Monday, 27 April 2009

A Police State? Not Out Here In The Sticks.

I found out this morning than someone had broken into my car and stolen my stereo and the missis's satnav. This was particularly annoying as the satnav and stereo fascia were in the glovebox, which has a lock that's broken shut. I also thought they'd stolen Luke's hockey puck (which I'd thought to be on the back seat, but he'd moved it) and his mp3 player. The mp3 later turned up stuck to the underside of his booster seat: our untidiness paid off.

What was initially more annoying was that it has been slinging it down since the small hours, and the thief had broken my rear quarterlight to get to the rear window handle, leaving that window rolled down for the rain to flow in through. I had a missing (and recently purchased) stereo, a bollocking-in-waiting from the missis, and a saturated back seat. Oh, and to cap it all off my boss told me I had to sort out the aftermath of this on my own time, which under the circumstances was a bit shit considering the weather/day.

So I set off down to Belper police station. One mission: report the theft to get my crime reference number that the insurance company will insist on before taking any action at all. But when I got to the station, the place was in near darkness. At 9.40am. Confused, I rang the bell which alerts those inside to a presence outside. After easily 2-3 minutes I was finally noticed by what I can only assume by her age and clothing was a cleaner, who buzzed me in. And before I could say a word, she yelled over to me, "We don't open for another 15 minutes!"

I stood there with my mouth hanging open like I'd just had the lethal injection.

Not open...

...at gone 9 o'clock in the morning.

"You aren't joking..." I said, half question half shocked statement.

"No, but you can sit there and wait if you like." She replied, still in an unnecessarily loud and almost accusatory tone in the bleak cavern of 70s bad design.

I just stood and shook my head. "This is what our taxes pay for?" I said as I retreated.

Now livid, I set off for work. Once in the area, I rang the missis and told her what'd happened. Yep, she was pissed about her satnav, but it only took a few moments for her to realize that I was actually quite annoyed at the whole sorry situation, not just about the hardware missing. She said she'd arrange things with the cops, and with that I left her to do just that: get an officer to come down and take a statement and issue a reference number for my insurance. I was a bit aggrieved that she arranged for him to come down for 3.30pm, but I thought "fuck it". My boss had already made it clear this was to be done all in my time, and I was to make the time up, so I finished at 3.15, with an extra hour to do tomorrow.

As I drove along the A515 later that morning- as part of my job - I was in an area where I knew there was a roadside fitting I needed access to (on the water main, for those who don't know what I do) so I was driving about 20mph in a 40mph zone keeping my eyes peeled for the marker posts that show where the fittings are. All of a sudden, in my side mirror I'm aware of a police 4x4 with his blues on, flashing me. So I pull over, as you do. But rather than pull in behind me, he bizarrely pulls alongside me. So I wind my window down...

"You know you're not supposed to stop on double white lines?" He says, stern-faced.

Now bearing in mind the day I've had so far involves a police station with no police in it and working out in torrential rain, I am in no mood to take any shit from a yokel copper on a Monday morning mission to find some paperwork to do rather than actually solve a crime (or whatever it is they get paid to do these days). So I looked at him and said "I had no intention of stopping here. You stopped me."

He stared a moment and then just said "Are you looking for somewhere?"

"I'm on mobile works mate. Water company."

"Oh. Just remember you can't stop on double white lines."

And with that, he drove off, still with his lights flashing away. I sat for a moment, gobsmacked at what had just transpired. Had I imagined it? Was he making a point about good road safety practice? If so, why didn't he put his lights on after the lines? I swear what I actually experienced was just a bored yokel with precisely fuck all else to do with his time. 30 yards down the road I found the valve I was looking for...

And that brings me to home time. I was back home for just after 3.45. The arrangement was now (don't get me started...) for the cop to come around at 5. At 5.30 I got pissed off waiting and started dinner. And, perhaps fittingly for the day, by 8.30 I figured he wasn't going to come, and that now might be the time to go cover the broken window and secure the car. Because I'd left it as it was, as requested and as time permitted, because they were apparently coming to take fingerprints.

£10 says not one print is lifted from either my car or the one that was also done with the exact same MO, the same night, two streets over.

So to finish my rant, let me just assure those of you who have seen the spectacle that is the British police force embarrass itself for the last few weeks on TVs all across the globe:

THIS IS NOT A POLICE STATE

For it to be a police state, you would have to have a level of ruthless competence across the board: dilligent officers on the trail of the ne'er-do-wells, the hardcore criminals, the organized gangs, the seedy and the twisted. You would need officers on the beat, patrolling the tough neighbourhoods. You would need presence, and persistence, and most of all you would need respect.

British policing does not have, and does not deserve, that last and most important thing. What we have here is a sprawling bureaucracy of camera-based observation, part-time civilian staffed stations, poorly trained "community support officers" who, I will remind anyone reading this, allowed a young child to drown last year because it was too much of a risk to wade into the pond and help him, and worst of all: that typical Conservative attitude that might makes right, and that they are civil masters rather than civil servants.


I had hoped as I got older I would begin to soften in my opinion of the police of this country, but it seems not much has changed since I began forming my opinion during the miners strike in the early 80s. They're not a case of a few bad apples in the barrel, spoiling the overall impression. They're a bad barrel. And you can't get any apples out unless it's gone 10am.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

I'd Rather Celebrate Something English...

I've been accused in the past of being unpatriotic. This is fair enough by me. I'm never quite sure what it is people mean when they say they're patriotic. On the one hand I know patriotic British lads with tattoos of the Union Flag who don't know what a Union Jack actually is, and I've even known patriots who use the phrase "Ain't no black in da Union Jack" who are blissfully unaware that there is, in fact, occasion for there to be black in the Union Jack. On the other hand I know people with no outward sign of Englishness who can tell you who was King of England in 1216, or who introduced the first standardized English system of measurement. In short, it's the twattish, nationalist, right-wing bullshit patriotism that has led to the accusations of me not being a patriot.

I do not celebrate Saint George's Day. The reasons for this are quite simple. I like dragons. And other things that don't exist, but not God. So I have no real reason to pay any attention to the legend of a chap from Palestine who never came to this country, foisted on my homeland by a Church I suspect appointed Patron Saints in the same manner that the Meteorological Office predicts weather: blindfolded, throwing darts at a board. In a recent poll, 13% of Brits thought St. George was only Patron Saint of England, not about another dozen countries. Yep, that's how much the English know about their beloved St. George...

To me, this new bugbear so many of my countrymen have about St. George's Day seems to be wholly based on the American obsession with St. Patricks Day. It's not so much that the English want to commemorate the life of St. George, they just want an excuse to get pissed and have another day off work. Which is fair enough except, when have us English ever really needed a
reason to have a day off and drink? To the best of my working-over-half-my-life knowledge, the answer is: never!

If we need an excuse (and the tabloids tell us we do, of course) then why not discard the outmoded notion of a Saint Day, and sink a few brews to someone who is of genuine significance to England, our history, and our future? This country doesn't need religion - of any kind - and I'd prefer to take a look at the great and the good of this land as a reason to celebrate. Why not Sir Winston Churchill? How about Lord Nelson? Or, to move away from warfare, how about George Stephenson or Isambard Kingdom Brunel? How about Wat Tyler? Bobby Moore? There are so many legendary English historical figures that mean so much more to this land and how it's developed, I'm just grabbing a few that stand out as still in some way marketable as folks whose lives we could genuinely put on a pedestal and say, without fear of contradiction: "Here is a life that made England great. Here is a life that speaks volumes of the ingenuity of our people. Here is a legend you can be proud of. With no made up stuff about dragons."

So whether you think me a patriot or not, just take the time to think about the value of St. George's Day, and then look around the rest of the world, how they celebrate their Saint Day, and then look again at those names I listed, and what they contributed to how England is perceived. Positively.

In all honesty I'd do away with all Saints Days, and if we want an extra day's holiday each year let's all (and I mean everyone, everywhere) have Armistice Day off. What better excuse to get pissed than the end of war?