Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Life is risky, so lets tighten up civil litigation

Believe it or not, I endured some seriously hard training in my recruit indoctrination into the Metropolitan Police Force, albeit they didn't give me a gun for at least 2 years. The idea was that you ought to know how it felt when you came up against violence. Not all recruits had the benefit of experiencing playground fights as kids or played rugby. In the Met Cadets we boxed, wrestled and judo'd. Those joining directly from `civvy` life may have had similar experiences, but a lot hadn't and so the training process saw to it that by the time you hit the streets of London you knew what it felt like to have had the crap knocked out of you in an allegedly controlled environment. That way, the first smack on the jaw you took, wouldn't make you jibber and weep (providing it didn't lay you out).

For cadets, “Milling” was compulsory as a warm up to self defence training. Oversized boxing gloves, step into the ring and, on the whistle, you had 45 seconds to flatten your oppo or defend yourself; ideally, you'd do both. Anyone seen pulling his punches would do a round with the instructor (ex Royal Marine boxing champion and killer of bulls with bare hands). Not so in todays more academically oriented `service`, as, presumably, we mustn’t make anyone cry - until they get into the Public Order Units that is, but I believe they have Red Men these days. However, it probably made men out of us (and some of our wives too). It is a well known fact that for training to be effective it must be realistic and to generate realism takes a lot of care and attention to avoid an excess of pain.

Maybe I was lucky, but I never sustained anything more serious than a bloody nose or bruised ribs during my time as an average boxer in the cadets. If I had done so, would my employers have been liable? After all, I was participating in a sport which I had volunteered for. Had I been seriously hurt during the above mentioned `Milling` which wasn't optional, but where the gloves were oversize and therefore not as effective as those used in competion in the ring, what would have been different? I doubt if this type of training is even talked about now, let alone practised, especially as I was mildly chastised by a sergeant for doing press-ups alongside a 25 yr old recruit to try and encourage him to dig a little deeper. Apparantly, my telling him I was 41 was humiliating him although I knew him outside the gym and he felt the whole thing ridiculous. The firearms training my guys and gals went through was equally realistic. We used a clinical psychologist to help us get the trainees into a high state of `tension arousal` before we started the exercises, to ensure they could experience working under stress. Its a tough call and great care is needed, but I would argue that if it wasn't done and an officer suffered in a real situation for lack of preparation then the employer would be very much at fault.

I feel terrible for the poor family of this trainee. He was a former soldier so no doubt had combat training experience and as likely as not some real action under his belt.I recently had the shocking experience of studying my own medical history and I was shocked at how much violence I had been subjected to over my 30 year police career, much of it I'd forgotten, and this was just the stuff that I sought medical assistance for. A lot of the knocks are just accepted as par for the course, but I was very grateful for the training I'd been given..

Ok, thats it from me for a wee while. We're trying to go to Spain again, this time virus free (when we last checked). If you're on the Costa del Sol and see a bloke in a Red Man suit sipping a vino tinto, leave him alone. TTFN

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Is it just me, or is there a striking resemblance here?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Semper Fidelis

We tend not to get any good follow-up coverage beyond the headlines of  "US fighter going down over Libya" and the bigger, shock-horror headlines of some unfortunate Libyan, pro-West civvies copping some cautionary fire as they rather rashly rushed towards the crash site and the justifiably nervy pilot and his weapons oppo. The below cut and paste is courtesy of  "Neptunus Lex" (see my Blogroll column on the right).

Shortly after midnight, a pair of AV-8B Harrier jump-jets launched from the USS Kearsarge and rendezvoused over the crash site with a circling fighter jet, who by then had made contact with one of the F-15 crew members—the pilot—on the ground.
In parallel, two MV-22 Ospreys—specialized aircraft that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter but can fly as fast as a fixed-wing aircraft—prepared to launch from the Kearsarge.
And a force of more than three dozen Marines boarded two CH-53E helicopters to provide security for the rescue mission, known in military parlance as a “tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel.”
With the Ospreys and helicopters en route, the Harriers dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs near the crash site in what a senior Marine officer described as a “precautionary” measure to warn off people who might have been approaching the aviator on the ground.
“My understanding is [the pilot] asked for ordnance to be delivered in between where he was located and where he saw people coming toward him,” said a senior Marine officer, citing preliminary reports.
The Ospreys reached the pilot’s location by 2:19 a.m. local time. While the helicopters hovered overhead, one of the Ospreys landed to recover the him. The Ospreys returned to the Kearsarge with the F-15 pilot aboard by 3 a.m. local time.

I have to say that 2 x 500lb laser guided bombs is one hell of a `warning shot`, but with arguably the best JTac calling the co-ordinates (the downed pilot)  that and the rescue Op was a top piece of work. I'm sure they would have done exactly the same for a downed British crew, because I'm not sure we had the same level of resources immediately available. So a big salute from me to the United States Marine Corps, their awesome kit and those jolly nifty Harriers they use (I wonder if we should have some of those?).

Further reading.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Elephant in the tent

I was as amused, as much as Mrs Hogday was infuriated,  as we listened last night to the politicians and generals ducking and diving from the questions about whether Gaddafi (or Gaffa`, as I expect the Sun to dub him anytime soon, if they haven't already) is a legitimate target. It reminded me of the questions I would occasionally be asked to field on behalf of my old force, whenever there had been the fatal shooting of someone in an armed police operation. Thankfully, my old force hadn't experienced one of these, albeit they had shot someone during my tenure (he survived) but of course every day that passes when there isn't a fatal shooting by a police force is a day nearer the one they will eventually get. The questions from the press were  as searching (quite rightly) as they were blunt (a few were just plain crass) and my ACPO group seemed very keen and eager to pass them on to me to answer as, `you're the chap who is in charge of such matters, you understand, don't you, Mr Hogday`? But I'm not going to trip out my answers here.

What I have noticed over the years, is the interesting take on leadership and control that `the Colonel` has   incrementally developed into his own doctrine. He says that he is not in command and control and he is not `the leader`, but that the power is very much in the hands of the people through the various `peoples committees` that he has established. He sees his personality as his greatest strength and has indeed developed the `great leader, great man` mannerisms. He referred to Obama as `my son` in a recent diatribe. How stately and worldly wise of him to broadcast that fatherly self-image. His long speeches on state TV will occasionally show his eyes glazing over and staring into the great beyond to give his people the idea of his honorable intentions.

This has similarities elsewhere, where the `symbolic` leader was, similarly, not swamped with the burden of decision making or of administration. Elswhere, that same symbolic leader was not burdened with the task of appointing other leaders within his developing organisation, but said that the most appropriate person for the job would rise up to that position by his own achievements, winning the respect of the people by demonstrating his value and, ultimately, his strength to beat others into submission to secure his position - how very Darwinian was this `survival of the fittest` doctrine. The symbolic head of state would simply arbitrate and give direction as to the desired state and direction of the nation.

Recently `the colonel` has been heard saying, to those of his people who want change, `there will be no mercy shown`. In that other time and place, the words, "Close your hearts to pity. Act brutally" were the clarion call. And at the end, when it all unravelled, when all was eventually lost, the symbolic leader looked to `his people` and decided that they obviously just weren't worthy of him and were unfit for his leadership. He turned on his own people and wreaked a hideous revenge enshrined in what was known as "The Nero Order" or, as it appeared at the time, "Nero Befehl". He didn't hang around very long after that.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Mirage over Libya - strictly no smoking

It is with a sense of foreboding that I face the world today. Three things have happened that are giving me that `uncertain feeling`.

Uncertain feeling Number 1: The UN Resolution that was passed last night, imposing punitive action from the air on the Gadaffi Regime. A bit late, and with the UK up front, is what concerns me the most, although I was bolstered a bit by the drive from the Arab League to impose it - bolstered, but wary as I always am of things Arabic and Gadaffi is more unpredictable than any - and a wily fox. Of course all this has happened within earshot of the echo of Mr Cameron's words that spelt the end of HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier squadrons. Still, we have those jolly nifty new Typhoons, aka Eurofighters, as well as our Tornados - but what about our troops in Afghan? Don't they need a bit of top cover? Perhaps Op. Libya will be treated as R&R for the pilots and groundcrew?  And of course we have the French alongside us! Allez! Which reminded me of the last time I saw a French military jet `in action`. It was at the Farnborough Air Show in the mid 90`s. I was there as a guest of a company that had been assisting me in some research I was doing, in my role within the police, at that time.

On the final `official` day, I'd been treated to a 5 course lunch from a top chef in the hospitality suite. This was followed by a flght line seat and non stop refreshments as I watched a stunning display of aircraft piloted by their countries best aviators.  The following day I was back there as all the aircraft were going home. At the briefing they were reminded by the Director of Flying, in no uncertain terms, that there was to be no `showboating or other flambouyant acts or gesture`s from the fast jet jockeys who were, after all, display pilots as well as military aviators and prone to the occasional case of oneupmanship. I was at the end of the main runway in a privileged position, with the excuse of talking to my chaps doing perimeter marshalling and traffic management. Being an aircraft enthusiast I was chuffed to be in a prime position to watch the hardware. Along came a Saab Gripen, the latest rugged all-weather, all purpose all Swedish beast, made famous in those Saab car advertisements. As the pilot turned into wind, he closed the canopy and spooled up the motor. A huge cone of intense flame blasted him down the runway. He lifted off and immediately retracted the wheels, remaining dead level for a few seconds before pulling sharply up into a vertical climb, a bit like a mini space shuttle launch. I went as deaf as a post, as did half the population of Farnborough.  Exhilerating? Just a bit! No showboating from Sven, then.

The second notable departure came from a Russian Mig 29 that, the previous day, I had seen defying what I had hitherto believed were the rules of avionics, by doing slow and high speed manoevers that made me question what I had just seen, blaming the illusion on too much Chablis with my lunch. But it was all true. I had seen these laws re-written before my very eyes. The Mig pilot assumed the position, wound up his two engines, rolled down the runway, lifted off and then did the unexpected. He just seemed to remain stationary in mid air. He wasn't of course, but he was going so slowly and at such an acute angle that it looked like he was suspended from an invisible wire. Just as he reached the control tower, where the `No Stunts Please` briefing officer was no doubt watching this sober take off, he wound it up into a climb, slowly at first, before flipping it sidways and doing a half circuit and disappearing back to the Urals. Ears were now starting to bleed a little. Igor was eager to please.

Finally, to the point of the first point of this convoluted post. Whining its way along the taxi path came the latest in French joi de vivre. It was a development version of the well established Mirage 2000, the `D` variant that they had been doing a hard sell with. Along with all the other pilots, this `garcon` had clearly taken exception to the lecture by the Flight Director because as he taxied past the control tower, a glowing Gauloise cigarette butt was flicked out of the cockpit and arched across the tarmac, landing on the grass, still smouldering. He turned onto the main runway and as the jet engine's re-heat kicked in, a 20 foot long blue/orange cone of flame came stabbing out of the single, gaping jetpipe. He'd barely closed the cockpit as the plane started to accelerate. Just like the Saab, he lifted off and immediately retracted the undercarriage and levelled off at what seemed no more than 50 feet up. Then, in his own interpretation of the Director's briefing, he did a 180 degree roll and climbed out of Farnborough upside down, flipping it upright at about 500 feet.  Beau Gesture.

So to our French chums, getting back in North Africa (where they seem to like to be, for some strange reason) I say, "Bon Chance".
I'll also bet a Looney that Canada will be there too. They're suppose to speak French (although none of my Canadian family do) so that might help. Any of their pilots Quebecois? That should make air traffic control out there a bit spicy! Bless them, anyway.

I almost forgot, I said there were 3 things that gave me that `uncertain feeling`,

Uncertain feeling Number 2: This morning Mrs Hogday asked me to bring her the bottle of Guinness that I had foolishly failed to drink last night (it was St Paddy's Day and I always have a few bottles of the dark stuff handy). She forced me to open it and pour it into the beef stew she was preparing. She was holding a large stainless steel spoon so I had no choice.

Uncertain feeling Number 3: What started all this uncertain feeling stuff was when I awoke from a terrible dream. I was riding my motorbike (couldn't tell which one) at high speed, towards The Mersey Tunnel. Suddenly the tunnel started to close up, like the shutting down of the aperture on a camera lens. The hole got smaller and smaller until it was clear I was going to crash. Then I opened my eyes just as the cat was about to sit on my face.
I really needed that Guinness.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

"Go again, Sir?"

As the immortal words above, allegedly from a battered sergeant of The Light Brigade just after the charge, spring to mind, I've booked another week at our friends appartment on the Cosa del Nostra a couple of weeks hence.

This time I won't check in online, won't book a parking place at the airport, won't book a rental car, won't take out the airline's recommended insurance, won't take any luggage, won't take any Euro's, won't shower, shit or shave, won't use the lavvy on the plane (I'll bring an empty clear plastic bottle - I think they'll allow that on board but as a back-up I'll be wearing incontinence pants), won't buy an `entertainment accessory` (cheapo naff earphones in a sealed plastic bag that, for £5, allow you to hear a tinny, scratchy drumming in your head as opposed to the engines and screaming kids) won't pre-book the pre-cooked pre-food in-flight meal, won't pre-book our seats (someone else can pay for the privilege of sitting next to this miserable git) and won't listen to the news about the forthcoming Spanish air traffic control and other public sector strikes planned for Easter and beyond into the summer, just in case they realise I'm going earlier in order to miss them and decide to bring their action forward for the sole purpose of catching me in their net of misery. My back up plan is that we'll dust off the hitherto ne'er do well and rarely used credit card and go to Naples, Florida in May. But knowing our current run of `luck` I expect that just after we unpack our hawaiian shirts, we'll be told that "Hurricane Bastard" is making it's way across the Gulf.
Plan C is that we get out the Harley and fucking ride there.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

There is no Administration charge to read this post

I know I mentioned we'd be in Spain this week...well we're not. Thanks to an extremely nasty virus that reduced Mrs H to a wheezing, overheating, delerious zombie, our plans for a week of warm temperatures, Mediterranean sun, tapas and Rioja with our chums from Nova Scotia went totally tits-up last Thursday, at least for the Hogday's it did.

Mrs H was feeling dodgy last Tuesday and by the next morning, 24 hours before our flight, it was clear she would not be fit to fly. Plan `A` was to re-schedule her flight to Saturday in the hope that 2 extra days rest would see her ok.'s customer service person, in a call centre somewhere on the Indian sub-continent, was very polite as she told me that because I had already done an online check-in there was nothing she could do. Had I not used the online check-in the previous day, Mrs H's flight would have been moved, at a `small administration charge`. Being as we're `never say die` types we decided to book her a fresh, one-way, flight for Saturday and for me to travel out alone on the original booking. She would then join me on Saturday and would at least enjoy 5 days break and travel back with me on our original return flight. That was until we woke up Thursday morning and realised that this virus was here to stay for a lot longer. Despite Mrs H's noble pleas for me to go alone and leave her to die a slow, painful and spluttering death, I would have none of it and stayed put, turning into chief nurse, cook and bottle-washer in the blink of an eye. Of course the one-way seat I'd booked her as a back up was just more money down the tubes. Shit.

But never mind, we have travel insurance! Gloomily I telephoned the airline help desk at 50p per minute, to be told after they'd run up a nice bill of £3.50 without me actually getting through to a human, that everything I need is downloadable from their website. So download I did. It was then I discovered that in order for me to receive the necessary form that certifies we did not fly, they would charge a £15 administration fee. Still, we would be able to get our airport tax back! Ah, but to process that, the `admin` fee levied would be £40, which practically cancels out the tax that I would get back. "But you can claim this fee back from your insurers", said the cheerful voice from Mumbai. "No I can't", said I. The insurance company have just told me that they do not refund these fees. "Actually", said I, "my policy came from the insurers you promote and provide, via your website and which I purchased at the time of booking". There came nought but a long, silent pause from the land of the Bengal Lancers. Then she asked if there was anything else she could help me with. There wasn't, so she said goodbye and wished me a great day. What a lovely voice and telephone manner she had. I'd write in to pay her a compliment but I'm scared they'll hit me with another 20 quid admin charge for opening my letter, so her great work must remain unacknowledged.

Mrs H saw the Doctor on Friday and handed him the form we needed him to complete to prove she had seen him and was indeed ill. There is a small admin charge of £26 for this, although it is filled out by an admin clerk at the surgery. I calculated that this would take about 5 minutes to complete, including licking the envelope and fixing a stamp to it, so at £300 an hour that's one hell of an admin clerk. Anyways, I rode into town and went to the currency exchange desk in Marks and Spencers to change £150's worth of those useless Euro's back into Sterling, knowing that they won't charge commission. I got back £135. `The copulating C-bombs`, I thought.

But then came a sort of Road to Damascus moment. As I left the store and walked into the chilly wind howling down the shopping precinct, a woman came up to me and asked if I would like to make a donation  towards a childrens charity of some description. I immediately stuck my hand in my pocket, pulled out a handful of coins and pressed £3 into her hand. She thanked me and gave me a ticket which I just stuffed into my pocket. I told her that over the last 48 hours I had watched money being sucked out of my bank account like a turbo-dredger on methanol, but that her's was the most honest and justified request for cash amongst all the other acts of Highway Robbery I'd suffered and I felt relieved to be able to give to her cause. I went home and took our dog for a long walk.

As the pooch and I strolled along a footpath that was formerly a railway track through open countryside, we came across a family of four plus a huge Alsation. The dogs greeted each other like old pals and I chatted to the humans. They had a daughter in a rather heavy, special wheelchair. She was clearly severely disabled, with her head canted to one side. She had Cerebral Palsy. She couldn't speak, but she could see our little Jack Rascal Terrorist. Her father picked him up and sat him on her lap and she beamed at him has he licked her face. After a chat about this and that we all went our separate ways. As they wheeled her away in the opposite direction her mother said that our pooch had really made her day. As I strolled back home I remembered the charity ticket I'd been given and pulled it from my jacket pocket. It was for children suffering from Cerebral Palsy and Dyspraxia. I figured that £3 had bought me quite a lot of sunshine - and there was no small admin charge either.

and thanks to Conan the Librarian for this clip:

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Bridge Too Far?

What with half the Royal Navy dashing across the Med from Malta to Benghazi recently and the Hogday's off to The Med later this week, I thought I'd brush up on my warship recognition and boy did I get a surprise. Take a look at our latest destroyer, HMS Daring:
Now is it just me and my paranoia, or has the RN come up with the biggest PR coup in decades and stuck a Minaret on the bridge? I think it was commissioned during Tony Blair's watch, so you never know? You be the judge....