Friday, January 15, 2010

End of an era

This time next week, I'll be halfway through my last ever working day for the Metropolitan Police Service. What a very strange thought that is. When I finally hang up my helmet and boots, I'll have spent 30 years - the larger proportion of my life so far - working for the same organisation. Scarily, 30 years seems to have flown by in the blink of a hummingbird's eye (time seems to be speeding up anyway ... how can it be halfway through January already?) and I now face, for the first time in my life, the prospect of being unemployed. Well, not quite. I'll have my police pension and hopefully I'll carry on selling books and doing illustration work. but I won't have the imposition of the nine to five job any more. And I won't have to commute for three to four hours per day, five days a week. Just that thought has me grinning like Wallace in a cheese factory.

The photo you see here is of myself (left), Andrew, one of my two brothers, and my mum on February 17th 1980, on the train platform at Redruth, Cornwall. Andrew was returning to the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards for a tour that would take him into the heart of Belfast's 'troubles'. I was on my way to London to start a whole new life; a naive arty-farty 18 year old Cornishman with a crappy hairstyle (Mum did it) who'd joined the police as the result of a £50 bet with his dad. You can't see my late father in the picture as he's holding the camera. He was a police officer in the local Devon and Cornwall force and was feeling hugely smug that he'd bribed me into getting a steady job. I'm amazed it's in focus as he was chuckling so much.

Yup, that's me at Hendon Police College, manning the hugely sophisticated security office and showing my opinion of Met Police Catering Branch tea. I had a bit of a rough time at training school due to (a) homesickness, (b) my natural inability to focus on subjects that bore me (e.g. law), (c) it had a bar, and (d) I was single and there were lots of young ladies in police uniforms. But I survived and I ended up being posted to West London where I was to meet life-long friend Chris Hale (see his blog here). I was collected from Hendon and driven to Uxbridge police station by a big, fat van driver who announced his presence with the words 'So, who's the bloke who still has 29 years and nine months to do?' It seemed such a long time when he said it.

The thing is, 30 years is a long time. When I joined there were no mobile phones, virtually no computers and no cashpoints. All cameras processed film and there were just three TV channels. The photo above is me at Sherwood Colliery in Nottinghamshire during the Miners' Strike in 1984. I kind of understood why I was there. I sympathised with the miners; most of the mines back in my native Cornwall had been closed and there was mass unemployment. I didn't really understand the politics. The police was run on military-style leadership in those days and if someone senior told you to do it, you did it ... within reason. Thankfully, I have a clear conscience as I was never forced to do anything I felt was wrong. But you do hear stories ...

I was at Live Aid (and donated my day's wages) and saw bands like Queen and the Rolling Stones at Wembley. I saw a couple of cup finals. And I got paid for being there! I also served at most of the major riots in London at Brixton, Tottenham and Southall. I picked up a couple of nasty injuries along the way. I lost several colleagues. My hairstyle didn't improve.

In 1986 I transferred to Vine Street police station near Piccadilly Circus. It's long since closed and exists only as a ghost on the standard UK Monopoly board. I worked with Clubs and Vice for a while and was involved in any number of public events including the visit of Pope John Paul II, various presidents and dignitaries, and the wedding of Charles and Diana. That's me in the photo with some dissident Jewish Russians having a bit of a protest outside Downing Street. Them, not me. One constant of working in the West End was having your photo taken with tourists. I always asked them to send me a copy and many did. Occasionally I was sent some very different photos. And they weren't always from ladies. New Year's Eve was always interesting too as everyone wanted to kiss a copper. For a truly memorable New Year's Eve, read this.

1989 found me moving to Hendon and taking up a position as a trainer. Initially I taught the new IT systems the Met was employing. I can remember the first 286 PCs being installed and one of my colleagues saying, 'Why have they given us 40mb hard drives? What a waste of money. We'll never fill them up.' I then gained a string of teaching qualifications and my Cert Ed with the University of Hertfordshire before moving first to the Met's Exam Unit and then into the Training Design Unit where I helped develop courses and programmes for an organisation that had more than 50,000 staff. The photo above shows me posing for an illustration in a training manual. For some reason they asked me to play the drunk. Incidentally, I wrote and made the first ever police training video to use the 'C' word. I'm quite proud of that. Until then, all of the bad guys had shouted things like 'Get off me you oaf!' or 'Run! It's the Rozzers!' They didn't really prepare our recruits for the visceral realities of coppering.

In 1993 I went back out 'on the street' for the last time, pitching up at Ealing. I wasn't there for very long before Hendon asked me to come back. But I did get involved in the early Neighbourhood Watch schemes and several charity ventures including this 'Comics for Aid' venture above. That's local MP Harry Greenaway and me, with Batman, Catwoman and a token kiddy. The comic shop in question swapped comics for food and clothing to be sent on to the victims of the war in former Yugoslavia. I used the police van to deliver the aid to RAF Northolt to be flown out.

Back at Hendon, I piled on the pounds (there's even a tub of Slim-Fast in the shot) and got beardy. I grew some spectacles too. As the result of a police eye-test to keep my advanced driver qualification I was told I needed glasses. I wore them for 15 years. Then, in 2008, I went to get my eyes lasered and was told that I didn't need it as my eyesight is okay. I haven't worn specs since. Madness. This was the last time I was ever to wear a uniform. As our training design role became ever more complex, we all switched to suits as we were always gadding about around London at various meetings. Then, in 1999, I was asked to join a new department within Scotland Yard's territorial Policing Command called The Problem Solving Unit. and there I've stayed ever since, helping to find innovative solutions to long-term persistent problems of crime and disorder.

That 29 years and nine months has now passed. In that time I've been shot at, had knives waved at me and been assaulted more times than I care to remember. I've seen more than 30 colleagues get killed or seriously injured, a handful of them good friends. I've seen more death than anyone should ever have to see and have marvelled at just how strong people can be in the face of tragedy. I've met extraordinary people, seen true heroism and I've met politicians, diplomats, kings and queens and presidents, film stars, popes, rock stars and sports stars. I've even arrested some of them. It's been a good 30 years. I've done my bit to make London safer. Okay, so my contribution has been small but it is a contribution nonetheless and I leave with a sense of fulfillment. I have no idea what the next 30 years hold for me but if they are as exciting, varied, fascinating and compelling as the last 30 years I'll be a very happy chappy.

I wonder if I should keep the handcuffs ...

14 comments:

Helen Smith said...

That's a really, really interesting post. Enjoy your retirement - here's to plenty more books and illustrations.

punk in writing said...

You've been a cop for longer than I have been alive... but only by a matter of days. :D

I have a feeling that "enjoy your new career" is more appropriate than "enjoy your retirement".

chris hale said...

I guarantee you'll feel very strange when you hand in your uniform and bus pass...erm...warrant card. I've been retired nearly a year and a half now and that time (like the previous 30 years) has flown by. I wish you a very long and happy retirement and continued success with your writing projects. Oh, and next time you're in Brighton (soon, I hope!) it will give me the greatest pleasure to buy you a very large drink. Take care. x

(PS - Thanks for the plug!)

Bruv said...

I was 13 when you joined up bruv....Shit!

Tony E said...

Enjoy your retirement, though I'm sure you will not be sitting back and taking it easy.

Planet Me said...

You now are free to keep your days your own, time is the greatest gift of all. I'm looking forward to that day myself.

lizwoolly said...

what a fine blog! & to think, if only I'd done something naughty that day at LiveAid, you could've been the one to arrest me! more books please Stevyn!

Debby said...

Congratulations on your retirement, Stevyn! You will finally be the master of your own destiny. Well. If Dawn lets you.

The Factory said...

Well played sir, and thanks for all the fish. Now you can set about the publishing world with gay abandon.

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Julia said...

If you're having a party to celebrate, count me in!!

Photoswithattitude said...

So much I didn't know about you Steve!
I think my first encounter with you was Bleeping Slooty?

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liam c said...

I was -9. iv never seen those pictures before. Your hair was bad....