On 7th July 2005, I worked a night shift. I came home and briefly switched on the news to see that the London Underground had come to a jarring halt over some kind of faulty fuse.
When I woke up, the faulty fuse turned out to have been a team of suicide bombers.
For the next three months, people came up to me and said, ‘You must be awfully busy at the moment, with all the troubles.’
I would nod sagely and agree that I was, indeed, awfully busy. Blandmore town centre being the United Kingdom’s hub of international trade and politics, we were hit with an outbreak of Terror in the form of flour smeared on post-boxes and children’s backpacks left in restaurants. Every other town in the country was the same.
In actual fact, I contributed in no way whatsoever to the investigation into the London Bombings. I may even have hindered it, by continuing to attend robberies, assaults and shopliftings without any regard for the magnitude of worldwide events.
One positive thing that came out of the Bombings was emails like this:
From: Jack Bauer, Counter-Terrorist Unit, Blandshire Constabulary
To: All officers and staff, Blandshire Constabulary
Officers attending incidents involving suspicious packages should adhere rigidly to force policy: on receiving a call, Operation Sapper should be informed (if there really is an Op Sapper anywhere in the UK, sorry – I made this name up).
Operation Sapper will advise the officer of the protocol. In most cases, the caller should be advised that the police are taking no action and it is really up to them to deal with the problem.
On occasions when an officer does attend, the package should be examined. If the package contains white powder, this is a possible ANTHRAX attack. In which case the officer should forensically seal the item and isolate it from public contact. (An example of this might be wrapping it in Clingfilm and putting it in the bin.)
If the item turns out to be suspicious, the officer should inform Operation Sapper who will send a specialist unit to assess the scene.
Officers should bear in mind that it might be an idea to move away from the package before using their personal radio to transmit a signal. Operation Sapper can provide no guidance on how far away it might be an idea to move.
OK, you had to read between the lines a bit, but that was the gist. I can safely say that this sort of advice has saved my life on no less than zero occasions.
It is now Monday. In my job, this brings no more groans than any other day of the week. Indeed, the day begins sweetly enough with my being wrapped up in a big fluorescent ribbon and sent forth into the town to Reassure the Public.
We have to go out of the side door, as the front counter is closed with police tape across the doors. The sergeant informs me that someone walked in and slit her wrists in the centre of the foyer yesterday. It is being investigated as a possible complaint against police.
An hour of foot patrol later, Will and I are in full Reassurance mode, just in time for the shops to actually open at 10am. We have traversed the pedestrian zone four times and seen absolutely nobody in fear of crime, which is surely a sign that we are doing our job well. In fact, we have seen absolutely nobody whatsoever, which is an even better sign.
‘I hate foot patrol,’ I moan.
‘But why?’ He is genuinely amazed. ‘It’s real police work.’
‘That’s fine and dandy, but I have twelve jobs in my docket and could do with some time to go and do the enquiries for them all.’
He shrugs. ‘Yes, but if you go back inside you’ll be sent out to another incident, and you’ll collect another investigation.’
His logic is infallible.
‘So you think we should go out on foot all the time?’
‘Oh no,’ he says. ‘If we did that, there wouldn’t be enough people to go to all the fights and murders. They’d have to do something drastic, like recruiting more police officers.’
‘Now you’re just being silly.’
We walk on with an air of friendly amusement.
You may find it hard to believe, but despite recent developments in our personal lives, Will and I actually manage to make our way about town without diving into doorways to feel each other up. That’s just how professional we are. I have cast the occasional sneaky glance at him, though, and for that I am ashamed.
At 10.05am, however, our rambling is interrupted by a flustered young woman.
‘Have you seen my son?’ she gasps.
As I have seen no-one, this doesn’t take much considering. ‘No, why?’
‘How old is he?’
‘Four. He’s called Ali.’
This calls for my pocketbook. I record a description of the toddler and broadcast it over my radio for everyone to be aware of.
‘Where did you last see him?’ I say.
‘By the train station.’ She waves her arm in that general direction. ‘He was right behind me. We walked down from the Porle on the way to his nursery school. Then I turned around and he was gone.’
‘Can you show us where exactly?’ I begin to tread towards the station, but the woman is hovering.
‘Well, I need to get on, really.’
‘I’m late for the hairdressers.’
My confusion must show on my face, for she produces a mobile phone and elaborates. ‘I’ll just be round the corner at Chanterelle’s Hair and Beauty. If I give you my number, can you tell me if you find him?’
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