Thursday, 25 June 2009

There's a Place for us....

My old force was about 3,200 strong. Pretty big by non metropolitan standards. It had an interesting history, as most do, and was formed in the wake of Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 by the passing of a similar Act for County Forces to be created. Many of the first chief constables and their senior officers were very recent former military officers and in the very early days it was quite common to see them in their old military dress uniforms, including sword or sabre, at civic functions, although this did subside somewhat, as moving away from the use of the military to quell disorder was one of the reasons the police was formed in the first place. Even the constables helmet was a similar design to military headgear as can be seen on this hobbyist's website I make no secret of my support for our military. I have a nephew in The Guards, many of my extended family fought in WW2 in all branches (I was a late arrival in my parents life, in case you think I'm a real relic) and a great great uncle of mine was killed in the Zulu Wars at the massacre of Isandlwhana. That's his posthumous medal. As a result, I really enjoy studying military history. During my police service I worked alongside special forces on drugs interdiction operations and counter terrorist exercises, enjoyed regular jollies with the Army Air Corps and spent what seemed like half my latter years involved in counter terrorist search operations at public military events, as well as occasionally trying to catch the would be bombers in covert operations. I like the way our military conduct their affairs, their rank structure and how they make it work for them. Anyone who has enjoyed being entertained by the British Military knows how their traditions come to the fore and are celebrated. It is a wonderful part of this Nation's history. But somehow, I ended up a policeman and often regretted my career choice until I learned not to look back and remind myself of what I am not, now. My old force had a `senior officers mess`. It may still do for all I know. Little was known of it below the inspector ranks, but why should it be, as you were only eligible to join if you were a superintendent or above. One day I received a letter from the mess secretary inviting me to join. I wasn't a superintendent, but the letter went on to explain that as the role of the `command` ranks was changing, it was felt that officers of my rank should be allowed to join as our responsibilities had changed to such an extent as to make us suddenly eligible. I was not in the least bit interested, but I made a few enquiries from some friends in that circle. The truth, it seemed, was a little different. Because the superintending ranks were getting thinned out in the savage economies of the day, there were fewer of them resulting in the coffers of the mess becoming pretty empty and they needed to boost the numbers. So what did they do? Go down a rank! Well the monthly subscription, helpfully deducted straight from one's wages, would pay for 4 mess nights per year where a six course meal would be served, one could invite a guest once a year and the bar would be free throughout the evening. Suddenly my invitation looked even less inviting. I declined. A few months later I bumped into the chief who cornered me and gently chided me as to the fact I hadn't joined his mess and asked me why. I explained that as I wasn't a big drinker, I had a young family and a big mortgage I didn't think I could justify the fees, plus I didn't want to spend nearly £400 on the `mess dress`. Yes, there was even a quasi-military `bum freezer` jacket and dark blue trousers with a nice fancy stripe down the outside seams. He was at pains to point out that a dinner jacket was OK. My biggest blunder was telling him that I didn't fancy getting all dressed up to eat in what was, by day, a police headquarters canteen. I managed to gently extricate myself but still didn't join. Thereafter, I was always cornered whenever we met and I'd get little `digs` about my non-mess membership. After a particularly dark period in my life, a trusted colleague persuaded me to join `just to see how I liked it`. I signed up and along I went to my first mess night. I was in my DJ, as the dress code allowed. The bar was bursting at the seams, full of the upper ranks of the force. I was engaged in conversation with a few colleagues and it was all rather falsely casual, with first names being used, although it seemed to me that the more junior sycophants relished doing this rather more than their senior mess mates who would have been more comfortable being called `sir` as usual. The atmosphere was excruciating. It was one of those typical social networking events where the eye contact was as insincere as it was fleeting and you could see people constantly scanning for someone they perceived as more useful or important whilst they `made do` by talking to you. Peter Cook would have dubbed it, `Pseuds Corner`. So did I. After the dinner, served with much wine, the hardy drinkers were well at it, back at the bar, pouring it down in order to recoup their monthly subscription. The chief spied me, came straight over and welcomed me to the mess like a long lost friend. Then he chided me about not wearing the mess outfit, trying to make a joke out of it. We sort of laughed it off and I thought that was the end of it, until he leaned into me and in a sort of fatherly tone, quietly said, "Get the mess dress, Hogday". Many of my peers seemed to try and `out guest` each other by bringing some head of local industry, a local politician or a sports personality, usually a professional footballer. Some would bring a member of their family as a treat but guests were generally in the former category. I stayed a member long enough to bring my particular `guest`. It was the landlord of my local pub, where Mrs H and I really did enjoy a drink! On what was to be my 3rd and final mess night, 9 months after I'd joined, I had finished my meal and had actually enjoyed a fascinating conversation with our police surgeon sitting opposite me. For a moment I wondered whether I was judging it all too harshly. Then I noticed one of the regular drunks. A senior civilian (yes, police support staff were allowed if they were above a certain pay scale) was rat-arse drunk and was leering and letching and whispering her usual obscenities to whichever man she fancied, which looked to me like most of them. I overheard her once and it was the stuff that, elsewhere, would have resulted in dismissal, although this was technically the workplace. Not that I'm flattering myself, but I'd been treated to one of her propositions at an earlier event. Nothing could have been less alluring. Anyway, I don't do drunks unless it happens to be my wife, but she can out drink me so I never really know what happens. No, I realised that my original feelings about this sort of senior officers mess thing still held true. I looked around and, with very few exceptions, I could not see anyone that I had the remotest thing in common with. These were not my friends. My friends in the police were mainly Pc's and Sgt's whom I'd spent 2/3rds of my service on pretty much equal terms with, shoulder to shoulder. My mates were my mates because they were my mates, whether they were police or not and when I retired, my local pub was overflowing with them. I telephoned Mrs H and asked her to beam me up. She was there in 20 minutes and we were home enjoying a drink together in another 20. I cancelled my subscription and never went to another evening, not even as someones guest - what a surprise! I don't know why I've written this? I'd be interested to hear from any serving or ex officers as to whether this sort of thing happens in their force and what they make of it. Personally, I do not think there is a place for this sort of thing in a modern police service, but I may be wrong and may not see its true value. All I know is that I really did not like it. It made me feel uncomfortable and even though I'd regularly worked with the military and, at times, had to act a little quasi- military, I knew that I was not the military. I was a civilian , a peace officer, set slightly apart from the public its true, but I truly felt that senior officers mess nights were best left to those that have the heritage that goes with it. These are my views, thats all.

5 comments:

Inspector Leviathan Hobbes said...

A brilliant, brilliant post. So well written. I always feel uncomfortable at drinks when cornered by the top brass. Like you said, my mates are my mates because they're my mates. They're the ones whose aid I go to when they're rolling about on the floor with a suspect, the ones who confide in me when their marriage breaks down because of the hours we work - but who could never leave the job, the ones who make me laugh so much with a sense of humour not found anywhere else. The best post I've read for a long time. I'd like to write some more in response, but you reminded me of the importance of family - to enjoy what is really important with someone who knows what it's like - my wife!

Constable Confused.com said...

Top post HD,

done both sides of the coin. Was a SNCO in the RAF at the tender age of 27, mess nights were a bloody nightmare, I can talk the talk and walk the walk if needed. Bloody won't do it now, no way much to the angst of our new Chief Super.

The idea of this going on in our modern police force really is a joke. There is no need for it. At least in the forces you knew everyone was batting on the same field in the same direction. That does not apply to the Police "service" these days.

Just my thoughts mate,

Regards.

Blue Eyes said...

Very interesting. Perhaps you should not have gone in your Batman outfit?

Cpdcoppurr said...

Politics in any profession sucks..............In the police profession is sucks more..............

It can cost you a job, a career, playing the right cards, and hanging with the right crowd, always has its draw backs..........

I joined things in my career, and KNEW, if I only slept with this person, or sucked up to this person, or got my family involved I would have been a Capt. when I retired.......... I refused.......

Good for you, I am glad you kept your dignity and sanity.

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