ON THE BEAT: By Inspector Jim Tyner
When I look back on my early police career, I do have to wonder at some of the decisions I made. I don’t mean my policing decisions: I am happy with every arrest I’ve made and every stop and search that I’ve carried out. But sometimes, just occasionally, I showed distinct signs of Muppetry.
And so it was one snowy February night. It was a Tuesday night in Spalding. I was on night shift and I had been given the call-sign ‘Alpha-Foxtrot-Four-Seven’. This meant I was destined to be on foot patrol all night.
Now, I normally love foot patrol, it’s still my favourite part of policing. I love the opportunity to talk with people: to see and be seen. But you don’t get to see many people to talk to on a night shift. Even less on a Tuesday night shift. Less still on a Tuesday night in February. And even less still on a cold Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing!
Did I mention it was snowing? The Arctic wind had brought flurries of snow throughout the evening and it lay about four inches thick. Spalding was deserted and the snow gave everywhere a clean fresh countenance.
The snow wasn’t so bad: it was the wind. My thoughts were thrown aside by the wind that eddied around, searching for a gap in my layers of clothing: trying to stab me with its chill. I was appropriately dressed: long-johns; wool trousers; waterproof over-trousers; vest; shirt; jumper; quilted lining and coat. But still I was cold.
I wandered around Spalding, muttering disconsolately to myself. My sergeant had made it clear at briefing that I was to remain on foot patrol and the only excuse for returning to the police station would be if I arrested someone. Some hope of that on a cold Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing.
My sergeant was an old-school type and very strict. Followers of ‘Heartbeat’ will understand when I say he would have given Sgt Oscar Blaketon a run for his money. But I couldn’t moan about my sergeant, because I knew he would also be out on foot patrol: sharing the hardship on a cold Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing.
I remembered an academic paper I had recently read: researchers had decided that only once in every eight years would a police officer on foot patrol pass within 100 yards of a burglary in progress. Even then they were unlikely to know about it. It seemed even less likely that I would encounter a burglar on a cold Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing.
Did I mention it was snowing? After a couple of hours of walking around my cheeks were raw, my eyes were watering and my teeth couldn’t stop chattering. An icicle had formed on the peak of my police helmet. I needed to find a warm spot. The problem was I knew my sergeant was out on the prowl. Where could I go?
Then it dawned on me. What is now the Santander Bank in Bridge Street was, in those days, the Abbey National Building Society and it was every cop’s favourite. Why? It’s simple really, because the Abbey National had a lovely recessed doorway.
Now, lots of shops had recessed doorways but what made the Abbey National the king of recessed doorways was that it had an over-door heater set in to the recess and the heater was outside the door. Even when the building society was closed the heater was on.
So, that was where I was going to head. There was just one problem. My sergeant. I didn’t want him to find me there, on a cold Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing.
I walked up Broad Street and through the White Hart Yard. I stood in the arch of the ancient White Hart Inn looking in to the Market Place. Like the carol says: the snow was deep and crisp and even. It hadn’t been disturbed by tyre marks or footprints...and that was the problem. If I walked across the Market Place I would leave a trail of footprints leading to the Abbey National. If my sergeant came in to the Market Place he would see the footprints and guess where I was.
Now this is where the Muppetry comes in. In my defence, I’m sure my brain was partially frozen. I can’t explain otherwise why I did what I did next.
Teeth chattering and eyes watering, I turned round and started to walk backwards across the Market Place.Yes, you read that right: I was walking backwards across the Market Place. My frozen brain had decided that I would leave a trail of footprints leading towards the White Hart yard.
If my sergeant came in to the Market Place, the footprints would lead him off that way, leaving me to languish in the relevant luxury of the over door heater of the Abbey National on a Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing.
Of course, you can guess what happened next.
I was half-way across the Market Place when I looked to my left and there he was. My sergeant was stood outside the Red Lion Hotel, having walked up from Red Lion Street. How long had he been watching me?
The sergeant walked up to me. His face betraying no emotion, he said: ‘Can I have a point please, Constable?’ This meant the sergeant wanted to check that my pocket book was up to date and sign it. This was routine whenever we met on patrol. I handed over my pocket book and the sergeant signed it and returned it to me.
He then looked in front of me where there was a set of footprints leading to the White Hart Yard. He looked behind me at the virgin snow. There was a long pause. In my head, I was trying to think of excuses I could give for standing in the middle of the Market Place with no footprints behind me but a set spread out in front of me.
He looked me in the eye, still not saying a word. He looked again at the footprints and then looked me in the eye again. Still not a word.
Eventually he broke the silence. ‘Carry on, Constable’ he instructed. With that, the sergeant continued across the Market Place, towards Bridge Street. Relieved, I scuttled off in the opposite direction towards Hall Place. I didn’t need the heater now. Flushed with embarrassment, I continued my patrol.
It wasn’t until an hour or so later that I walked in to Bridge Street and there he was. My sergeant was enjoying the benefits of the door heater of the Abbey National on a cold Tuesday night in February when it’s bloomin’ snowing.