Monday, 13 June 2011

A State of Mind...

I was eighteen years old, given a uniform, handcuffs, truncheon and whistle - and sent off to patrol one of the most violent environments in Britain at that time - Drumchapel. Very few people from Drumchapel became Police Officers. A criminal conviction of any sort precluded you from applying - effectively ruling out a significant portion of younger people from the sprawling housing estate from ever joining the force. Not that this indicated most folks from Drumchapel were criminals - absolutely not. Poor educational qualifications, poverty, ill health and a whole heap of other social ills excluded them from applying. But I'd made it in, and was proud of doing so. Growing up in Drumchapel and unlike most of my friends; I'd avoided any kind of trouble with the law not because I was a saint - but because I could run really fast.

I wasn't enjoying this particular time in the force however. Arresting people you'd grown up with, knocking on the doors of friends to drag their Dad off to the cells wasn't pleasant. But it appeared I was the only Officer at that time who knew every single street, every back alley and so my knowledge of the area was invaluable where the all important 'response times' were concerned.

It was raining, raining so hard that even through my PC Plod boots my feet were soaking wet. I had another two hours of this shift to go - another two hours of stomping around streets looking for folks with hooped shirts, masks and carrying a swag bag. I never saw any - ever.

That night my call sign was 'Hotel' and my partner was 'India' - on a night like this we both wished it was 'Mike Hotel' or 'Mike India' - Mike would signify we were a mobile unit. As it was, we both plodded miserably around the streets knowing that even criminals stay indoors when the weather is bad. Our expectations from a night like this were low.

Suddenly our radio's crackled into life - "Foot patrol India - Foot patrol Hotel'
On this dreary night even sorting out a 'domestic' would have been welcome so I quickly grabbed my radio 'Hotel over'
'Hotel - Do you know where Linkwood Drive is and are you anywhere in the vicinity over?'
'Affirmative on both - four or five streets away from Linkwood now. Can be there in less than five minutes over'
'Roger Hotel.  Can you and India please attend - Anonymous Triple nine call. Report of a person trapped in a burning vehicle. Fire Service have been informed and are en-route over'.

We both started running as fast as we could. I realised that a quick left through a tenement and out the back door, over a back fence then through another tenement, would have us there in next to no time. My partner albeit the senior officer offered no protest. He knew I had grown up here, still lived here, knew where I was going.

As luck would have it we emerged just twenty metres or so from the 'burning vehicle' - it was no burning vehicle - it was a burnt-out vehicle. I'd seen it days before and had asked the council to remove it but nothing other than robberies ever happened quickly around here. Inside the mangled wreckage, I could see someone moving in the driver's seat. We approached wondering what this was all about. In the driver's seat sat a kid who could have been no more than twelve years old, his hands clasped around the contorted steering wheel. The only real danger was from jagged, twisted metal threatening to puncture him but given he'd found his way in, I guessed he'd know an easy way out. I took a good look at him and realised he appeared to have Down's Syndrome.
I got back on the radio "Hotel to Bravo - Stand down the fire service, stand down any other units. No fire, no danger, will update shortly - received?'
"Received and understood Hotel - standing down fire service"

"Hi there" I said to the kid.
"Hello" he answered, without really looking in our direction. He continued trying hard to get the steering wheel moving.
"This your vehicle?" I asked smiling.
"I must ask if you have been drinking alcohol whilst driving today sir"
He laughed and shook his head as though I were stupid.
"Do you have a licence for this vehicle?" I asked jokingly.
He smiled again, "In the house" he answered assertively, pointing to the tenement beside us.
"Can I ask you to step out of the car please sir and get me your licence?"
Surprisingly the door still worked and out he stepped onto the street, into the pouring rain.
Laughing I asked again "Now, do you really have a licence for this car or are you pulling my leg?"
"I Joking" He replied.
"So, where have you been?"
He looked at the burnt out wreck, looked at me and his face lit up so warmly that momentarily it banished the rain.
"Everywhere" He said before running off into the tenement entrance.

That one word 'Everywhere' -  uttered from a kid who had more than his share of injustice heaped upon him taught me something right there and right then. Life is a state of mind.

At times when I've surveyed the wreckage of my own life - It's a lesson I've tried to hang onto.



  1. 'The Law in it's infinite majesty forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread' - Anatole France

    Although the 'bread' being stolen in DC was of a different consistency from the one mentioned above, I reckon it's all relative. Crazy world we live in...

  2. Sounds like you were the kind of officer we wish they all were.

  3. Annie - It is a crazy world - I thought by going to University and studying Sociology I could

    a) Understand it

    b) Cure it

    I Failed on both counts.

    mybabyjohn - I think I need to concede I was a wee bit soft for the Police Force lol.

    John - I'm back in the saddle but not sure for how long - I may get off again and sleep for a few days lol - My biological clock has been turned upside down due to conversing with all my relatives in Britain this past week! Hope this finds you well and thanks for asking!


  4. This really took me back. I did a few weeks of teaching practise in a primary school there in about 1975. It was fine, the kids were great as I recall but the photo you posted makes me realise how dismal and bleak some of the housing schemes are/were.

  5. Marian - so long as you have your wits about you - it can be a thrilling, inspiring and lively environment to be in. The housing schemes however are a curse overall as they are so blighted by poverty.

  6. Lesson learned. This was lifting and encouraging.

  7. Hi Rory, the photo you are showing was taken in Kerry Place, Drumchapel. It belongs to a friend of mine Ann Robertson (still living in Drumchapel) who kindly let me upload it to my flickr account. I am glad you put it to good use and l am sure Ann would be to. Life in 'The Drum' has not changed any since you left even with most of Drumchapel being demolished and rebuilt with more modern houses the folk still hope for better times ahead. I worked in the 'Rigg' bar (part of the 'Hills Hotel') in the shopping centre and over the course of 9 years l saw Drumchapel come to it's knees through poverty and high unemployment. After Singers, Goodyear Tyres and Beatties Biscuit factories closed within a two year span Drumchapel just lost it's soul and has never recovered.
    Robert Pool

  8. Robert - My sincerest apologies for the delay in responding to this - If you've read any of my later blog posts you'll realise that I have been suffering with a serious illness and even worse - a broken lap top.

    Thank you for the info on the origins of the picture - I had no idea where it came from - originally I thought I downloaded it from a blog post someone had made about Drumchapel. For me it captures a particularly difficult time in Drumchapel's history - a time when the realisation dawned that it 'wasn't working' and would either have to be regenerated or let fall into ruin.

    I used to drink in 'The Rigg' and the Peel and the Girnin' Gates lol - and the Hills Hotel used to have a disco up the stairs if I remember correctly - used to go there at the weekends.

    I was around at the demise of Goodyear, Beatties and Singer - One of the reasons I left was because I felt it had slumped just too far to be bearable any longer. I went over from Australia to the Drum 18 months ago and there are signs of improvement but no sense of 'community' really struck me as existing.

    Incidentally I have a contact on Flickr - Pauline-Mac who charts Drumchapel daily in photographs. Some really interesting stuff in there - setting fire to schools unfortunately still seems to be a common pastime.

    Can't say I recognise your name but just in case - I lived in Achamore Road, then Sherwood Place, then Kinclaven Avenue and went to Waverley - every house I ever lived in has been demolished - and the school I attended has been demolished too. I really think the Drum was trying to tell me something lol.

    Deeply appreciate your post!