You’re a Police Officer, well sort of, well not really, well not yet anyway.
Ask any Police Officer in the UK and they will be able to tell you two dates that are spot welded to the back of their retinas, never to be forgotten. The first will be the date they joined the “Job” and the second and more important date will be the hour, minute and second when they are due to retire.
1979 was a turning point in British history and marked the beginning of the Thatcher era and some very troubled times. Maggie and I both started our new jobs in a year where there had been more days lost through strikes than at any time since 1926. It was also the year that Lord Mountbatten, and the conservative MP, Airey Neave had been blown up by the IRA.
I had just turned nineteen and had left my job as a trainee metallurgist on the steelworks in Scunthorpe to join the Police Force. The bombs in London were irrelevant to a spotty teenager whose only knowledge of explosions were squeezing acne onto the bathroom mirror. Come on, I lived and worked in Humberside which had more ferrets per square mile than people. Up to that time the Ferrets Republican Army had failed to plant a successful bomb or kneecap anyone with a rusty Black and Decker.
Looking back, the Police chief in the sky must have been smoking something he shouldn’t as I was the only applicant from many to have passed the entrance exam and subsequent interview. I was certainly nothing special and had very average qualifications. Only two years earlier I had been a “Rebel without a cause” in civvy street and was convicted in court for driving offences on my moped. During my job interview it was pointed out at length that I had no respect for the law and how was I to uphold it when I kept breaking it myself? At that point I felt as if Jack the Rippers crimes were merely minor errors in judgement compared to mine.
Even to this day I have no recollection of filling out the application form. I have a sneaky feeling that it wasn’t me who applied but my parents. They knew that if I was successful, I would have to move well away from their comfortable settee and click your fingers service. I certainly did not want to join through an overwhelming desire to help my fellow man. They were well beyond help in my book. The only reason that springs to mind is that you retired early with a pension. I could then live my dream and go sailing into the sunset and still be young enough to have my own teeth.
So, there I was, young, eager, passed the medical, the home visit, the exam and the interview and I was offered the job. I don’t know how it happened but I ended up Joining the Police. It wasn’t as if I got drunk and woke up with a tattoo which makes it worse. I did it sober. I was in. I was almost one of the boys in blue, a copper, the filth, pigs, a peeler, a bobby, a real bastard or whatever you want to call them.
The next stage was to get a uniform and go to the Police training college at Dishforth in the North of England. Well that would be the normal way but someone, somewhere, made a mistake. I had been booked in at Dishforth on the wrong date. For six weeks, I would be a Police officer without a uniform, without being sworn in, without any identification or even a stick to hit people with. I was to attend my local Police Station and they were to look after me and keep me out of harm’s way in the meantime.
On my first day, I dressed in my best blue velvet jacket (they were all the rage then) although I had to borrow one of my dad’s kipper ties as I didn’t own one. My mum even had to tie it for me as I didn’t know how and a noose around my neck might not have given the right impression.
Even my Vauxhall Viva car had problems getting to the Police Station. It was my first car and had been given to me as a fixer upper but it still needed fixing up. I had to keep the heater on full blast to stop the engine overheating and the driver’s door would fly open when turning left unless I held it. I could have tied the car door closed with my dads kipper tie but walking into work and asking the Station Sargent to put my tie on for me did not seem the best idea. As it was I managed to get there but I decided it would be a good idea to park some distance away from the station and walk in.
It was such a strange feeling being inside a Police Station, surrounded by uniforms and for once I had done nothing wrong. Well actually I had, but so far they had never discovered my shady past and the many aliases I had given to various Police Officers. I felt as if they were all going to bollock me at any moment as they had many times throughout my youth. I felt an imposter in a grown up world, but what were they going to do with me? I soon found out and it was not what I was expecting. They sent me to the last place I wanted to be and on the worst possible day for me to be there.