Of all the offences for which I have arrested people in the well-over-half-a-decade I have been in the police, the one that brings out the human propensity to wriggle, crawl and grasp for survival at all costs is drink-driving.
Your average sloshed Blandmore driver will weave from side to side as I follow them with blue lights flashing, pulling over several times to wave me by before coming to the realisation it is them I am trying to stop. They then park considerately on the small kerb surrounding the Keep Left sign in the middle of Blandmore's largest traffic light junction and fall out of the car at my feet with empty cans of cider strewn around them.
The roadside breath test will consist of me firmly explaining how to blow correctly into the tube, followed by five minutes of my first saying, then shouting, phrases such as "BLOW not suck", "You're not blowing", "No, blow until I say stop", "No, harder". Eventually the threat of being arrested for failing to blow into the machine prompts sudden understanding of the process.
At the station, the custody sergeant will find him/herself presented with someone who speaks not a word of English, despite their earnest claim moments before that they are the best friend of Sir William Willough-Ponsonby who can vouch for their sobriety.
Several minutes of "What language do you speak?" will follow, lists of foreign languages waved before the drunkard's eyes to no avail. Finally the offender will point at a language and say "Swahili/Punjabi/Romanian/French" (in English). Ten minutes later, after three attempts at getting interpreters to communicate with the person, they will capitulate and experience a miraculous recovery of the command of English. Sadly, this will shortly be followed by a massive brain haemorraghe causing them to fall on the floor and twitch in silence.
An ambulance, two sets of tapes, three different signatures and a variety of medical/mental ailments later, including a repeat performance of the inability to blow correctly despite having done it once already, the culprit will utterly fail to provide any kind of breath specimen on the big machine and will be escorted to their cell in disgrace, where the grasp of English may once more desert them until they want a cup of tea.
With any other prisoner, the custody sergeant would have enough after a few minutes, but with the drink-driver, any deviation from procedure will result in the loss of the case at court. So we are locked in battle trying to preempt the most unlikely defences, in a ludicrous process where a tick in the wrong box sets an alcoholic maniac free back onto the roads.
The worst injustice I ever heard of was a colleague who arrested a local publican for driving home pissed one night, who then failed to provide a specimen of breath and was charged. In court some months later, the publican had become a builder, had a Portuguese interpreter sitting with him in the dock, and was a devout teetotal. Evidence was presented to show the person speaking good English in custody (albeit with an accent) and providing "quick-test" readings later on that night well over the drink-drive limit. Moreover, the officer actually attended the guy's pub the week before court and had a few beers with a mate, the publican happily chatting away in fluent English with him. Plus, as it happens, the officer was fluent in Portuguese anyway.
The Magistrates threw the case out because "they couldn't be sure he had understood".
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.