It's 06.30 and the central heating has kicked in on time, thanks to our new British made boiler. I cursed a bit when the old British made boiler had to be shot back in August when thankfully we didn't need it, unlike today with the snow falling in huge lumps. All the old beast needed was a new rubber seal for the casing, to stop a pin prick leak of air, but they just don't make the spares anymore, plus the law now says that you can't make a seal up from scratch. So, the knackerman came and put our old Potterton Netaheat to sleep before it did it to us. It's all part of the big plan to get these old relics out of our homes and replace them with the new, safer, more efficient models. I shouldn't complain, because that old boiler was installed in this house about 30 years ago and although we've only been here 4 years, it never missed a beat. Judging from the fact that it was built like a battleship, it probably never did.
Quite why watching that Channel 4 series, "Coppers", on the computer just now, made me start with that boiler story is currently a mystery to me, but I will soldier on and maybe the answer will appear by the time I finish. I don't usually watch TV documentaries about my old job. I used to like `The Sweeney`, because although it was close, it wasn't reality. Watching a couple of episodes of this excellent "Coppers" series did not come easy, because all I saw was the same old same old. The `low-life` was still low, but they just seemed younger and louder but were getting arrested proportionately less and at a time when their behaviour had escalated beyond what my generation of policing would have tolerated. Of course, not so very long ago, a prisoner could be processed into custody very quickly and although we still had to weigh up the logistics of making an arrest against leaving our buddies short handed, the system we had worked much more in our favour than the current one works against it. I think it was the way that a Traffic Division officer spoke of the personal, emotional side of the job that got me thinking. The scum of the earth that I encountered over the years are but a very broad-brush, non-specific memory. They are a type, a concept, an amorphous lump and although on many occasions I wished I could have just hosed them, they mean nothing to me now. I cannot picture any one individual, I just know that I experienced the type, day in, day out across a 30 year career and, apart from the odd recurring ache in my lower back where I remember the incident but not the faces, they have left no memorable mark on my life. But that Traffic Officer was correct, its the emotional stuff that is the toughest to erase, so you just have to embrace it.
On this particular day, less than 10 years ago as it happens, I was out trying to resolve a complaint against one of my officers. I had just finished visiting the complainant, who had accepted an informal resolution which was the best result I could hope for. As I switched on my radio ( although I was a chief inspector I did carry one and knew how it worked) I heard that one of my units had attended a road fatality and was not far away. I called up the control room to advise them I was attending and was there within minutes. I spoke to the two officers at the scene and got on with helping them secure the location and set up a diversion. It was a well used route but the road was easily closed off and I had set up the necessary barriers and signs within ten minutes. It was a single vehicle crash involving a motorcycle versus a lamp post, with the car he had overtaken just beforehand parked in the middle of the road, its driver in a state of severe shock. The car hadn't been touched but the young lady driving it had just seen a Kawasaki 750 overtake her at high speed, lose traction, clip the offside kerb and hit the lamp post with such force that it snapped it off, bringing it down across the road. The bike spiralled along the grass verge in two pieces, while the young male rider spun through the air like a rag doll, his body landing about 30 feet in front of his right leg. Body and leg were now covered by two pieces of tarpaulin.
I sat with the car driver and treated her for shock, wrapping a blanket round her and talking to her. I discovered that I knew her mother. In a town with a population of 110,000 I happened to know her mother! Small world. She was most definitely an ambulance case and I was happy when the paramedics arrived and did their stuff. My guys were still doing their stuff and within half an hour the accident investigators arrived and I stayed to see them meticulously recording the scene with their infrared/laser/techno kit. Then the undertaker arrived to collect the body. The road was still quiet, the diversions were working well and for once we had hardly any gawkers to deal with. Then one chap strolled purposefully along the grass verge on the opposite side of the road. I intercepted him and explained that we were just about to remove `some obstructions` and would he mind waiting a moment. He then said, "It's OK, I won't faint, I'm in the job and I live just over there", as he produced his i/d. I lightened up and told him we were having to remove some body parts but would be 5 minutes. He then said, "Hey, you're Chief Inspector Hogday aren't you - I've got a 250 Suzuki you used to own about 15 years ago". Small world.
I went and fetched the right leg from the side of the road and placed it in the body bag with the rest of the corpse. Although I'd picked them up a couple of times before, it always came as a surprise to me how heavy limbs are, even though I was expecting it to be. The evidence was starting to suggest that he was barrelling down that 40mph limit road at a speed in excess of 70, he overtook the car on a bend whilst piling on the juice, his rear tyre had seen better days and early indications from marks on the road (that I couldn't spot but my guys pointed out to me) suggested he lost some grip and the rear end stepped out. I felt I had done all I could and told the guys I was off and that I'd see them later for a coffee. They thanked me for attending. When junior officers thank you and you feel they mean it, that is a feeling you treasure.
The next morning, at home, my telephone rang just after 0830. It was the local hardwear store. The man apologised and told me that they couldn't come to fit my new garden gate that morning because the guy who was going to do it was involved in a traffic accident the previous afternoon. "Oh dear" I replied, "Is he OK"? Small world.
That evening I went out on my motorcycle and met up with some other like-minded types at a seafront cafe. It was a regular meet in the summer months. We were just bikers. They didn't know I was a police officer and I didn't know what most of them were in their working lives. I did know one or two sailed close to the wind, just from keeping my ears open, but on Wednesday evenings we were just a bunch of guys who rode and talked bikes over a mug of tea. Bikes of various shapes and sizes lined both sides of the narrow street and one of the regulars seemed to be attracting quite a bit of attention so me and my tea sidled over to the little gathering on the pavement. The guy of the moment was being consoled and one of the guys turned to me and said, "Hey Hog, what do you think, Terry's son was killed yesterday". Terry saw me and I nodded to him,. I told him I was so sorry to hear the news. He told me that the lad loved bikes and that he came out this evening to honour him. All I could think of was how heavy that leg felt. Small world.
Still haven't made the connection with all this and my old boiler.