In the ramble entitled Inappropriate, antisocial, illegal behaviour, I mentioned that in early June 2014, I joined the community voluntary service. Not only was I one of the marshalls at the Tour de France cycle race, I often found myself being volunteered to help out on the police information stalls or handing out leaflets in targeted areas of police concerns.
I had also volunteered six times for role-playing at the West Yorkshire Police training academy near Bradford. This also was a fascinating insight into police training. I carried out role-playing in scenarios such as abusive husband, care home manager, white supremacist, a witness in a bar fight or a grumpy neighbour.
Insights from role-play training
Each team carrying out one of the scenarios and two trainee police officers arrived to deal with your particular role-play and we were encouraged to act out our roles in any way we thought fit, without being violent, of course. The violent acting during the bar fight was carried out between the trainers and the trainees, but I thought it was very tame, and I’m sure they would have learnt more on a rugby pitch. There was also a surprising opportunity for me to learn something about myself.
During the white supremacist scenario, I was to complain to the police about my house being vandalised and I had a good idea who it was. I was encouraged to be as abusive as possible and when the first few pairs of trainees turned up with their respective trainers, I entered the role of an abusive racist, with a view to intimidating the police cadets.
I was able to enter the acting role quite well I thought, until one pair turned up with what appeared to be an Asian supervisor/trainer, and I found myself unable to use the racist language that I had been using for most of the day. I mentioned my hesitance to the trainer as they were leaving and his reaction was probably predictable. He said, “You should have done mate, I get it all the time”.
Different approaches to dealing with trouble
Another interesting variation of human nature became apparent during the abusive husband scenario. I had been locked out of my home and I was to try to gain access in an aggressive and noisy manner. Some trainees had me in handcuffs as soon as I opened my mouth, while others allowed me to wander off and hide, so then they had to find me.
I would have thought that domestic violence is a very common problem that the police have to deal with and putting the aggressive perpetrator immediately in handcuffs would have been my default position. But I suspect that the training had suggested a softer approach. What I know for sure is that handcuffs are very uncomfortable, though I suspect mine were ‘snugly’ fitted following the trouble of having to search for me in my hiding place.
Providing water for thirsty athletes
In 2016, I volunteered on the water station for the world triathlon championships in Leeds. It was quite warm that day, and during the amateur event the competitors gathered around and even queued, desperately gasping for water which we were able to hand out in pre-filled paper cups.
For the elite professional event run later in the day, we could only remove the tops from 50cl plastic water bottles from trustworthy bottled water suppliers. We had to place them on the palm of our outstretched hand and were told not to move. During the cycling, no one came near us, but during the final running stage they all came to our side of the road. Not everyone took a bottle, and we had no hint when they were going to take one either. They all ran past so fast that the only clue that we got was a strong bang on the hand, after which the bottle had vanished.
Voluntary service required at home
In 2017, I resigned from the community voluntary service. Interesting jobs were becoming scarce and I was being squeezed out by sociology students, police volunteers and police community support officers who wanted the experience for their education or to get more involved with regular policing. Which was fair enough; I just did it for my own entertainment.
I had other priorities in any case. Just at that time my daughter Rachel had developed what was potentially a serious medical condition. She was also going through the final stages of very lengthy and difficult separation and found herself solely responsible for selling her house, and therefore needed our undivided attention.
During her recovery, she stayed with us for 11 weeks, two days, and six and a half hours or so, while she was fattened up by Moi and gently trained up by me. She responded very well and moved to her new flat in Bailiff Bridge in mid December. That move was a bit of a nightmare, too much stuff crammed into too little space. We were constantly moving stuff to get space for other bits of bloody stuff. I’m going on holiday if she moves again. I began singing a little song while I was there, very much to Rachel’s annoyance (part of the fun really) it went something like, “Shift, shift, shifting stuff, shifting stuff again, shift, shift shifting stuff, shifting stuff again”, to the song “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream”.
Tracing our roots
Rachel and I had our DNA tested during her stay in 2017. We were both over 50 percent Scandinavian, with a lot of Scottish, Irish and Welsh included, as one would imagine. We both also had a significant percentage of Iberian, Italian and Eastern European. Both of us are 100 percent European. My wife Moi then decided to have her own DNA test.
She had boasted on many occasions that her great-great-grandfather was Scandinavian, immigrated to Hartlepool from Sweden to work in the dockyard, and married a local ‘Monkey Hanger’ lass. Therefore, we all expected that her Scandinavian roots were going to match or better Rachel’s and mine. It turned out that she had none, and even more surprising, there was a small percentage of Nigerian and North African. Moi thinks it will have been the Romans who brought the African DNA to England. Truth is, we will never know, but very interesting all the same.
The Monkey Hangers of Hartlepool
The story goes that during the Napoleonic wars, a French galleon was shipwrecked off the coast of Hartlepool. The only survivor was a monkey dressed in a French uniform, presumably to amuse the French crew. The locals couldn’t get the monkey to answer any of their questions, so, never having seen a monkey or a Frenchman before, they quite understandably thought it was a spy and hanged it.