The Police training college at Dishforth is an old RAF base with various dormitories and buildings surrounding a large parade square. It was never built to be more than functional. A six year old with a few Lego bricks could design something far more pleasing on the eye but for the next ten weeks it was going to be home.
I had arrived with two other Humberside police newbies, Geoff and Roy and was stopped at the main gate to check our identities. Why anyone would want to sneak into a place where two hundred police recruits wanted to test drive their one foot rosewood sticks on someone’s head was beyond me. Truncheons did not come with instructions but apparently you picked up how to use them very quickly. Anyway, it would appear we were on the party list and were allowed in, even with trainers on.
Once inside the base we were given a designated dormitory and a map of the base. We were also supplied with one of those lists of rules that men never read unless it is in the toilet stall when they have constipation. It is unnerving going into a room and meeting new people but this was my bedroom or dormitory and I would be sleeping with sixteen strange men. At least I could discount ex jail birds from being there.
The room was about 50m long and each side had identical beds, wardrobes and bedside lockers. When I say bed, it was a barbed wire fence stretched between a metal frame. Describing the bit of material on the bed as a mattress was like comparing a well used, sweaty, string vest to one of James Bonds dinner jackets complete with silk pocket hanky. There was a white cotton sheet and orange and brown bedspread that was made out of 240 grade wet and dry sandpaper. That was it. My bit of home which was identical to the other 15 plots in the dormitory graveyard.
Other newbies were casting wary glances around the room throwing a nod of acknowledgement whilst claiming there own beds. New uniforms that had only ever been tried on for size were put away in wardrobes and very gradually we started talking to each other. There were people from different forces and with a variety of backgrounds. There were a few Geordies who needed interpreters to understand them and I also added them to my mental list of Ripper candidates.
At one end of the dormitory was the wash-room, to give it an upmarket name. If you imagine a plain white, fully tiled, prison shower block where someone will either throw the soap down, slit your throat or both then you have the picture. I kept expecting to hear Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” sound from the knife and shower scene. There was a couple of old cast iron baths, communal showers, toilets and several ironing boards. In one way we were lucky that the irons did not run on hot coals but, electric irons in a bathroom!… well I suppose it was going to be a few decades before someone dug up the evil twins of health and safety for us to worry about.
I had been at Dishforth an hour or so and had packed everything away. We all had a brand new uniforms but people were actually ironing and putting creases in the trousers and jacket. What was all that about? I decided it was one of those moments where it was time to put on the woolly sheep’s coat, start bleating and follow everyone else. If they were ironing there must be a reason for it and although I did not know the reason I may as well join in. I had nothing else to do apart from get my throat slit in the showers.
It turned out that a lot of my class were ex-forces so were used to this type of life. In fact they preferred it and helped idiots like me learn some worthwhile tricks very quickly. Besides learning how to bull boots I also learnt I needed two pairs. One that were bulled and only used on parade. The other pair was used for everything else. I also found out that I needed a pair of stockings! Yes, exactly, that is what I thought but you actually store a shoe in each stocking to protect them. It also left me in a dilemma when I next went home. Should I ask my mother if she had some old stockings, which was just wrong on so many levels or buy some. Neither option was appealing.
The following morning we had to be up early and dressed in our uniform. There was no parade on the square that first morning but the dormitory was inspected. We were told how it would be inspected randomly from now on and everything needed to be immaculate and identical with all the bedding folded the same. Our boots, uniform and ourselves would be held up to the same highly polished mirror and anything wrong meant we would have to parade in uniform at nine that night and then carry out security checks of the base. This meant we could not go to the Dishforth Packhorse bar (the Police pub/club) and indulge in their lightly chilled liquid refreshment.
Going anywhere on the grounds meant we all had to march there together. That was a joke as some people had never learnt to walk, never mind march with others. That first morning we tried and failed miserably to get to the classroom in the teaching block by marching as a group. We looked more like ducks waddling through cow pats in a muddy field with our legs tied.
I thought I had done with the blackboard and desk stuff but I was wrong. The desks were set out like school with two together in rows facing the board. A place card was on each desk and we took it that you sat at the one with your own name on it. On the board written in big, bold, chalk letters, were the words “Do not talk, do not look round, do not eat, do not do anything and only breath if you have to”. This was worse than school!
We were left there for an eternity not daring to move. I am not sure how long it was but it was a long time. At the end of the ten week course our two Sargent instructors, Sargent’s Webster and McLeish told us they were looking through the door at the back of the classroom and giggling like little school girls.
As for now, we were left in no doubt that we were in a job that ran on discipline, especially self discipline. It was not something I was used to or looking forward to. We would also be having practical and theory exams throughout the course, all of which we would have to pass. I did not know it then but in learning to be a police officer I would have an amazing ten weeks at Dishforth I would never forget.