I thought it might be fun to expand on certain parts of my story, which at the time would have made things too lengthy. The police force was a brief, but particularly memorable interval, in my life which put me through a whole gamut of emotions.
I was forty-four at the time and had gone through another of those miserable periods, wondering why I stayed in my now five-year-going-nowhere relationship with Brian. It was him that set me off on the idea of a career by mentioning the possibility of joining the police force when he left the army. The idea popped into my mind like a bright light, and the question followed: ‘Am I too old?’ I made enquiries the very next day and found that I wasn’t; the cut-off age was fifty. I felt energized by the whole idea. Something for me! A career, and a decent wage. I would take control of my life and go forward.
My vision of the police force was all positive. I’d always been an optimist. It would be exciting, something different every day, and a huge challenge. My sister, brother-in-law and niece had all been police officers. Why shouldn’t I follow in their footsteps? I threw myself into my application with gusto and spent hours perfecting my application form. I was told it was the neatest they had ever seen. I started an exercise regime in readiness for the fitness test; running regularly and doing sit-ups and push-ups. And I researched and devoured every bit of information I could about the job in readiness for my interview. I couldn’t have been more prepared. What I was never really prepared for were certain aspects of my personality which I had overlooked, and which didn’t fit with a copper’s character.
It took nearly two years to go through the six stages of the application process, so by the time I joined I was forty-six. I’ll never forget going to my final interview, waiting to be called upstairs, a bag of nerves, and then walking into a room where a panel of four awaited. They were various ranks, crisp uniforms, sharp creases, and unwavering gazes. I don’t remember much about that interview, other than the last question, asked by the main man: ‘If there was something you could change, a law you could bring in, or bring back … what would it be?’ And I heard myself say in a determined tone: ‘I’d get tough with the buggers and bring back hanging!’ And immediately afterwards thought shit – should you really have said that!’ My forthright approach must have impressed them because a short time later I was called back upstairs and told I had a job. I was over the moon.
From day one I have to admit that the insidious little worm of self-doubt was with me. I used to beat it back into the shadows, but it still whispered its worries. And maybe the biggest clue that I would never fit the role I was preparing for was when I first put on my uniform at headquarters and looked in the mirror. I remember grinning at the reflection in a sort of disbelief and thinking to myself ‘That’s not you!’ It was as though I was an imposter – a sheep in wolf’s clothing – as opposed to the reverse. The reflection in the mirror was a sham and didn’t fit with the ‘me’ inside at all. But by then I had put in far too much work to be having second thoughts.
Training was arranged in modules and took place either at headquarters, police training college, or at the station where I would eventually be working. Most was at college at a place called Shotley. Most of the training was fun, but certain elements I hated – particularly the self-defence classes – which was some form of judo. I took an instant dislike to the instructor which didn’t help, and sensed the feeling was mutual. On one occasion he told me to look like I was enjoying myself, at which point I prepared a fixed grimace for him. From the start I just couldn’t see how any of us were going to remember all these specific steps and arm movements when we were up against some drunken thug in a dark alley. I figured a sharp whack with my truncheon or a swift kick in the goolies would work much better. However, I eventually scraped through the training and gained my certificate.
What was really good fun was riot training where we donned helmets, masks and shields, and tried running through a building while being pelted with pieces of brick and bits of wood. Following this there was the suppression of the mad man in the cage, where three of us went into a cage wearing full riot gear and were promptly attacked by a baseball- bat- wielding nutter (in the form of one of our instructors!) while our colleagues looked down from above and cheered.
Of course the main part of the training was police law, a lot of which was learned by way of role-playing and video. This was to bring my greatest phobia to the fore – having to stand up and speak in front of a group, and see myself on a video. I would have preferred the old-style blackboard and chalk method of teaching followed by exams, which they no longer had. It was good to be forced to confront this age-old fear, but unfortunately it never lessened and caused me huge stress.
During training I had at last found the gumption to split up with Brian. I just couldn’t go on the way we were, and although I felt relieved I also felt horribly alone, and very down. At the end of training we had a week’s holiday, and to cheer myself up I went to Greece with a colleague and soaked up some sun.
When we got back we had a driving course to look forward to. For some ridiculous reason I had always seen myself in the role of a beat-bobby, and had never considered having to blast around in a police car. How could you join the police force and not expect to have to drive! Or maybe it did cross my mind and I blithely ignored it. Either way I now had no choice and was thrust into an intensive course. The main instructor shouted at us like a regimental sergeant major during our introduction: ‘You will do this! and ‘You will do that!’ and ‘You will get it right!’ and ‘You will not cock it up!’. My hackles rose and my stomach churned. But it appeared that this line of address was purely to get our attention and after that all the instructors were great. I passed my driving test, but failed my van test. I was extremely happy to fail the van test, having never wanted to drive the dam thing anyway. It was far too big (generally used for transporting prisoners). During my test I was attempting a right turn on an almost blind bend, waiting for oncoming traffic to pass, when a fire engine came roaring up behind me with a fanfare of horns and bells. I had nowhere to go. The fire- engine driver, apparently oblivious to the fact that I couldn’t get out-of-the-way, pounded his horn in frustration and just about deafened me, at which point I panicked and stalled the van’s engine. My instructor made various disapproving gestures at the fireman, and I re-started the engine and shot across the road in a quaking sweat. I never did retake my van test.
During that six months of intensive training I was starting to realize that I lacked one vital characteristic: leadership qualities. It was starting to show more and more. I was great at support but always avoided taking control, while others seemed to vie for it. I had excellent people-skills, diplomacy, communication-skills, guts, determination, and could handle myself in almost any dodgy situation; but I didn’t want to be in charge; up front; leading. Whenever I worked with other officers I left the decision-making to them, and when I was double-crewed I avoided driving. I also realised that I wasn’t pro-active. Not because I was lazy, far from it, but because I was uncomfortable with a lot of the job. Cracks were definitely starting to show.
With our driving course over we headed off to our respective stations and joined our shifts. For the first two weeks I was crewed with another officer, and then the big day came, and I was sent off in a car on my own. To say I was crapping myself would have been an understatement. I was equipped with a radio and an A to Z map of the city, and it was about then that I discovered yet another vitally important skill in which I was completely lacking: a sense of direction! My knowledge of the city up till then had been from a shopper’s eye-view. I knew very well how to get to Marks & Spencer and Debenhams etc, and my favourite little cafe that did great wholemeal scones, but I hadn’t a clue about the rest of the city. Of course I could always ask the radio operator for basic directions, but that was embarrassing. For example if I was sent to St John Street, and asked for a clue as to where it was I’d be told it was off Queen’s Lane. How did I then say ‘And where the hell is that?!’ And so I would pull over and check the map, and consequently always take ages to get somewhere, often having got lost on the way.
On one occasion I couldn’t even remember the name of a small street smack in the middle of the city centre. My sergeant and I had been driving slowly through the city centre and had attempted to stop a suspicious young man who had promptly legged it. My sergeant (who was fat and unfit and older than me) had jumped out of the car and run after him. I took a few seconds trying to decide whether to lock the car or not – since it was a busy Saturday in summer and crowded with people. I didn’t want anyone liberating anything from the car while we were away. I was later berated for not dropping everything and instantly joining the chase. I did lock the car, then charged up the alley and threw myself into the fray on the ground. The young guy was obviously on drugs and fought like a wild thing, and the sergeant hollered at me to get my cuffs on him. He appeared to have forgotten his! It was when I was radioing for assistance that as usual the name of the street was evading me! I managed to spit out that assistance was needed at … er … uhm … ‘ And I heard the voice at the other end say patiently: ‘Come on Jude … come on Jude … where are you?!’ The name did pop into my head thankfully and help arrived. But I’m sure I was the joke of the shift with my driving and hopeless sense of direction.
My vision of exciting police work faded relatively quickly. There were too many negatives. The amount of paperwork was literally mountainous, and pressure was huge. The pressure didn’t come from the street, from dealing with situations or people; the pressure came from above. They wanted figures. No doubt about it. I was expected to give out a certain number of tickets on a regular basis. And I was supposed to come up with regular self-initiated arrests. This did not include making an arrest after one had been sent to a situation by control. I had to somehow find my own arrests. It wasn’t easy and I know that at times the guys would wind up a drunk on purpose and then nick him for drunk and disorderly. I felt it this was morally wrong and didn’t have the heart to do it. But as a probationer I had to be seen to be achieving, and achieving meant figures on paperwork and handcuffs on criminals.
The more I saw of police work (on the level I was dealing with) the more disillusioned I felt, and the more stressed I became. The greatest and most worrying conflict was paperwork versus pro-active policing. If I was getting paperwork done at the station I wasn’t out there looking for arrests – and vice-versa. And on top of everything else I wasn’t coping well with shift work. Nights played hell with my stomach which objected bitterly to adjusting to meals in the middle of the night. And I found sleeping during the day almost impossible. I’d get to bed at maybe eight o’clock in the morning and be awake again at 12.30, cursing the daylight outside and all the daytime noises that went with it. It wasn’t a good combination: accumulated tiredness, stress, and depression over Brian.
I often think of a quote by Garth Brooks: ‘The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.’ And for me this is so true, and was particularly true during my short career as a copper. My heart and my gut shouted ‘I hate this job’ and my conscience and reluctance to ‘fail’ shouted ‘Don’t be a wimp! You can’t quit now. You need this job and the tax-payer has coughed up a fortune to train you. So bloody well get on with it!’ The two sides regularly vied for dominance and the ‘Don’t be a wimp’ side brow-beat me into trying even harder to do better.
I have always hated getting things wrong, as far back as school days. Mistakes made me feel like a hopeless idiot. I could accept them in others but not in myself, and with police work there were a thousand procedures to get right. I made a couple of grand cock-ups that were so awful that afterwards I just had to laugh. On one occasion I had been sent to an incident involving domestic violence and drugs. My inspector was already there and asked me to take a very upset woman back to the station for interview. He also gave me two items of evidence: a knife, and a small saucepan containing a suspect substance. The woman was so fraught and distracted that I had to help her into the car, and in so doing placed the saucepan and the knife on the roof. Ten minutes later I drove into the station and before I could get out of the car I was greeted by two of the guys coming out. ‘Hey Jude!’ shouted one, ‘You’ve got a saucepan on the roof!’ Had I been quick-witted I would have come back with, ‘Well doesn’t that just show what a careful driver I am!’ But instead I went beet-red and pleaded with him not to tell anyone. Lord knows what members of the general public had thought, seeing a police car sailing through the city crowned with a saucepan! Thankfully it was at night and I had come from some of the back streets where there weren’t too many folk about.
I really didn’t realize until I joined the police force just how soft I was. In fact I don’t think I considered the negative aspects of the job at all. I had seen it as a positive way of helping society, which technically it is, but on the other hand your daily bread and butter tends to be unpleasant repeat offenders who go to court, get a slap on the wrist, and then do it all over again. Lord had I ever seen the job through rose-tinted spectacles.
By the middle of 1995 I was about as low as I could get. I had started to dread going into work. I was stressed to the eyeballs and walking around with so much tension that my shoulders seemed to be up around my ears. My stomach pains became worse, and one morning I felt so bad that I called in sick and went to my doctor. She asked me what was wrong and I burst into tears. After discussing my symptoms, my lifestyle, and my feelings about Brian, she told me I was stressed and depressed, and if I carried on the way I was going I’d end up with ulcers. She then signed me off sick for six weeks. Half of me felt a huge relief at not having to go back to work, but the other half was terrified of what my superiors would think. It was not a good thing to be off sick with stress and would not be looked on well.
I decided to have a holiday and went to Greece. It was wonderful. I sat by the sea and wandered the beaches, and hired a motor-bike and went up into the mountains. It was so peaceful and just what I needed. After ten days I felt ready to go back and really get stuck into the job again. I felt I could do it. I wanted to do it. My enthusiasm lasted about two weeks, and then once again I was told that I was not bringing in enough self-initiated arrests. My superiors told me they wanted me back in on Monday morning with an action plan. My heart sank into my boots. I drove home after that shift feeling sick and devastated. I phoned Brian in tears and he came straight over, and between him and my wonderful son, Pete, who was only seventeen, they convinced me that if the job was making me feel this dreadful then I should quit. They didn’t seem to think I’d failed even if I did. Deep down I knew they were right. I had gone into the job utterly positive and I had given it my all, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t me. By the end of the discussion I felt something shift inside me, something that pushed that persistent inner conflict heavily into the balance: allowing it to fall on the side of quitting.
The relief which came with that decision was amazing. Freedom! I headed for my meeting on Monday with a heart that hadn’t been so light in two years. The superiors asked sternly for my action plan.
‘I haven’t got it!’ I said with a smile.
‘Why not,’ came the reply along with a puzzled frown.
‘Because I have another plan.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘I’m giving three months notice as of today!’
It was the best decision I ever made. It would be hard earning less money, but I could cope. Three months later I had a job working nights filling the cheese counter at Tesco. It wasn’t totally mindless. I had to rotate the dates. After two years in the police force I could cope with that.
I think the moral of this story is ‘know thyself’. As ridiculous as it may sound, I had no idea that so many parts of my make-up would not fit with police work. I don’t see my giving up as a failure. There were a number of people who told me at the time that they would leave too – if they could afford to. It actually took courage to admit that the job wasn’t me, and to quit. Sometimes when you follow your heart it doesn’t always lead you down the right path. But when it consistently tells you that the path you’ve chosen is wrong, then it’s time to listen.