Saturday, 25 June 2011

London... my London

A trip to London can be so refreshing. The fact that I was once a sometimes cynical, sometimes prematurely life-weary foot plod of the Metropolitan Police who sometimes took so much of my surroundings slightly for granted, seemed to melt away as I revelled in the magnificence of my country's capital, the place where my parents grew up, worked in, suffered in during the Blitz and raised my sister and I. I was proud of the old place and forgave it the hard times it sometimes gave me.

We were there last weekend and stayed for a few days doing the tourist thing and strolling through the Royal Parks, the Churchill War Rooms museum (part of the Imperial War Museum), Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, The Embankment, Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, a stroll across the bridges to the South bank, coffee and croissants with scrambled eggs on toast in the fab bistro near the entrance to The Royal Festival Hall, early dinner in The Ivy then a 2 minute stroll up to Cambridge Circus to see "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" for the second time in 18 months before heading home on Tuesday with first class train tickets and all the salmon sandwitches, tea and cake I could stuff down between Kings Cross/St Pancras and Leeds. (My old English teacher told me that a sentence should always be between fifteen and twentyfive words, but I was on a roll there and just couldn't shut up).

Most of the above were my old stamping grounds during my London years as a police officer and so Mrs HD, with her own personal tour guide, was treated to some of the unseen streets that many tourists will miss, either through ignorance, apprehension about straying `off the beaten track` or time constraints. That is a shame because you can miss out seeing a very different side to the old place. We had a pint in my old local, just down the road from the Roman Catholic Cathederal in Victoria. A haven off the tourist trail by a mere 100 yards which meant it really was a `locals` boozer. I was in a time warp and flawed memories flooded back. The pub had its name changed 3 weeks ago but the refurb it had undergone was so good, so sympathetic to the classic London pub, that I intend to write to the brewery to tell them so.

We strolled back down to Parliament Square and I took my beloved through an arch next to Westminster Abbey and into Deans Yard where we strolled around the cloisters of Westminster School, a peaceful haven where, as a young London Bobby, I would escape for a few precious, peaceful moments during my otherwise bustling tour of duty. It was fascinating to see the pupils of this very expensive public school strutting between classes. We eavesdropped on lecturers corner chit-chats, briefing each other on pupils' progress and `unsuitable` items they had confiscated from Thompkinson-minor during British Constitution. We had a laugh on speculating what these items might have been.

As we strolled across Horseguards Parade I pointed out the back garden of 10 Downing Street and told of freezing winter nights I'd spent pacing up and down waiting for my midnight relief to take over and allow me a blessed 45 minutes in the warmth of Cannon Row police station canteen before heading out again to sit on the frost covered garden seat, my legs wrapped in the daily papers in an attempt to keep warm. I had more than just sympathy for what the vagrants of the parks and gardens suffered. There were times I was so cold I doubt I could have aimed my little Walther PP at any would be intruder attempting to scale the wall. If they came over with a flask of hot coffee I'd have been a push over. I chatted with the guys from the Diplomatic Protection Group covering the perimeter and swapped a few yarns. They listened to my ramblings with remarkable politeness and even asked a few questions of me, bless `em, and they still seem to be working the same basic rota I did over 35 years earlier - probably because it worked. There's progress! We shook hands as they headed of for a grub break and we headed off for a cappuchino and a bun.

But for me, the most remarkable object I encountered was at the Royal Observatory, now part of The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. We stayed in Greenwich on the saturday as we were attending my sisters 60th yes, sixtieth, wedding anniversary. (I'm not that old, I just came late in my parents life!). Greenwich has a village feel about it and there are some great little cafes, bistros and shops and all this within a 20 minute ride from Trafalgar Square.  The Royal Observatory is a fantastic place, a beautiful historic building in a wonderful park at the top of a steep hill that, once you've caught your breath, affords a fabulous view across the Thames to the glass towers of commerce beyond. I could almost see our old house in East London from up there. The lavender covered gardens within the Observatory grounds and Flamsteed House, where once strolled the likes of Edmond Halley and Sir Isaac Newton, were a picture. It was such a powerful place, the centre for the study of time and space and the home of the famous Meridian Line that defines East from West.

The significance of time and astronomical studies is something that is so easily dismissed these days, but in the 17th and 18th centuries it was something of a Holy Grail type quest for the need to navigate ships accurately.  Sextant-like instruments available to fix positions on the oceans have been around for centuries and early navigators were capable of pinpointing their position fairly accurately, in respect of their latitude (North and South). It was pinning down their position on the East/West or Longitude that eluded them. What was needed was a clock, but not just any clock, it had to be a clock that could not only operate on a heaving ship but one that could be set to a known time so as to back calculate. It also had to be capable of maintaining great accuracy.

The story of the search for Longitude is one that I read a few years ago in this book by Dava Sobel and despite sounding an unlikely subject to be exciting, I found it one of the most touching and remarkable books I have ever picked up, for the incredible story that it told. The below picture is of John Harrison's 4th attempt to create the timepiece desired by the British Government in 1714. There were three that preceded it and they looked nothing like this one and were huge by comparison, albeit remarkable in their detail. Some of the wheels were actually made of wood and the fine work of the movements were almost impossibly beautiful that one marvelled at the fact they were crafted to such fine tolerances in the 1700's. Harrison's story is one of the greatest tales of history.

At about 5" in diameter,  Harrison's `4th`  is arguably one of the singularly most important and significant objects ever created (after my wife). I stood before this clock and was mesmerised by it and what it meant to the world.

Other less significant but still memorable events are shown hereafter:

Lavender in the gardens of the Royal Observatory

Approaching Greenwich Pier

Towards Horseguards Parade from The Duck Bridge, St James's Park

The Pub

A pint of Yorkshire beer, in a London pub?? WTF?

I'll go for a stroll now and contemplate our own future. We appear to have sold our house, after nearly three years of frustration and let downs. Perhaps our time is coming at last. The question now is, "where to next"?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

King of the Wild Countreee

I live in what is described as a quaint, attractive village. It has a number of properties that date from the 13th Century and there are residential properties that have their origins around the late 1500's. Some even have their `Priest's Hole` from times when Roman Catholic Priests were hiding from the authorities.  (Wonder what they'd been up to? - again? Huh, priests holes - best have them blocked up for safety's sake, I'd say).  So far, this year, there have been four reported crimes in the area, one of which was the theft of a disabled driver`s car badge. We are living on our nerves out here.

But the behaviour of just one or two arsepipes living in this lovely little village has turned me into a predator, a hunter, a man so ruthless that my recent exploits (known only to a very small, select group of local people) are said to rival those highwaymen and villains of English Folklore that once prowled the country. I'm not talking of the likes of `Dick Turpin of Hounslow Heath`, `Sir Wilfred Death of Cumberland` or even `Mad Gerald of Chipping Sodbury`, oh no, my antics are said to exceed even those of that most feared of all ancient Britons (and small parted Black Adder villain),  yes I am now spoken of as the reincarnation of `Unspeakably Violent Jack, the bull-buggering beast killer of no fixed abode`. Why? You may well ask. Read on.

 For the last 6 months we have been plagued by a night stalker. He entered our house whilst we were asleep. On those occasions when our  Jack Rascal Terrorist was a bit slow on the uptake (kipping on the job) he even managed to get upsstairs. He peed where he wanted to and attacked our two gals - yes he was a bloody un-neutered tom cat. After washing down the walls and floor with biological washing powder we managed to eradicate the stink, but of course this wasn't tackling the problem at source because this guy was totally hormone driven which, as those of us with hormones know, over rides all other instinct. We needed to nail those hormones, or in this case cut the buggers off.  As I used to say in my previous career, we need to stop getting all out of breath fighting alligators and become swamp drainage engineers instead. I am an animal lover, I love dogs, like cats, watch birds and all the wildlife I can clap my eyes on, but I will quickly fall out with any of the aforementioned if it wakes me up, breaks into my house and pisses on my furniture and this ginger devil had done this once too often, so I got to work.

Like all good plans one first needs to gather all the information one can and so I appointed an `Intelligence Officer` - that was me. I conducted house to house enquiries, starting with the nearest first. In a matter of an hour I had discovered that this anti-social behaviour had been going on for over a year and over almost a quarter mile radius. Neighbours I was previously just on nodding terms with, regaled me with horror stories involving their cats being attacked and injured and their homes similarly violated. All of the feline victims had become nervous wrecks and their previously idyllic lifestyle had turned into one of constant vigilance through fear of surprise attack. Several hundred pounds worth of veterinary bills had also been incurred and these poor folks were approaching that sad place known as `wit's end`. My enquiries then took me to our local parish councillor, whom I know well. He informed me that he had been at `wit's end` himself for some time over this but gave me a useful piece of intelligence. (Note: `intelligence` is different from `information`). 
There was a problem `couple` in our community.

I said `couple` but this pair divorced, but then applied for, and were granted, a council flat each, next door to each other. They continued to socialise together, drinking in the local pubs and catching the bus into town for shopping trips. Try as I might, the thought of me socialising with my ex wife is not something that even my vivid imagination can conjure up, so I just wonder what the hell that is all about? Anyone got any ideas? Is it a fiddle of some sort? Do asylum seekers or illegal immigrants get this sort of service as well? Anyhow, this odd non-couple ( basically a villain and his ex who  managed to grow old)  encouraged cats from all over by throwing out food scraps, including chicken bones and carcasses, into the grounds of their accommodation and turned once beautifully kept gardens into something the councillor described as a tip. Cats multiply and become a recipe for local discord, not to mention the damage and distress caused to the poor bloody cats themselves, scavanging for food from all and sundry. When challenged by council officers these wasters deny ownership, but all the information points to them being responsible - and there it stops. Despite the tenancy agreement restricting them to one `pet` they have created, by their irresponsible behaviour, a growing pack of semi-feral felines and despite the existence of the councils enforcement officers, `nothing can be done`, at least by the council, that is.

My next step was to contact the RSPCA for advice. I left telephone messages and sent e mails, but not a word did I hear from the great society. 2 months later, still nothing, not even an acknowledgement. So RSPCA gets my thumbs down. I then contacted Cats Protection and they were kind enough to provide me with advice, a cat trap and a friendly local vet's address. All I had to do was trap the beast and convey him to the vet where they'd scan him for an i/d chip, blood test him and do the necessary. Doddle. 

D-Day, 2245hrs. The trap was placed in the garden and baited. None of your cheapo cat grub for this Mr Tinkles. He was going to be seduced by the aroma of a single, glistening Glenryk Pilchard in tomato sauce MMMmmm, so irresistable I almost helped myself.  I locked up our catflap to keep our own two hungry buggers away from the fishy treat and then got ready for bed, but before I'd even stripped off there was the metallic clank of a cell door slamming shut and lo, there was my prey, a strapping, spitting cussing ginger Tom. I covered up the trap and placed it in the garage so he could settle down with his last pilchard at my expense. 9am the next day and I was walking through the door of the vet. Cats Protection was covering the cost. Five hours later and I received a call to my mobile. The vet nurse broke the news gently, that crazy red was no more. Sadly, he had tested positive for FIV (feline AIDS) and was put to sleep. A sad end. When I collected the trap the vet told me about this nasty infection and I told him the history of the recently departed Mr Tom. He told me that it was possible all the other cats in his hareem would be infected, said that I had done our little community a big service and asked if I could catch a few more as they posed a risk to all the other domestic cats. Personally, I'd had enough and returned the trap and collected my safety deposit. We had undisturbed sleep every night for the next two weeks, but that ended abruptly last Sunday.

Our village, as expected, has several `Sons of Ginge` because at 2am the Jack Rascal, on the job and alert this time, stood-to and his woofin` and a snarlin` jolted us awake. We staggered out of bed into the hall, just as a younger version of the raider of the lost ark flew down the stairs and dived through the catflap, pursued by the JRT intent on...something....but we would never know what because no self respecting cat gets caught by a dog and certainly not one with legs as short as ours. I expected this might happen, I just didn't think it would be so soon. He must have been on previous raids as the masters apprentice. Thankfully there was no pee spraying this time and the next morning I was back onto to Cat Protection for another loan of a trap. Two nights ago, at 0300hrs to be precise, the young pretender went the same way as his late relative, straight for the pilchard (in tomato sauce) and thereafter into captivity. The next day I went in to the garage and saw that he was a cute little guy, a wee bit scared and a lot bit feisty. Down the vets we went and again I waited for the phone call. It came at 4.30pm. He tested negative so they whipped his nuts off but would have to hand him back to me and I in turn would have to release him from whence he came because although he had no owner, there was no way he could be re-homed by either me, Cat Protection (who were full to overflowing) or anywhere else, for I had also tried to rustle up a home for these poor creatures I was nabbing. I took him down a leafy lane near to where he hung out and opened the cage. He trotted up the lane and straight into the grounds of his council flats, better off for his experience and a few ounces lighter. Un-neutered tom cats have a life expectancy of less than five years due to fighting over territory, so at  least he won't have that to worry about.

My grateful neighbours have bought me thank you cards and I even got a nice bottle of Italian wine. I got no satisfaction over this, I just feel sorry for the cats. As for the two wasters who caused all this trouble over a wide area, they neither know nor care what's been happening, or how they have cost good people a lot of time and money taking injured cats to the vets, possibly having been infected with FIV and how, once again, someone else puts in the effort and picks up the tab whilst they complain to the council about how long its taking to have their roof re-tiled and double glazing fitted. But at least I dont live near these diseases.

My son sent me a text message today saying, "Hey Dad, you're getting good at this cat trapping, you should start a business". My reply: "I'm having the next one made into a hat. Just call me `Kitty Crockett`.

Monday, 13 June 2011


I'm concerned that I might be getting a bit soft in my older age.

Travelling across the hilly, moorish bit in the middle of northern England yesterday, I found myself amongst a group of terrorists. I think they belonged to something called,  "The Popular Front For the Grinding to a Halt of Half the Country" who I believe are afilliated to the "8am to 9am School Run Road Obstruction so I don't have to walk a mile" sect, but the cunning bastards I encountered appear to go by the pseudonym of the `Happy Wanderer's Car a` Van Club`.

They trapped us as we accidentally infiltrated their, "Let's go and fuck up Cumbrian Roads" June weekend rally. After circling the wagons, they spent a weekend of whist drives, quiz competitions and lectures from Auntie Cissy Turner on such things as `a hundred and one things you can do with a primus stove` and `billy cans I have known and loved`. There may have even been a bit of key swapping for all I know, but I'm trying to supress that thought. One of these plastic portaloos-on-wheels was sporting lots of badges including, "!GOLD MEDAL! HWCC Chemical toilet emptying competition, 1998" and "Winner - `Park the van without waking the granny` competition, Pendine Sands, 1976". We were impressed to be amongst such company, I can tell you.

It was when we were chugging along behind it, and several of its fellow senior members, on the winding, undulating A65.... at 25mph.....with seventy miles ahead of us, that my new strategic plan came to me. These people need regulating for their own good, to save them from being cursed by every law abiding motorist - and gypsies - as well as to protect them from random physical attack. I'm serious, I mean heaven knows what might have happened had I still had access to my trusty Remington 800 pump action shotgun and several cases of 00 Buckshot? - Just saying.

My fantasy legislation was drafted as follows:

1. All Car a`Vans to be subjected to a congestion charge whenever they set rubber on the highway. The charge is `per road` travelled, not per journey - the smaller the road,  the bigger the charge.
2. They may only be allowed on the roads between 2am and 5am. If they are seen on the road outside these hours the police can, after removing the occupants, torch the van either on the spot or at a location to be decided based on local necessity. Alternatively, it can be donated to a charity that supplies shelters to African bush communities.
3. Owner to be billed for lighter fuel, matches and removal of the ash, in lieu of shipping costs to Malawi etc.
4. Car a`Van site must not blight the landscape.

I got home and had a couple of cold ones then re-thought this. Maybe I let my emotions run out of control? Maybe I was acting in haste? Maybe I was a little harsh in the first draft? Was I going soft in having the occupants removed before torching the van? Am I just over-reacting? I don't know what to think anymore? This really tested my humanity and I found it wanting. I'm ashamed.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Back to the Future (where everything is beautiful)

I'm getting really worried about some of the brawling, hapless, hopeless excuses for humans that I had to extricate from each others punches and threats and whose various offspring I removed to places of safety and notified social services about and who, in turn, `did their best for the family` in their aftercare visits.....[pauses for breath].  I'm getting worried because those of them who are still alive and most likely still screaming and kicking, probably have grandchildren who, taking a lead from their parents on what constitutes the building blocks of childcare, are as likely as not repeating much of the same. It makes me wonder that if one of them gets killed in a DV incident, will I suddenly turn up in the enquiry and get the blame for not castrating one of their ancestors when I had the chance?

Based on the sound bite attention grabbing headlines of,  `murder "could have been prevented?"` referring to the latest tragedy to knock poison cucumbers and FIFA off the front pages, I may well be up for some sort of investigation. There's plenty to choose from amongst all the domestic violence jobs I went to, where I separated warring parties, slung partners out of their own abodes, whisked kids into the police station for safe keeping, took pages of statements only to find a half page one, withdrawing all allegations, waiting in my in-tray a few days later. All the poor lost, mainly female, souls I pleaded with to take a grip of their life, take the advice I could give and to be strong and walk away, knowing that it was a hell of a thing to do but in the forefront of my mind knowing that even if I got the violent bastard locked up, it wouldn't be forever and there was always a chance he'd come looking for her when he was released. Knowing that she couldn't pay for a private security firm and that I couldn't be posted outside her house for the rest of my service or until the ex died, didn't seem to sink in. It could have been heartbreaking had i let it get to me. As it was it was always a serious concern and, like many of my peers and doubtless todays officers, I probably took home more worries about domestics I'd attended than most other types of job because, even though you knew you'd done pretty much everything you could do, a lot was left to chance, including the ultimate plight of the victim. I wonder how many lives a pop star with multi-million £ assets could save if she set up a charity that paid for minders for women under threat of attack from their violent  partners/ex partners?

In my latter years in the police I was amazed at how much more detail was being gathered in respect of domestic violence and of the multi-agency strategies and councils with their own DV officers. It is no surprise when one considers that with the `modern` police service having intelligence led strategy as its main driver, that this should be so. I was not amazed to see the setting up of dedicated DV units because, based on the previous comment, if you want to predict where the next murder or violent assault is coming from, your stats will tell you that domestic violence is a good place to start looking. But I'm not sure things are any better in respect of the root causes and the basic commodity you are dealing with. I'll conclude this little piece by quoting from a comment I left on one of Inspector Hobbes's posts recently. It relates to one of my first encounters with a case of domestic abuse.

I recall my first week at a busy London station (Deptford aka "Dirty Deptford", "Fort Apache, SE8" etc etc). A young woman of Carib origin came in and rattled off several sentences in patois so strong that, because of my greenness, my ears weren't attuned to it. The Sgt advised me that she was saying, `me man beat me then he sex me` - essentially a rape allegation of sorts. She was interviewed by a female officer and flatly refused to either be examined or to make a complaint. What she expected, as a recently arrived resident in the UK, was the sort of help she would get from her former local police force in Jamaica, that being the local cops to get hold of the boyfriend, whisper advice in his shell like and then beat seven shades of excrement out of him to drive home the message. She went on to explain that in domestic disputes the same sort of treatment was metered out, only to both parties.

Naturally, London's finest were not going to do that and she left the station disgusted at our indifference to her pleas for justice.

I wonder now, on looking back over my own record of dealing with domestic violence incidents (nobody ended up killing anyone) if we are failing to face up to the truth of the matter and trying to baffle nature with science, or maybe we just have the science all wrong, or maybe the Jamaican police knew a thing or two about human nature?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Riding the Dragon

So now we have ground attack helicopters operating over Libya. The news channels will be full of it for the next 24 hours I expect. Something new to talk about and some different footage to show off on television. So, I thought I'd do a little post about what I know of these Apache helicopters, from my own research after I first saw the early version demonstrated by an amazing American pilot at the Army Air Corps HQ in Middle Wallop, Hampshire way back in 1982 and from my reading of a couple of excellent books by a highly decorated British Army pilot, Ed Macy. Both his books, "Apache" and "Hellfire" are a truly gripping and fascinating read. The skill and bravery of the teams who crew and support this aircraft fills one with pride and admiration.

The Apache is an ugly spud and has been around a long time, but its latest and most deadly version, the AH64D, only came into service with the US in 1998 although, as I briefly mentioned, I watched one fly many years earlier when providing very heavy and very armed security at an Army Aviation open day. America was very cagey about selling this beastie to anyone other than those it considered its closest allies. Now it is operated by Israel, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Kuwait and the UAE. So what is the story behind the UK getting its hands on this remarkable aircraft? The following is in Ed Macy's own words, from his first book, "Apache":

"In 1998 the AH64D came into service. It was even deadlier; 400 per cent more lethal (hitting more targets) and 720 per cent more survivable than its predecessor. The most significant addition was the state of the art Longbow Radar which could operate in all weathers, day or night, simultaneously detect 1,024 potential targets, moving or static, up to eight kilometers away, classify the top 256 and display the sixteen most threatening for destruction - all in three seconds. Twenty five seconds later, every one of those targets could be destroyed by a single Apache's Hellfires (guided missiles). A squadron of eight AH64D's working in unison could terminate 128 tanks in 28 seconds - just by raising one Apache Longbow Radar above the tree or ridge line for a few seconds. They christened it `fire and forget`.

 In the late 1990's the British Government finally decided it needed them too. As a nation we didn't have an attack helicopter capability, just a few Lynx squadrons armed with a couple of TOW anti-tank missiles strapped to the side of each craft. Despite its cutting edge design and astonishingly powerful Longbow, the AH64D still had a few ongoing shortcomings. They couldn't operate off ships and they weren't powerful enough to carry a significant amount of ammunition and fuel at the same time. To fly them at low level meant heavy anti aircraft fire could still bring them down.

Our generals approached the government with an ambitious plan. Why didn't we buy Boeing's Apache shell, keep the good bits and make the rest even better ourselves? The boffins at Westland Helicopters went to work.  The most important change was two Rolls Royce RTM 322 engines. Each churned out more than twice the brake horsepower of a Formula One racing car, giving our model 30 per cent more power than the American AH64D. It allowed us to fly further, higher and fight with more weapons.

The Brits also scoured the globe for the best countermeasures and built them into the worlds most sophisticated defensive aide suite. It allowed pilots to take the the aircraft above small arms range, which downed 95 per cent of all military helicopters, and into the previously lethal surface to air missile (SAM) belt - because the British Apache could now defeat surface to air missiles. They also added a folding blade mechanism so we could operate off aircraft carriers in confined space; an automatic de-icer built into the blades so we could fight in the Arctic; Saturn radios so highly encrypted that their transmissions couldn't be decoded by any intercept; new motors for the CRV7 rockets, making them faster and more accurate; and a unique health monitoring system which enabled the aircraft to automatically diagnose any problems through dozens of microscopic sensors. 

The UK bought sixty seven of Westland's finished article for a cool £46 million each - making the Apache AH Mk1 the second most expensive British aircraft ever made, behind the £62 million Eurofighter Typhoon. The whole Apache project set the MoD back £4.13 billion. On paper, the British Apache was the most expensive - and best - attack helicopter in aviation history. For once, even the Americans were jealous. All the Army needed to do now was find the pilots to fly their new creation. And that was the most challenging part of all".

I could reproduce more from Ed's book but I need a break from copy typing and I want to post this up and have a beer. If anyone would like a little bit more of a taster, leave a comment and I'll see what I can do, but before I sign off I just wanted to say that I felt the MoD did a pretty darned good job in acquiring Apaches for our Army. When one reads about some of the other supply debacles one tends to overlook the good bits. But we've only deployed eight and we only have one ship that can do what is currently being done out there in the Med, off the Libyan coast. That is something that HMG and the MoD still have to look at, long and hard.  

And a  footnote to this post: I've just had a text from Mrs HD, who doesn't know I'm tapping this out, to say Ed Macy is currently being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 about the Apache deployment in Libya - now how spooky is that?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Empire of the Clouds? (aka `those were the days`)

Gulf War veteran (made in 1950's and still nifty)
God does fly a Fairey Gannet>

Mosquito under restoration>

Look! Improved accomodation for officers!! >>