It's mid-afternoon on an altogether rather lovely Wednesday, and I have that Friday feeling. That is what weird shift patterns will do to you -- sometimes you get 'that Friday feeling' on a Monday morning, after a long Sunday late turn, which is utterly bizarre, but not entirely unpleasant either.
This fine Wednesday, I am in short sleeves -- it's unseasonably warm for August. I know June is meant to be summer, but in London, if it is actually warm, it is unseasonably warm. In fact, given the recent weather, I think I start getting just a little bit suspicious whenever the Sun comes out at all. Not as badly as Syd, though; one of our special constables, who's an Australian. Whenever the Sun comes out, he waves his fist at the heavens and mutters something along the lines of "What do you want from me, oh big ball of fire". Clearly he's been in the UK too long, but then I never really did understand ozzies who move to the UK. Surely it's not for the food, the climate or the people?
I'm on foot patrol with the aforementioned Syd. It's pleasant; Syd has been a special for a long time now, and has gained his IPS -- Independent Patrol Status -- which means that he can go and do the same things as I can, without supervision. He's come a long way since I guided him through his first arrest, many a moon ago. The Met loves sending us out on SCPD -- Single Crewed Patrol Duty -- but the problem is that for about half the calls we go to, if you're on your own you're out of luck: We are unarmed (the poor excuse for a spice mix the Met likes to call 'incapacitant spray' and the hitting stick don't count), and if you have to do any sort of arrest, well... Let's just say that even though I'm a relatively tall and broad man, with years and years of martial arts training, I would much prefer to not have to do arrests on my own.
Syd and I are chatting idly, strolling along in the sunshine; it's one of those absolutely perfect days. Grannies are going out of their way to tell us how lovely it is to see police on the streets, and even people I've arrested before greet me with a "Afternoon, officers" and a wink. It's nice -- it is as if it is a large-scale theatrical production, and everybody knows the parts they're meant to be playing, almost to the point of stereotyping themselves in a delightfully camp kind of way.
Of course, I wouldn't be blogging about this if it was just going to be about shopkeepers tipping their flat-caps and offering us cups of tea -- but I hasten to add that I do occasionally have whole shifts where I am literally just walking around the borough having little chats with people here and there. It's part of the job, and it makes me realise just how much I love my borough. As a response officer, you mostly deal with the shouty, stabby and ASBO-y side of the population, and spending a day walking around, tutting at public drinking and pretending to arrest 5-year olds to the glee of their parents, is a fantastic reminder of why I bother at all.
As we turn a corner, Syd's tells me about a woman he's seeing (she's hot, apparently, but nearly twice his age. My usual politeness has been thrown by the wayside, and I find myself asking for details -- do vaginas get wrinkles was a choice question that I managed to ask just as we walked past some teenage girls. I think they overheard me, to much blushing from both them and myself), when I hear some shouting from inside a shop. I glance over at Syd. He looks back, shrugs, and points over his shoulder with his thumb. I nod. We turn. We walk into the shop.
The shop is a small hardware store -- the kind that sells literally everything in the whole universe. I know the shopkeeper; in the riots, he was outside his shop with a baseball bat, daring anybody to try and break in. Nobody did, and he later admitted to me that he was glad, because if someone had tried, he wouldn't have known what to actually do with said baseball bat.
"Give me my fucking money back, you Russian fucktwat" said a well-dressed young man, leaned over the counter, grasping at a bill in the shopkeeper's hand. The shopkeep is leaned back as far as he can, against the shelves behind his counter.
Syd takes a step forward and opens his mouth, but I grab him gently by the neck of his metvest, and pull him back. This one is mine.
"Turkish." I say.
"What the..." says the young man, turning towards me. The look on his face melts when he spots our uniforms, but he's still standing there, hand outstretched.
"Turkish." I repeat.
"He's not a Russian fucktwat. If anything, he's a Turkish fucktwat. But mostly, his name is Hasbi, so let's just call him that, shall we?"
"And what is your name, then?" I ask the man.
"I'm Geoffrey", he says. It figures that he would be called the same as that annoying little princeling in Game of Thrones; he even has the same slappable little face, defiant look, and needlessly inflated sense of self-importance about him.
"Nice to meet you Geoffrey." I say. "So, why are you swearing at my friend Hasbi here? What's the problem?"
"He's taken my money!"
"Well, he is a shopkeeper, they do that..."
"No. He took it! And now he refuses to give me my goods! I only needed a fucking screwdriver."
"You know, I think it is sort of comical to say 'fucking' and 'screw' that close next to each other" I say, "but if you swear again, I'm going to be quite cross with you. Stop it. You are insulting my friend here; he is a very religious man, and he is quite affected by swearing."
"But you..." he said, glancing over to Syd, then to Hasbi, then to me again. Hasbi is grinning at me, and I wink at him. I've had a particularly memorable night with Hasbi in the local pub once, where he was teaching me to swear in Turkish, and I was imparting some choice phrases in English. By now, the student has surpassed the master, and whenever we run into each other, he is eager to tell me some new, deep-blue phrase he has learned. It is true that Hasbi is deeply religious, of course, but he doesn't see swearing as swearing -- he takes it to an almost poetic level. I mean, with phrases like "You semi-sentient attempt at foreskin fungus" he has us all beat -- without actually uttering a single obscene word. Poetry, I tell you. Poetry.
"Hasbi, what's going on?" I ask the shopkeep.
"He gave me a fake twenty." Hasbi said, and passes over a note. I take it, and take a closer look. It's a bloody fine forgery, as these things go, but definitely a forgery. I hold it up to the light. There's even some sort of a watermark, but it doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the queen.
"Right, well this is quite a good fake, but it's definitely a fake."
"Yeah, well, give it back then, I have another twenty right here. I just want to pay and get out of here."
"What will you do with the twenty?" I ask him.
"Spend it somewhere else, innit?"
"Do you agree that this is a counterfeit bill?"
"Yeah, I'm not fucking stupid am I?"
"What did I say about swearing?"
"I'm not stupid, am I?"
"Right, well, if you knowingly pay with a counterfeit bill, you're committing a crime under Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981."
"What the hell am I supposed to do, then?"
"Do you know where you got the bill?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, man. I took the money out yesterday."
"From a bank, or from one of those in-shop jobbies?"
"HSBC, down on Main Street. Next to the McDonalds"
"I hate to tell you this, but it sounds extremely unlikely. All the money that goes into cash points is checked by machines. Is there any chance that you've received it from somewhere else?"
"I could have gotten it as change, I suppose" he says.
"The only way you get a twenty in change is if you pay with a fifty -- when was the last time you paid with a fifty?"
"I don't fucking know, do I?"
"Mate. Swearing. Quit it. Last warning."
"I don't know about your financial situation, but I've got to say, I see fifties rarely enough that I remember when I see them. You really don't remember when you last paid with a fifty?"
"Nah, man. What is this, anyway, the fucking Spanish Inquisition?"
"Sir, if you swear one more time, I'm arresting you for Public Order section 5." Syd says, casually.
"Ah, shove off" he says. He snatches the bill from me, and makes to leave the shop with the plastic bag of things he bought from Hasbi.
Syd steps out in front of him and blocks his way.
"You haven't paid for your goods yet," he says. "If you leave, I will arrest you for shoplifting. Also, I can't let you leave without handing over that counterfeit twenty."
"Fuck you", the man says, and the world drops into slow-motion as he crouches down just a little bit.
I can immediately tell what is happening: Geoffrey is planning to run out through the front door straight through Syd, shoulder first.
Whatever you may have learned from fights from the movies or TV is almost certainly incorrect. As an example; how long do you think the average fight lasts? A minute? Two minutes? Thirty seconds, perhaps? It depends how you look at it; most fights tend to be an awful lot of posturing, and perhaps some milling about. If you measure the duration of a fight from the first assault taking place, a fight will usually be over in less than ten seconds. Unless somebody has had a skinful of drugs or suffers from psychological issues, one or two strikes tends to end a fight.
I have done a lot of fighting. Most of it in a martial arts dojo, and a not insignificant number of fights on the street when there are differences of opinion about whether someone should be arrested or not. There appears to be a statistically significant correlation indicating that people who are about to be arrested believe that they shouldn't be, whilst the person doing the arresting holds the opposite point of view. Needless to say, if that difference of opinion is expressed with fists, we have another fist-fight on our, er, fists.
The young man is doing his best impression of a low-flying-tomahawk missile, and goes crashing straight into the not-insignificantly-sized Syd. Completely unprepared for the assault, Syd goes crashing right out of the shop door, and ends up flat on his back.
I leap after the man, who has gone to the ground himself. This particular leap actually means jumping clean over Syd, but it pays off: As the man scrambles back to his feet between the two parked cars where his short-lived cameo as a cannonball ended, he is wide-eyedly staring at the both of us. He is grappling around in his plastic bag. I recall that the man said he was buying a screwdriver, and he is obviously reaching for it.
In any fist fight, the only sensible thing to do is to not fight with your fists. Sure, it looks great in movies, but it's surprisingly hard to make a good fist (It took me a good six months to learn to make a fist that was solid enough to punch through a plank of wood), and even if you know how, you're almost certainly going to end up with injuries yourself as well. So, in reaching for a screwdriver, I'm suddenly facing an armed assailant. Lovely. So much for my lovely day.
I quickly reach for my baton, and I can hear Syd racking his next to me as well. I glance over. He doesn't look to be in an awful lot of pain after his fall; good. Now, we've gone from shouting at each other to being two armed police officers and one hipster named Geoffrey armed with a large screwdriver.
He takes a step forward, holding the screwdriver menacingly ahead of him. Next to me -- and via my radio -- I can hear Syd calling for backup.
"IC1 male, around 28 years of age, armed with a screwdriver" he snaps, and gives our location.
Behind us, Hasbi comes crashing out of his shop, holding the aluminium baseball bat. He's a peace-loving man, but oh my, does he have a temperament -- I've only seen him mildly irritated and he scared me then; this time, he is absolutely beyond-the-boiling-point furious, and his booming voice could have pulverised a mountain if any were nearby
"Hey! Your father should have done his business in your mother's other hole, you useless waste of oxygen." Hasbi rages, standing on the step up to his shop. "If you take one more step, I'll re-furnish your face so much that you'll actually look pretty, and if you take two, I'll ram this bat so far up your bottom that you'll be tasting the metal."
Syd stupidly turns back to Hasbi to try to convince him to not get involved, and Geoffrey immediately takes a stride forward towards Syd, who now has his back turned. The screwdriver digs into his met-vest, and gets caught in the nylon cover. Extremely lucky; I was having visions of the screwdriver slipping off the vest and catching Syd in the back of the neck.
I bring my baton up at high speed, and connect with the bottom of the screwdriver-wielding idiot's elbow. It makes a horrendous cracking sound, and suddenly, his arm is pointing the wrong way, with his elbow being bent in a weird, unnatural angle.
Syd has turned back towards his assailant again, and Hasbi has slipped around him remarkably quickly for a rotund, middle-aging man. He brings his bat up, and places a firm strike against the man's legs for good measure.
Geoffrey is now on the floor, squealing. Syd drags Hasbi away, and I'm ignoring the fallen man's screams of pain as I handcuff him with his hands to his back. His elbow is quite clearly broken, so I'm not sure if handcuffing him is the smoothest move, but I decide to worry about that one later; anyone who decides to stab one of my colleagues is going in cuffs, no exceptions.
"You OK?" I ask Syd, as we're sitting in the caged van transporting our fallen prince to custody for charges of offences of theft, assault, and passing off counterfeited notes.
"Yeah, bit sore."
"Turn around?" I ask. He does. I inspect the back of his stab vest. "You're all right," I conclude. "Lucky as hell though. What happened there?"
"I didn't want Hasbi to get involved"
"And so you turn your back on the guy waving a weapon at us?"
"That... May not have been my finest moment."
"Damn right it wasn't, Syd. I'm glad you're a lucky man; he could have caught you in the neck, and we'd have been rushing you to hospital instead."
"Adrenaline..." he said, in the way of an explanation.
I nod. Adrenaline. That's usually where things start going wrong
Matt Delito is a pseudonym for a policeman working for the Metropolitan Police. All Notes from the Frontline are not entirely “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” due to the sensitive nature of the business, but are all based on actual events. These days, he’s on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Matt has a book based on his Notes from the Front Line column out now - you can get it from Amazon, in paperback or on Kindle.
If you missed his previous columns on Giz UK, check them out over here.