Charters Towers is the last major
town before Mount Isa, which is the biggest and only large town in central Queensland, and has a base catering for The
Royal Flying Doctor Service. This gives a good indication of how remote the
place is. It is 400 miles from Charters Towers, about 700 kilometres, and there’s
virtually nothing in-between the two places apart from a few very small towns
dotted along the road. Anyone leaving Charters Towers heading west was therefore
probably heading for The Isa, as
Mount Isa was colloquially known.
From the chapter: 'Townsville'
Moving outside into the rear of the
Holden Ute was the best decision I could have made. I lay down on my back with
my head against my rucksack and looked up. The hours that followed would become
one of those very rare and utterly priceless travel memories and one the greatest
of my entire trip. As we streaked across remote central Queensland on the
Barkly Highway the view suddenly snatched the breath from my lungs as though I’d
fallen into an icy lake. In the spectacular midnight wilderness the stars of The
Southern Cross amongst the other billions in the clear sky above seemed to touch
the ground all around us. The dark desolation merged completely with the edge
of the sky and everything in sight was bathed in a silvery ethereal glow from
the moonlight. Looking on it seemed beautifully unreal, as though we were
driving across the surface of Mars. Cutting our way through the vast
featureless outback with our headlights reaching far ahead of us, I felt as
though we ourselves were at altitude, tearing through space, the darkness
forming behind us again in our wake as we moved. It was a truly unforgettable
and magical experience.
From the chapter: 'The Isa'
I stood proudly and optimistically holding
my bit of card aloft but all it seemed to do was arouse expressions of
bemusement from the drivers as they sped past me. I filled my water bottle at
the tap several times as I stood in the increasingly hot sun. I was wearing
cut-off jeans shorts, hiking boots, thick socks and a t-shirt. After midday I realised
I was filling my plastic bottle and drinking a full litre of water every hour standing there in the open
sun. I thought of the movie ‘The Bridge
on the River Kwai’ when the Allied prisoners were forced to stand in the
sun all day by the Japanese, and some of them started to pass out. I hoped I’d
be alright, provided I kept on drinking. My head was hot and I didn’t have any
sunglasses, I never did, so I had to screw up my eyes into very thin slits in
order to see. Again the skin on my face and arms felt like it was being roasted
over a coal fire. How long could I stand this? ‘There must be a lift soon’, I kept thinking to myself.
From the chapter: 'Three Ways'
I fled back towards the Shady Glen
Caravan Park, trudging with leaden feet, heavy heart and a throbbing head all
the way back up the main road. It was then that I did something I’d never done
before or even contemplated doing before; I picked up my first cigarette butt. I
wouldn’t have done it, normally, but the first one I found was almost a full cigarette, just lying there on the pavement in front of me. It would
have been a real shame to have left it. I imagined I might have picked it up
anyway, even if I had plenty of money, it was such a nice looking cigarette. It
looked beautiful and it was just ripe for the picking. I flicked off a few
crumbs of ash from the flattened end where someone had clearly lit it and then
for whatever reason had stamped it out almost immediately. I found another a
hundred yards later, only half a cigarette this time, and picked it up with great
enthusiasm and then dropped it carefully and reverently into the pocket of
From the chapter: 'Th
e Top End'
My deodorant had long since
run out, and it was not a priority so I guess I didn’t smell too good most of
the time. It is one of the strangest things about such traveling that you might
think your own body odour would grow geometrically worse as you continue to
sweat day after day in the same clothing, but I don’t think this actually
happens. Instead it reaches a certain level where it stabilises, and then the pong
you give off becomes a combination of several pungent smells such as bad
breath, general body odour, unclean clothes, tobacco smoke and many accretions
of stale sweat, amongst other things. Eventually you have a generic kind of unpleasant
whiff about you rather than simply stinking of armpit body odour.
From the chapter: 'The Alice'
“Do you wanna come in here with me,
Bob, out the rain?” I shouted to him above the noise of the increasing storm.
He stood up immediately and ran the few yards to the tent, clumsily shoving his
way almost sideways through the small zip-up entrance. My temporary home was supposedly
just a one man tent, so consequently it was then suddenly 100% over occupied.
But the rain was truly awful and no-one should have been expected to stay out
in that. We had to lie down together in a kind of spooning fashion in order to
fit in and not bulge the sides out, and it was not very comfortable. We just
managed to refrain from putting an arm around one another, even though it may
have helped to save space. But this was the first time we’d slept together so I
guess you shouldn’t push it on a first date.
From the chapter: 'Portland Bay'
The countryside flashed past, there
was some decent country and western music on the stereo, and the ride was warm
and luxurious. There was a very strong smell of freshly cut flowers and when I
noticed there weren’t any visible I realised it was her perfume fragrance that
had completely filled the car. No doubt I didn’t smell too good so hopefully she
may not have noticed my malodorous whiff as I sat next to her. She was
positioned quite low down in her seat and I could see from this that she wasn’t
very tall but she was reasonably slim and very feminine. She was wearing a
tight black dress which was cut surprisingly low across her very generous
chest. Her large heaving bosoms therefore bounced around very interestingly like
two bald men apple-bobbing and she was gripping the gear stick with her left
hand in a very provocative manner. But that could just have been my
imagination, or even some wishful thinking. Strange things can flash through
your mind when hitchhiking sometimes.
From the chapter: 'Melbourne'
“You’ll stay with me, in my room
tonight, eh?” he said, as I could sense his head was turned around towards me
in the darkness of the car, and I could feel his eyes looking at me. I daren’t
turn my head to see his face. I didn’t quite know what to say, or what to do. I’d
spent the night in motel rooms with lifts before and there hadn’t been a
problem. But I sensed something about this driver that I just wasn’t happy
about. It could have been hitch-hikers intuition, or just plain common sense,
but the vibes were quite strange from this bloke.
“No it’s okay mate, I’ve got me tent here
you know…” I replied in my best Aussie accent, tapping my rucksack on the floor
and the tent poles sticking out the top.
“No I insist you stay with me in my
room. It would be nice…”
“No, really, I’ve got my tent, thanks
all the same…”
“We could have some beers in the bar and
then go up to the room. You’d be okay, we could just have a drink and have some
fun that’s all, okay?” and there was some firmness in the man’s voice edged
with a slight touch of pleading. I tried to maintain an air of disinterest but I
was becoming quite worried. The man was physically much bigger in stature than I
was and I suddenly noticed the sheer size of his enormous hands, in addition to
his very thick and extremely hairy arms. I was thin, with long brown legs which
looked quite slender in my brief jeans shorts and no doubt I looked like I had narrow
hips too, like a Spanish waiter, so maybe the man fancied his chances? Should I
be flattered or worried, or both? I began to feel very uneasy as the car
bounded along the dark road, and felt some irony in the fact that I was almost
back in Brisbane and hadn’t felt uncomfortable at all during all those
thousands of miles until that moment.
“You do know it will change your life, Jonathan, the kibbutz I mean. You do know this?” We both stood staring at one another for a moment, before Ori suddenly shouted some Hebrew in a clear and commanding voice towards the sound of the children. He turned, and without looking back marched off towards them. He shouted back:
“Goodbye, Jonathan. Enjoy yourself. Shalom!” and disappeared behind the kitchen door. I stood briefly alone in the hallway before stepping over to the huge front door and walking out into the street. I thought about Ori’s last remark. I was quite puzzled by this statement at the time. I couldn’t possibly have known how prescient his comment would be, and the extent to which my life was about to change.
From: 'The Interview', 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
“These are all our kibbutzim,” she said proudly, using the plural form of the word ‘kibbutz’, and looking at the map as though showing me a priceless work of art. “You can go anywhere you want. Which one would you like to go to?” she looked at me, expectantly and yet indifferently at the same time. She took a long pull on her cigarette. Her thin cheeks drew in tightly to her face as she did so. I had no idea which one to choose.
“This looks interesting,” I said, feeling obliged to say something, while moving closer to the huge map. I vaguely aimed a forefinger towards the north, where Israel met Lebanon and Syria.
“Yes, Dafna, that’s a nice kibbutz,” she said, as though relieved I’d made a choice of my own, which clearly I hadn’t. I’d just pointed absent-mindedly at the wall.
So that was it, Kibbutz Dafna, about as far north as I could get, and right on the northern border.
From the chapter: 'Tel Aviv' in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'Kiryat Shmona is seven kilometres west of Kibbutz Dafna. It sits at the base of some incredibly steep hills and dark vertiginous cliffs which rise a thousand feet above it on one side. Though not a large town, it is the most northerly in Israel. The majority of the buildings appeared to be quite plain, sectional apartment blocks three or four storeys high and each one seemed to have its own miklat, or air raid shelter, similar to the ones at Dafna. In fact there were miklatim all over the place; in the main square, on street corners, seemingly everywhere. The border with Lebanon threaded its way around the northern edge of the town and was apparently just over the top of the hill. Kiryat Shmona was therefore a prime target for terrorist attack, though I was unaware of this at the time.'
From: 'The First Day', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'I hadn’t yet been hitch-hiking alone in Israel. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever hitch-hiked alone before, anywhere. I paused for a moment in the dry earth by the main road, near the gates of the kibbutz, before selecting a place to stand. There’s obviously an art to hitch-hiking. It’s very important to find the right spot. You need to be prominent and visible, but not so far into the road that you risk getting flattened. A white Peugeot van came trundling towards me heading towards town, and I stuck my right arm out in front of me. My index finger pointed ambitiously across the road, in the same manner as the Israeli soldiers. No-one would have known it was my first solo attempt. The driver passed me, but then pulled over, screeching and juddering to a stop in a cloud of dust, twenty yards ahead. I ran up to the side and opened the door.
“Kiryat Shmona?” the driver shouted loudly and impatiently at me, before I could say anything, without actually looking me in the eye. I climbed in and we set off.
“Ken,” I said, catching my breath, strapping myself in and nodding.'
From: 'Kiryat Shmona', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'It was only two days later, at three o’clock in the morning, when we were woken up by a noise that few Englishmen have ever heard, and would probably never experience in a whole lifetime. The first sound was a loud metallic clunking, squeaking, and very deep clangourous rumbling, some distance away from our room. It was very worrying, and as every second passed it drew ominously closer. Our room was at the bottom end of the kibbutz not far from the main road. This was where the disturbing noise seemed to be coming from, further down the road towards town. The ill-fitting wooden window frame and glass panes nearest my bed started rattling, with a noise like bees in a biscuit tin. The floor tiles groaned as though some great restless giant was burrowing underneath us. I heard dogs on the kibbutz start barking. I was sure then that we were experiencing the beginnings of an earthquake.
We were all awake together. Chris was first out of bed and immediately put the light on. The dusty shade hanging from the ceiling around the plain sixty-watt bulb was vibrating very slightly, trembling delicately at the edges like the fingers of a condemned man.'
From: 'An Eye for an Eye', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'We started to walk back down the road, after unanimously deciding against running. The sun shone brightly in our faces. The Hula Valley stretched out before us, with the Naftali Hills and Kiryat Shmona on the right. The air was fresh and the countryside was busy and green after the recent rain. The snowy peaks of Mount Hermon looked wild and spectacular, quite close over our left shoulders. Looking down from the Golan Road into Northern Israel it seemed as though we were at the very edge of civilization.'
From: 'The Banniass', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'As we sat eating, in a dining-room which was unusually quiet and almost completely empty, we began to hear some other loud bangs. These were quite different. They were sustained and regular, and came from behind us up the road where the tanks had trundled off so noisily into the darkness a few days before. If an ‘us and them’ scenario was applied, then these latest bangs in the hills were ‘our’ guns, the IDF Magach tanks. They fired constantly for an hour, in obvious reprisal for the rocket attack, right up until nine o’clock, before stopping. I could only imagine the sheer terror and material damage modern tank shells could cause. I had little sympathy for any terrorist unfortunate enough to be at the other end of such a fearsome barrage from dozens of Magach tanks. It seemed that fire was being fought with fire. The motto of the Israeli Defence Force should perhaps be something along the lines of: Killing Foe for Peace since 1948.'
From: 'The Christmas Tree', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'She seemed more delicate and feminine than before; small, submissive and vulnerable. Her deep blue eyes were as wide and beautiful as the warm azure sky which greeted me the first morning I arrived in Israel. I released my right hand from her grip and took hold of her slender waist with both hands and kissed her. She kissed me back. We kissed gently at first but then with long, slow, exploratory kisses for what seemed hours. I hugged her and she spread her arms around my shoulders, holding me tightly as though she would never let me go. Her eyes were closed and I could just hear her breathing, close, deep, and gaining intensity, above the pouring rain.
“I’ve wanted you to do this for weeks...” she said softly.
“So have I,” I replied. We kissed again.'
From: 'Christmas Day', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'All three kibbutzniks on the bus had with them loaded Uzi submachine guns. The driver put his on the floor of the bus near his feet; the other two cradled theirs on their laps.'
From: 'Misgav Am', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'The rock formations were impressive, but at the other side of the car park were some huge sand dunes, as high as a house, which were part of the southern edge of the Negev Desert. This was real desert, and I needed to get closer to it. Claudie had the same idea, so we trudged up the shifting sand together, struggling to make progress as it immediately gave way and spread under our feet. Finally, at the top of the first dune, we paused and looked across the empty miles of wilderness. The view was simply awesome. Sand dunes stretched away into the distance as far as the eye could see.
“C’est magnifique, non?” Claudie said softly. She shaded her eyes with the flat palm of her right hand like a navy salute, as she stared across the seemingly infinite desert.
“Yes. Yes, it is, it’s really amazing,” I said in reply, a little lost for words.'
From: 'Eilat', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'We approached Jerusalem on Highway One, the Jericho Road, from the Judean Hills and I saw a sign pointing to Bethlehem which was only a few kilometres away. I would challenge anyone to admit their first glimpse of Jerusalem was not one of the most breathtaking sights they have ever seen. The city appears quite suddenly as a jewel nestled among the barren hills, regal and resplendent.'
From: 'Jerusalem', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'There were not many people in the factory miklat, and I probably appeared a little odd strolling down the concrete steps with a Turkish coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, like Noel Coward about to play the piano. I reached the bottom of the steps to find most people were chattering loudly. There was quite a convivial atmosphere. We wondered if it was a genuine alert. Then we felt several dull but powerful thuds in the earth from somewhere not far away. The atmosphere in the miklat changed immediately. Everyone was quiet and listened for the next thud. I guessed the detonations were thankfully not in the immediate vicinity of any of the kibbutz buildings. I was actually gaining an ability to assess the proximity of exploding munitions. '
From: 'Underground...over ground', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'Friendships made on the kibbutz were real and unpretentious. Amid the harsh prosaic reality of daily kibbutz life, personalities and attitudes were more important than the size of your house, the type of car you drive, how many figures you had in the bank or your family background. All these were irrelevant. We were all stripped bare and exposed for who we really were. This was entirely unique in a modern world where money and material possessions seemed paramount.'
From: 'The End', in 'Kibbutz Virgin'.
'We kept our own chickens which lived very much with us in a large home-made and quite malodorous wooden cupboard in the front room, so at least we almost always had fresh eggs. This was assuming no-one let the birds out by mistake, an error which would then lead to front room chaos of pantomime proportions. My dad had to chase them around the ground floor of the house in his desperately inauspicious chicken-pursuit mode shouting: ‘Come ‘ere ye little bastards!’ or words to that effect, occasionally taking poorly aimed and obviously futile swipes at the mutinous escapees with a stair rod while clambering randomly all over the furniture. It made a welcome change from him whacking me with it I suppose, and it was quite good entertainment too, as there was no television in those days. I couldn’t blame the poor chickens for sometimes wanting to hatch escape plans rather than eggs. They certainly caused major problems when they did escape, as there was insufficient space in the tiny room to dive full length at the errant, scheming birds. A decision had to be made very quickly when pouncing on them whether to hit the wall or aim for the open fire. I remember on one occasion while resolutely pursuing our cock bird around the house, my dad tripped over our bone-headed and snappy little Jack Russell dog and fell headlong into the fireplace. Luckily the fire wasn’t lit at the time, as his head and shoulders plunged straight into the grate with such a thump that many years of soot came crashing down the chimney in one great thunderous black cloud. After then managing to extricate himself from the chimney bottom and stand up, he turned around only to reveal to my absolute delight, and that of my brother, that he suddenly looked just like Al Jolson in full make-up, complete with black hands and face.'
From chapter one, 'An Adventurous Youth'
'As the London train gathered speed in the darkness I became terribly introspective, as my own reflection peered back at me mockingly in the darkened window. Was I happy, confused, or just plain mad? What would I find in Africa? Would I even return to Sheffield? I remembered my dad’s farewell comment a few hours before, spoken in his true Yorkshire vernacular:
“Weer’s tha’ goin’?”
“Africa,” I replied.
“Oh…” he said, bending over to put another lump of coal on the fire. A few minutes later he was buttoning up his coat in silence, and was gone, the front door banging loudly behind him as he went to work as usual at the furnaces in the huge Firth Brown steelworks in Sheffield’s east end.'
From the chapter: 'London'.
“Well, we need someone with a clear head, you know. Done any bar work, have you, do you think you can do it?” as he fixed a stare at me, pursing his lips then rubbing his chin with his right hand.
“Yes, I think so, I mean I haven’t done any bar work before but I think I can do it, of course, why not?” I replied, realising as he looked across his desk at me that he was either drunk or in the first stages of having a stroke.
“Then the job’s yours…” he said, just as he slowly closed his eyes and started sliding very smoothly sideways off his chair. He parted company with it and collapsed in an undignified heap on the floor next to his desk with an enormous thump, like a large sack of King Edwards potatoes. He was followed immediately by an avalanche of cushions which sprang off his chair and then partially buried him and obscured his face. He didn’t move or say anything. I didn’t know what to do and thought he’d died, so I jumped up and pulled the cushions away. At first it seemed as though he’d seriously and fatally cracked his head wide open until I realised his hair had flipped off his head in one great matted comb-over which then lay neatly alongside him on the floor. He suddenly started snoring like a walrus stranded on a beach, so to my relief I realised he was still alive.'
From the chapter: 'The New Job'.
'It was a particularly hot day and one of the first really dry days after the rainy season. Quite unannounced a young, well-built black African man walked in through the front door of the police station carrying a dirty and stained canvas bag. He was shaking and visibly upset, according to Fred, and with tears streaming down his face he walked straight past him and up to the sergeant in charge. He was cursing in his native language, either Shona or IsiNdebele, and dropped the heavy bag on the desk. He continued talking at the sergeant as though asking him questions in a desperately pleading and accusatory manner. The sergeant stood up and indicated for Fred and the other constables present to get hold of the man. Just before he was restrained he tipped the contents of the bag onto the table. It was a woman’s severed head. The man was dragged into the back of the station, along with the contents of his bag, which it later became evident was his wife. Fred was excluded from the next events but he says what he saw and heard he never wanted to witness again. He gained the impression the man was blaming the police for what had happened to his wife. It must have taken a huge amount of personal courage for him to walk into the police station the way he did.'
From the chapter: 'Police Reserve'.
'Dr Chu was a slight fellow, not
very tall, slim, in his early thirties, and wearing black, square-rimmed
spectacles, a bit like those trademark glasses worn by Sir Michael Caine. They
looked way too big for him, to be honest, and he appeared a little comical as a
result. But under these circumstances, the dichotomy was that he also looked
sad and pathetic. I asked him where the television came from. He didn’t answer,
but turned his head down towards the floor. He held his hands together in front
of him. I could see the upright stature of his frame slowly but perceptibly
shrinking away like ice-cream in summer sun, as I asked him again. Then the
most extraordinary thing happened. He collapsed to his knees in front of me,
onto his thick white shag-pile rug, right in front of the stolen television, and started moaning and
groaning, over and over:
"Please... please... please...I’m sorry... I’m sorry...
He started crawling towards me on
all fours, in a cloyingly subservient grovel, his face an inch from the floor,
not looking up at all. I considered moving back, but there was nowhere for me
to retreat to. What if he lunged at me, and attacked me? When he finally
reached my feet he started caressing and
fondling my size nine police boots with his bony, thieving little hands, putting
greasy finger marks all over my lovely polished toe-caps. My colleague and I
looked at each other in utter bewilderment and consternation. I didn’t know
what to say, but of the two of us, Gary spoke first:
“Perhaps he just wants us to give him a damned
good shoeing, take the telly, and leave it at that?”
From the chapter: 'The many doors of Dr. Chu', at the arrest of a doctor who had stolen a large television from his place of work which was found by police in his living room.
'I don’t think I’d be entirely disingenuous in
comparing people such as Bobby, to insects like cockroaches. They feed off
others in a typically parasitic and carelessly ebullient manner, consider nothing
sacrosanct, and their only interest in their miserably tedious and feckless
existence, is the pursuit of their own hedonistic ends, at whatever cost,
regardless of such encumbrances which hinder the rest of us, such as moral
scruples. I can’t begin to imagine the level of free thought which goes on in
the head of such a rapacious person, so apparently at liberty to do whatever
they wish, whenever they wish, all at the expense of their fellow law-abiding
citizens. Like Premiership footballers.'
From the chapter: 'Bobby', describing a heroin addict who made a living from stealing from the hospital for twenty years.
man was standing slightly above them, and in silhouette. Carol didn’t even
notice at first, as she was far too busy updating Sandra about a particularly
awkward patient she’d been dealing with earlier. She was facing Sandra too, not
directly at the entrance, and the man. Sandra nudged Carol with an elbow, once,
then again. She discreetly leaned her head as though trying to point at the
man. No opaque fumbling about this time. The man was standing only a few feet
away from them, staring to his front, at the wall. His erect penis was sticking
out, plainly, and hugely, from his zipper. He had it grasped in his right hand
and was masturbating calmly and steadily while the two women watched on. Both
Sandra and Carol were understandably very shocked, and suddenly became very
fearful. Their distress was amplified by the fact they were trapped in there,
with him blocking the entrance. Once Carol saw what was happening, she became
by far the better witness. She described in clinical detail, perhaps how only a
nurse could, the man’s precise actions. His hand moved faster and faster while
his facial expression remained unchanged. There was a very slight sound of his
arm moving rhythmically against his coat, other than that there was complete
silence, there in the dugout, between the three of them. After a few brief
minutes, which they stated seemed far, far, longer, the movement suddenly
stopped. He was seen to finally ejaculate directly into his hands. '
From the chapter: 'The Flashing Blade', where two nurses were subjected to a doctor exposing himself to them at the hospital.
'It was only a five minute drive
back to the station from there. Ellis continued shouting abuse and insults.
Really nasty, disgusting, foul, personal abuse. I then understood first hand
exactly what the staff in the dialysis ward had been through. I didn’t even get
the full picture, however, as Ellis was safely cuffed and locked in the cage at
the back of the van. I could only imagine what it felt like, an inch from my
face. I then launched into my own mini-tirade, aimed at Ellis. I felt I needed
to point something out to this man. He needed to know some burning issues,
things which were already on my mind, but which he came to crystallize, right
there in the van.
“Right. Shut up now. “ I
shouted. He initially ignored me. So I tried again:
“For fuck’s sake, shut up. Shut up and listen to me!!” I shouted, as loud as I could. This time
I had his attention.
“What do you think you are doing, shouting abuse and threatening
hospital staff?! What’s going through your tiny fucking mind when you are
threatening the very people who are trying to look after you and your baby?!
Are you completely and utterly fucking mad?! You don’t go around treating
people like that! You need these people! You should be fucking ashamed of
yourself! Look at you. You’re just a
useless fucking chav! No good to anyone! It’s people like you who are
destroying this country! You fucking sit around all day watching fucking Trisha
expecting everyone else to sort your fucking lives out for you! Well it doesn’t
fucking work like that you arrogant fucking shit! Are you listening, you
From the chapter: 'Jimmy' and an occasion when the police lose their temper.
about the police and the wider public sector sell really well, even the crap
ones that clearly haven’t been properly proof-read or copy-edited, and
particularly those written from the inside. They are quite rare because according
to Home Office and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidelines
serving police officers should not write books about their job. Those who do
are clearly taking a risk, and many are therefore written anonymously. Even so,
they have to keep their scribblings innocent, amusing, and inoffensive. I now have greater freedom because I don’t work for them anymore.
As soon as I joined I was told that Sherwood
Lodge was where all the Chief Officers and their hand-picked staff hid from
police work and as such proper police officers below the rank of sergeant were not
permitted to work there. I quickly learned that it was commonly known by front
line officers as Fraggle Rock from The Muppets, and also by some as The Dream Factory. This was due to the
fact that some police officers apparently spent their entire careers there,
climbing the ranks and then disappearing, fulfilling their own personal dreams,
avoiding shifts and the thoroughly distasteful nature of proper police work. So
I was told. At first I didn’t understand this level of antipathy towards
others, mainly due to the natural deference in which I held those of a higher
status than myself. I was still very naïve
The Professional Standards Department, or PSD. If you can imagine a huge and rapidly
expanding department within any organisation whose main raison d’etre seems to be to
unnecessarily persecute all hard working conscientious colleagues then that is
the modern day PSD. It’s the same in every UK police force nowadays. They are a
bastard cross between the Soviet Stasi and the German Gestapo, but thankfully nowhere
near as well-organised, professional or efficient. They seem to be entirely self-perpetuating
in that they only exist to further their own ends, to create a climate of fear
in the workplace, and to counter their own extreme paranoia, and for no other useful
reason. They usually operate in pairs and luckily for most of the time many of
them conduct themselves more like Bungle and Zippy from the children’s
television series Rainbow, but they
have the power to destroy people, and they seem to relish it.
“We deal with the same
families time and again. It runs in the generations.”
I hadn’t a clue what he was
talking about. What runs in generations? He fiddled with his radio, adjusting
the volume slightly, turning a knob at the side of it without looking at it. I
wondered how he knew which way to turn it. He spoke into it briefly, pressing the
small yellow transmit button on the top, as though in response to a request,
which I didn’t hear, then turned his attention back to me.
“How did you know they wanted you,
just then?” I asked, genuinely curious. I could hardly hear anything legible
from the walkie-talkie around his neck, let alone a name of any sort.
“They just shouted my collar number,
see?” and he touched the series of metallic silver numbers on his right
shoulder. He smiled at me. “You get used to it.”
Offences of assault were
covered, including sexual offences. A person could never consent to assault,
even in the bedroom and in private. ‘Unnatural’ sexual offences were discussed
which mainly consisted of buggery with another person or with an animal, both of
which seemed to be categorised together and were therefore seen as equally bad.
Sodomy was discussed, and was defined as: ‘Sexual intercourse per anus between
males or male and female’. It was a serious crime, an arrestable offence, i.e.,
it carried a prison sentence of five years, and was illegal even with a spouse.
Consent, apparently, was no defence.
There were some lawful homosexual
acts, but they must take place in private, with the consent of both parties,
and a maximum of two persons taking part, both being male and over twenty-one
years of age. There was an excellent mnemonic to remember this: Private, Over
21, Only 2, and Full consent: POOF.
“We’re moving out soon. Two weeks
actually. Down the road to the new building. Have you seen it? The CID are
“Yes, I have, I think so,” I thought
of the imposing new brick fortress construction I’d seen near the petrol
station and asked: “Is it the new building on the corner?”
“Yeah, that’s it. It’ll be great to
get away from this shithole. The local fuckin’ snaffs never leave us alone
here. Every time you leave your car it gets damaged. We had bricks and bottles
chucked over at the back the other day. The locals really fuckin’ hate us.
Still, you’ll probably be based up at Broxtowe, not round here.”
This wasn’t training school where
drivers would willingly tell you they didn’t possess a driving licence or that
they were too drunk to get out of their cars. I wasn’t sure I felt prepared for
it. And what the bloody hell was a ‘snaff’?
A crime report was something
you simply filled in and forgot about, with absolutely no investigations
whatsoever. I was told to make sure I wrote ‘Offender unknown’ on the back and
that was it, even if the offender was known. I seem to remember one of my tutor's
survival mottos when dealing with the public was:
“For fuck’s sake don’t give anyone
your name, they’ll just keep ringing you up and you’ll never get rid of the bastards.”
The two of us leaned against
the public bar, Dave chain smoking and quaffing pints of beer like it was the
world’s end. He kept telling me very serious aphorisms about policing usually
punctuated by many varied and colourful four-letter words, and when anyone came
into the pub he seemed to know them all as though they’d been his best friend
for years. Some customers would call him Dave, then others would appear quite deferential
and nod their heads with: ‘Hello Mr Greasley’ and speak to him quietly and
surreptitiously for a few moments before moving away with their drink. I nodded
appreciatively and tried to remember what he was telling me while also
desperately trying to keep up with the pace of drinking. I was hugely impressed
and felt as though I was in the presence of DI Jack Reagan himself, from The Sweeney. I dared to think that I was
being invited into this world. We had our uniforms on but with a ‘civvie’ coat
over the top, which was soon removed after the first few pints. We were then joined
by the other members of the shift, and at midnight by the four-twelve shift,
until there were almost a dozen of us cops in the pub. I tend to lose count of
how much I drink after about eight pints. So it was that I lost count that
night. At about two o’clock in the morning we all staggered to our cars and
He looked at me and said quite
“Fuck off.” He turned and started to
walk away. I took out my chain link handcuffs from my black leather handcuff
pouch on the belt of my trousers and took hold of his left arm. At that moment
his arm was relaxed and I managed to find an exposed piece of wrist for the
handcuff. I thought I could manage the situation if I could get the handcuffs
on him, and up until that point it was going really well. But I suddenly
realised it was pointless trying to put the cuffs on him, however. To my horror
I could see and feel his wrist was as thick as a man’s leg, and therefore the
cuff was far too narrow to fit; I just couldn’t get the handcuffs on him, it
was impossible. In a flash I pressed the transmit button on my radio and sent
one word across the airwaves:
I had become a member of ‘Thatcher’s
Army’, one of ‘Thatcher’s Bully Boys’ as we were variously known. It was only a
year since I’d returned from my travels with my long hair, broad mind, and a
mild antipathy towards the police. I was now paid to be sworn at and pushed
around outside a coal mine.
Very often it became impossibly
busy, to the point where no-one was available to attend calls. When this
happened some less urgent jobs were disposed of, or ditched, as we called it,
in order to make the job work. They were taken off the pad and placed in Docket
Thirteen as it was known, the bin. All incoming messages should have been
stamped with a hand-held consecutive numbering machine, but at very busy times
this was overlooked. On these occasions ‘when the wheel came off’ as it was
known, even some stamped messages were ditched. If you ever called the police
in the 80s or 90s and no one arrived and you wondered why, there’s your answer.
At times of crisis in any
organisation the management often run around like headless chickens, and so it
was with our gaffers at Fraggle Rock. Those of us on the ground actually doing
the work inevitably suffered. Frequent pointless changes were made in the hope
the problem would mysteriously disappear. They changed the people in charge of individual
sections, stations, and entire areas, and they also tampered with people’s
might change the names of things just for the sake of it in the hope of
improvement when all the time no real difference occurs. It probably looked
good and someone at Fraggle Rock no doubt gained their promotion from it.
In the 1990s crime exploded, and still
no-one knew why. It was common to have fifty cars broken into in a single night
in the council estates of Aspley and Broxtowe in the west of Nottingham. House
burglaries were almost the same. In the Forest Fields area I attended a house
that had been broken into seven times. Criminal damage offences were no
exception, but the official figures were kept reasonably under control, mainly due
to the ‘Minor Damage Book’. Anything deemed to be minor in nature such as a
broken window that might cost £10 to fix, was given a minor damage number. This
was permissible up to a maximum of £20. The crucial thing about this of course
was that it didn’t generate a recorded crime number. It therefore didn’t exist
in the official figures.
1995 crime continued rising at a phenomenal rate and was completely out of
control. There seemed no end to its upward progression despite the police being
awarded double digit pay rises every year. As a response driver I wondered how
much longer this situation could continue, we seemed to be busier every week. I
drew a pyramid chart of job satisfaction and workload versus roles within the
police, because it seemed to me that a tiny proportion of police employees,
mainly the response cops, actually did anything, despite the staff car park
being full every day. Nothing’s changed; response cops continue to be the
hard-pressed front line of policing. It’s another strange dichotomy that they have
the most daily contact with the public yet within the job their status is lower
than that of caretaker. If you stay on response for more than a few years you
are seen by everyone else in the job as a fool and by the gaffers as a complete
On 1st April 2007 staff at
Fraggle Rock or their partners at the city council or both working together, decided
to rename my beat area and the surrounding beats with a fantastical new title:
It was henceforth to be known as the ‘Natural Neighbourhood Co-terminus Super
Output Area’. I checked the date, but it was real. Someone was being paid a lot
of money for this. I imagined the inventors of the title sitting around at home
one night listening to Pink Floyd, off their tits on weed, suddenly having a
Eureka moment when it popped into their head. It was like a post-war Stalinist five-year
plan, more idea than substance. Yet again it was telling us to do something we
were already doing.
I submitted a report - which as
usual was ignored - suggesting we deal with wind damage in the same protracted
manner, merely for the sake of recording it because nobody else did. A fence
blown down in a storm could be a non-crime wind-related crime number,
generating a wind-related non-crime crime report and risk assessment, at least
a couple of hour’s police time utterly wasted. Why not? The police could even
sell the statistics to insurance companies, generate some revenue, target
repeat wind victims, and assist in the long term rectification of the problem,
i.e., buy a new fence. We need not stop there. A dead bird in the street could
become a non-crime dead-bird related crime number, and the figures could be
used by the RSPB or RSPCA to monitor wildlife levels, because nobody else is
doing it. Let’s get out there and start recording absolutely everything we see,
because no-one else can be bothered!
For years when on early shifts I’d
sit at a computer eating my cereal while checking what had happened overnight
on my beat area. No-one ever minded, and it only took five minutes. There were just
a few of us did it anyway, and only on the early shifts, which were not
particularly frequent. Suddenly there was a blanket ban on eating in work time,
other than for the statutory forty-five minutes at lunchtime. The female gaffer
said: ‘I don’t want to see anyone eating at their desks in the morning.’ In my state of paranoia I believed this was
directed at me. I knew I’d be safe in the gent’s locker room so for the rest of
my service I ate my Weetabix standing up in the gent’s toilet. After several
months I became accustomed to eating breakfast with the heady whiff of urinals,
Lynx deodorant, and semi-naked men with their knobs hanging out.
The contrast between being
inside a job, and in particular a modern politically correct machine such as
the police service, and being outside it, is now huge. When on the inside you
live in a bizarre gentile world like that of the Eloi in HG Wells’ The Time
Machine, where no-one upsets anyone and all humanity is wonderful. Nasty
and uncomfortable things are avoided but if they do occur they are hidden, as
though they didn’t actually happen, because no-one wants to upset anyone. That’s
why it’s easier for public bodies nowadays to ignore awkward problems rather
than actually deal with them.
It’s ironic that the concept of political
correctness was probably created like all religions in a dream in order to
protect vulnerable members of society. What has actually happened is that it
has allowed dreadful things to happen, and I cannot see this situation
Anyone standing up and pointing out
that such horrible things might really be happening, or indeed anyone who dares
to speak out against the flow is quickly silenced. When you live inside the
bubble it’s not obvious, but after escaping it all seems very clear.
'Who'd be a Copper?'