies and the annual road worthiness test as well as the annual vehicle excise licence (the equivalent of the US `tag` on the license plate). If any of these documents are out of date or missing, it's picked up in seconds and flagged to the car crew, `ping`! Several trials are also taking place on facial recognition cameras - ever seen the film, "Minority Report" ????? ;) PPS: I took the photograph last week.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Samaritans, learning disabilities and a Tale from a Police Canteen

Yesterday I visited the local branch of The Samaritans and, for once, I had the opportunity to listen to them - that was just a little "Sam's" joke. What people they are, who step up to the plate and offer to be trained to listen to anonymous people who are suffering feelings of despair, hopelessness and often contemplating suicide. They told me that everyone has it in them to be able to be a "Sam" and touch someone's life for the good, when they most need it. Well, maybe I've done this in the past. I didn't really think about it until I was specifically asked. My only previous knowledge of them giving information to me was when I was a Plod, during the dark days of Irish Republican terrorism, when PIRA would often pass details of their next atrocity to The Samaritans, knowing that their call would not be traced. Sometimes they would give us almost a whole hour to respond and try to clear the public. More often it was a matter of 20 minutes or less, with a vague location. I was at the scene of several bombings during my time in London. I knew a man, personally, who was killed by one of their bombs. After my colleagues had cordoned off the area, one man walked towards the device. His name was Roger Goad and he was one of the bravest men I ever met. After the Samaritans, I found myself at a pub attending a jolly, pre-Christmas party for a group of people who work for a local company specialising in employing, training and mentoring people with learning disabilities. This company enables them to develop skills which they then put to good use, in becoming part of the workforce and earning a wage. Tonight was a prize night where progress awards were given out. The pub clientele also included an eclectic mix of businessmen and women drinking away their concerns over the credit crisis and discussing their worries about imminent redundency; I.T. high earners (similarly worried) and a mix of locals just popping in for a pint.... and the aforementioned party crowd, enjoying their pre-Christmas drinks and buffet, all laughing and chatting and generally having a whale of a time. The contrast was quite stark.