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.