Sunday, 1 August 2010

I'm no Sherlock!

I've just been watching the new BBC series of Sherlock Holmes, set in modern times. I do like the texting and the way he has a GPS in his head, although I deduced it was the cabbie in the first one ages before he did.

Crime's a massive genre for the fiction writer. They always tell you to 'write what you know' but unless you're planning on turning into a cat burglar or serial killer (you know who you are) the only way to experience a life of crime is on the right side of the law.

This was half of my thinking when I became a Special Constable (the other half being quite genuine altruism). It was the early eighties, Dixon of Dock Green hadn't long been off the air, and I'd try anything once.

Here's me in my uniform. I was, as you see, a mere child who knew no better.

Special Constables* are unpaid volunteers who have identical powers as regular police officers, despite minimal training. You're supposed to accompany a 'real' officer but all the local regulars hated the Specials (and they were a dodgy bunch - this is, after all, where I met my ex-husband) so we went out in pairs.

I did it for less than 3 years, but that time did include the Toxteth Riots - which I wasn't at but we had to provide cover for. (Some honeymoon that turned out to be!)

It was an insight into police work at its most basic level. I learned the following:

  • people do actually hurl abuse at you just because of the uniform
  • sometimes the emergency services put their sirens so the chips don't get cold on the way back to the station
  • it isn't like on Dixon of Dock Green
  • ladies have smaller truncheons than men
  • I really wouldn't like to be a police officer (and not just because of the truncheons)
  • I'm never really surprised any more by incidents like the Ian Tomlinson one.

I wasn't very successful in my role. The others were gagging for something to kick off but I was scared every time I went out. Some of my colleagues just wanted to arrest as many people as they could, but I always tried to defuse situations. I only ever arrested one person and they were unconscious. I stopped various youths causing annoyance, assisted with the flow of traffic and I may have prevented thousands of burglaries by my mere presence. But if all this makes me sound like I did ok, I probably ought to mention that I was also inadvertently responsible for a small fire in the bridewell. Which is frowned upon.

Deduction, I can do. But what I'm particularly bad at, and one of the many, many reasons I could never be Sherlock Holmes, is observation. Even if I was knocked down by a car I wouldn't notice the make. I could talk to you for hours and have no idea later what you had worn. Also - I'm appalling at giving directions. There is no GPS in my head. Not even an A-Z. All I have is a vague picture of the street I'm in and the next one, then it gets all fuzzy. It's all I need - I just about keep one step ahead of myself. But ask me to tell you the way to somewhere beyond this mini-radius and you're doomed!

So if I were to write a crime novel, and if it included a heroic police officer, fearless, eagle-eyed, not lost at all and with a very large truncheon, you'd have to deduce that I was making it all up - a work of fiction.

Melon Entree, my dear Watson.

* p.s. Charles Dickens was a special constable in Liverpool


  1. How good of you to be a special constable for a bit. What society needs is less truncheons and more heart, you.

  2. Brilliant post! I just love the way the police around here think that patrolling in their cars, very slowly, equates to an increased presence. I always feel like flagging them down and asking if they've lost the ability to walk.

    Glad you didn't go for "a lemon entry, my dear Watson." That's a different joke altogether.

  3. Constable BB, I think there must be a place in the library for comic crime fiction, and I deduce that you are just the one to write it.

    I had a yen to be a police officer once, but never made it past the first interview, in which I was asked if I had ever smoked that stuff that you're not supposed to. I have consoled myself ever since (over my exclusion) that it was because I didn't lie. Nowadays I don't think they're so particular.

    And GOOD FOR YOU for being such an upstanding citizen and doing more than your bit. I would be interested in the bridewell fire story, although perhaps if I went back and actually clicked on that handy link, I might find out more.

  4. Slightly off-topic, but Benedict Cumberbatch (the actor who plays Sherlock in the new series) was once mistaken for Dogberry (of Inky Fool) in an Indian restaurant.

  5. Thanks for your kind comments.

    Paul - Yes! More customer service and less blugeoning. The dreadful case of Ian Tomlinson being a case in point and one I meant to mention so might add now. (Oooh look, everyone! I put a link in a comment. It's all thanks to Jinksy and Doctor FTSE)

    Martin - Glad you liked it - especially the melon!

    Deborah - Oh, I was just supposed to have FULLY searched this woman before they put her in the cells (not something a special would usually be asked to do but I was the only female on duty) and managed to miss a book of matches which she used to set her loo roll alight!

    Mrs Malaprop - but how to you know? Are you in regular contact with Mr Cumberbatch?

  6. Wow - look at you before even I knew you all those years ago with big glasses and shiny shoes!!

  7. my defence, it was the eighties!

  8. Brokenbiro - Sadly I am not in any sort of contact with Mr Cumberbatch, but the owner of the restaurant told Dogberry about the confusion the next time he came in. I liked the idea of an actor being mistaken for someone who isn't famous at all.

  9. It's a neat reversal, Mrs M - we should set up a secret society where we all agree that if we encounter any famous personages we greet them as if they were someone altogether less grand (not to imply any dearth of grandness in Dogberry, naturally)

  10. lovely! well done you for doing your bit for the err Big Society. "Dave" will be proud of you. I love the story, the big glasses and, my newly acquired word: Bridewell. which of course sounds like a well from which nubile lasses can be drawn, repeatedly...

  11. OK, enough with the big glasses everyone - it's like my fortieth birthday photo collage all over again - never mind that I'm dancing on a tractor/ dressed in a tutu/ in the jaws of a crocodile... "Oooh, look at the big glasses!"