I'd travelled all the way from Cornwall the day before and, after getting hideously lost on the Underground and being misdirected by some hardcore punks, I'd finally got to Hendon Police College where I was immediately shouted at for walking on the grass. I was assigned to room 506 in the men's accommodation tower block. A wave of terrible homesickness had suddenly washed over me. It was my first proper day away from home. I was 18.
I hung my clothes up and decided to drown my sorrows in the student bar. At least I’d meet some of my fellow newbies and I wondered whether they’d all be feeling as miserable and out-of-their-depth as I was. As I stepped out of my room, I nearly collided with a tall guy who was sticking an A4 flyer to the wall with sellotape. In fat marker pen it said, 'COME AND SEE! COME AND SEE! THE BIGGEST TURD IN THE WORLD!' An arrow beneath it pointed down the corridor. The flyposter grinned at me and headed off in the opposite direction. He had more posters in his hand. I followed the arrow along the corridor and came to another notice: 'GAZE IN WONDER! BE AMAZED! THE BIGGEST JOBBIE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM!' Further arrows took me to the stairwell and down two floors: 'YOU’RE SO CLOSE! THE WAIT IS NEARLY OVER!' and most intriguing of all: 'IT’S AS BIG AS A SALMON!'
I suddenly found myself joining the back of a queue. Yes, an actual queue of people had formed and was slowly shuffling forward towards the communal third floor toilets apparently to see the biggest turd in the world.
I can’t lie to you. The beast was impressive in a foul sort of way. It lay laterally across the toilet pan, its fat belly resting on the bottom with both ends emerging from the water as if it were trying to crawl out. And it really was the size of a salmon, albeit a smallish one. Maybe a trout. I have no idea how the creator of this monster managed to walk away from it. It must have felt like giving birth. And I also wondered who was going to be brave enough to flush the bugger away. Whoever it was, I reckoned that they’d need to break it up with a stick.
It was a depressing prospect that the height of entertainment in Hendon was bodily waste. And several pints of beer didn’t help to lift my maudlin mood. I drank alone as I simply wasn’t in the mood for company and, besides, the other drinkers all seemed to know each other. I assumed that they were from a previous intake and were already part-way through their training. A new intake came in every fortnight or so. With every fresh pint, I became more introspective and mawkish. Eventually, at Last Orders, I singled out a 10p piece from my pocket change and found a payphone. I dialled home. In my desire for the comfort of friendly voices, I hadn’t realised quite how late it was and I woke my parents up.
“Listen Stevyn”, said Dad, “It always feels strange and scary the first time you move away from home. Give it a week before you make that kind of a decision.”
“But you don’t understand!” I said, “Everyone bloody shouts at me. They take the mickey out of my accent. They think that poo is funny.”
“Just one week”, said Dad. “Things will be different, you’ll see. Once you get to meet people and make friends. It was the same for me when I first moved away.”
“But you went back home.”
“Because your mum and I felt you’d have a better childhood here in Cornwall, that’s why. And we think that you did. Just give it a week. Okay?”
“Okay. Thanks. Bye.”
I carried on drinking until the Duty Officer kicked us all out of the bar and then staggered back to my room for a shallow, uncomfortable sleep. And having completely failed to set my alarm clock, the next thing I heard was the desperate knocking on my bedroom door.
The door opened and a red face peered around the frame.
“You Stevyn Colgan?”
“You’re late for parade. And on your first day too. You are in deep shit.”
This was not an auspicious start and set the tone for most of my police career thereafter. Maybe, if you're good, I'll share some more anecdotes some time.
That was 31 years ago today. I eventually completed 30 years as a copper which means that the other significant anniversary today is that I have been officially a 'civilian' for a year. A whole 365 days have passed since I hung up the helmet and boots. It's been an extraordinary year of ups and downs - I won't bore you by going over old ground covered in previous posts - but, on the whole, it's been an adventure. It's taken me a year to find my feet but I'm just about there.
I'd like to think it's all upwards from here.