Thursday, December 06, 2007

Immeasurably Pissed-off Wednesday

Anyone had one of these lately, ever?

Twenty-five years ago, I left the then police state of Queensland Australia because of the total randomness of that state's interference in its citizens' private lives and because the music was better, obviously. For all this time, including living fairly precariously in squats and participating in decidedly fringe pursuits, I have evaded the attentions of HM Woodentops until now - one month before I officially resign my post as a council tax paying Londoner.

As a respectable middle-aged 'IC1 female', I was yesterday officially 'stopped' at Hackney Wick Station under 'Section 44 of the Counter Terrorism Act'. Admittedly, I was carrying a back pack. Our dozy little station serves about a dozen people an hour so why Hackney Police thought it was a reasonable use of police time to deploy ten officers to find some people to question about terrorism here is anyone's guess.

I was approached by a WPC who asked me if I'd be willing to answer some questions. Thinking this was a type of public consultation and since I'm currently harassing people for a crust under this very pretext, I truly thought it would be churlish of me to refuse. Next thing I know, Sister Sledgehammer has pulled out her fucking Stop and Searches book. Never mind the chummy, chummy approach. I had no right to refuse. Below is the net result of my encounter.

I've scratched out my personal details but it's hardly worth the bother since I know the police are keeping these on a database which was almost certainly hacked into by every under ten year old in the country before I'd bedded down last night.

The flimsy excuse under which I was 'stopped' was to ask me if I'd 'seen anything suspicious' on my way to work. I was tempted to offer that I'd noticed a Brazilian or two hastening to work but was wary of sparking a mass panic, if not slaughter. I thought the better and assured the WPC I'd nothing to report.

Before anyone gets steaming with me about the police needing to be seen to be vigilant when it comes to taking the threat of terrorism seriously, let me just say I'm very glad to have lived the last twenty-five years in a country where I am and feel free to protest. And I did. I told the WPC I found the method of approach invidious. Since the train still hadn't come and I liked the word so much, I harangued the Sergeant and demanded the name of the Borough Commander. I told the Jim Royle-alike Sergeant I'd write a letter of complaint. He looked so pleased I wondered if I'd inadvertently ticked another target box.

When I got to work with the Stop and Searches duplicate burning a hole in my hackles, railing for all I was worth, a black colleague quipped,

'You should try being black love.'

And rightly so. I have black friends whose kids could probably paper their bedroom walls with these things. I wouldn't expect to be treated any differently from my black friends' teenage sons in the same situation. But here's the weird thing. It seems to me my Stop and Searches experience was an exercise in collecting gratuitous but usefully comparative information. Put simply, they grabbed the opportunity to 'question' someone other than a young Asian male under Section 44 of the Counter Terrorism Act, because there was actually no one else around.

No one with a conscience wants the police to be constantly harassing young black and Asian men but, how is taking down the details of my attire going to avert terrorism exactly?

I snarled at the WPC,

'Well I certainly hope you meet your targets'.

She countered,

'It's not just about numbers.'

Stupid fucking cow.

If you're the type of person who thinks that you've nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong, you might want to rethink. It's very scary but the police can't seem to find a better way of keeping us safe but to treat us all as a potential risk to safety.


Andrew said...

Ah well Pants, it sounds like you were nicely dressed for the occasion. I think you would be correct about the numbers. They have to give some balance to the numbers of non Anglo people they stop. But it just makes people think the whole thing is nonsense when they pull up attractive young ladies such as yourself.

I think if I was a bearded Muslim with a backpack, I would be very afraid when walking the streets of London.

R.H. said...

Are you sure it wasn't the Fashion Police?

That's so pants said...

Hi Andrew

Attractive? Young? keep it coming (Barney, will you shut the fuck up - you're supposed to be sick).

My 'issue' is with how the police 'engage'. Prepare to be horrified, but I once dated a policeman. He was very nice and quite thick and once I'd got over that YOU'RE A WHAT!! thing, it wasn't all that bad. However, his initial 'courtship', benign as it turned out to be, involved blurring the lines between work and conversation.

The police have got to make it absolutely clear whether they're engaging you in time-wasting chat or questioning you under very serious circumstances. It's really creepy.



That's so pants said...


You slipped in there. Ya know what? I normally wear me brown boots with that brown skirt. I slipped up and paid the price. Shame they didn't log me pink pashmina but it's a fair cop guv.



R.H. said...

Black boots with a brown skirt gets six months jail here. And a $5000 fine. Miss Brownie copped Life for a Mary Quant Mini at the Lord Mayor's Ball.
But was pardoned during Cup Week (unfortunately).

That's so pants said...


You make one leetle mistake and....



Quink said...

Bad luck. I've been lucky up this end of Hackney - the only stop and searches I've seen have been in other parts of the borough.

I did get stopped and searched about 16 years ago. I was walking around the town meadows of a small provincial town and the local cops thought it'd be fun to see if I'd been smoking doobies under a tree. Happily, on that occasion, I hadn't.

Political Umpire said...

This would irritate me as well. And no the world isn't fair. I have been stopped by the police twice, and on the first occasion was actually taken aside for repeated questioning.

So I can sympathise. Except, I was guilty as hell on both occasions. On the first I was carrying offensive weapons and on the second I had busted about three traffic rules in a row.

Except the cops let me go. Why? Because, without blowing my trumpet, I was an obviously educated, legally aware twenty-something white male. Maybe the white bit didn't matter - on the second occasion Mrs Ump (then not Mrs Ump, but still a British Asian with) was present in the passenger seat and did a good job of cranking out some tears with the A-Z on her lap pretending we were lost rather than having an argument because we had turned down a street which was buses only and were running late for her friend's party. Maybe it did. It certainly didn't work against me, I would say.

But look at it from the POV of the police. They are supposed to stop terrorists. How many there are, if any, and who they are, is anyone's guess. But it's the cops who are at the sharp end of all this. They are also given all manner of 'targets' to satisfy some Whitehall knob. They are supposed to 'respect diversity' which in practice means stopping people who don't fall into the demographic of suspected terrorists and then having to justify it to said person (by saying 'have you seen anything? as if you hadn't thought to let them know about the six blokes reading verses from a holy book whilst attempting to stuff dynamite on the train tracks that you'd seen earlier). It's an arse of a job.

Dame Honoria Glossop said...

Well I think it's just so slack. I mean, they don't even say what make of boots, for heavens sake.

I mistrust their motives. I appear to stand a better chance of dying through police action than through terrorism.

I suspect politicians of playing the terrorism card to erode our remaining freedoms.

That's so pants said...

Hi Quinkie

Weird isn't it? I was completely below the police radar when I lived in a squat and played in a band.I get my first 'Stop and Search as wizzened old matron. Go figure.


Offensive weapons. Reducing Mrs Pumpie to tears? And I thought I was a reasonable judge of character. Never mind.

My position on this is that the exercise was pointless and I want someone to know that I know it. Having dealt with the police over a great number of years in various 'partnership' contexts, I do know that the last thing they want is to offside someone like me. So I protested.

The police are more sensitive even than New Labour to shifts in public goodwill. In many ways, I'm the perfect person TO protest. I'm like the cattle prod that tells them they've gone too far.

Superficially, I fit the curtain twitching demographic that they're desperate to recruit into Neighbourhood Watch schemes. As you can see, my dress is sombre. I ain't no Zandra Rhodes - except for last week when on the night I was having dinner with my long lost friend and painter of Pants portraits, Barbara Bennett. Wishing to look my best, I naturally emptied half the contents of a leaking red Pilot Hi-techpoint V5 extra onto my blonde hair and further distributed it with a dirty tissue. I forgot the golden rule - never panic at spillage. Anyway.

Someone like me protesting will set off warning bells - others will do it too. WRONG obviously in terms of equal treatment. Fraught in some ways because I risk inferring that I should be exempt from suspicion on grounds of my appearance unless I word it very, very carefully. But when it comes to policing, it's the public that provides the monitoring. We all have to do it. So I don't mind.

Your Dameship

1) Bally - on sale
2) Close run thing - terrorists tend to be more efficient but mercifully less active.
3) No brainer, yeah.



Janejill said...

Hello Pants - outrageous but I have never had a good experience yet with the police (not even the odd one that I ...God...dated) UI was once on a protest marching through London against the latest NHS cuts,( with other people too, I should add) a huge bulky bully walked past me, elbowing me so hard I fell over; not a backward glance did he give, though he was hoping I might run after him. How I wanted to. I think it might be that grey is the new brown? With blonde hair, I should think any colour would "work"

That's so pants said...

Hi Jane Jill

Well, the red ink made me look like I'd had a moment of madness, but just the one. Not even enough to be considered eccentric.



Janejill said...

Oh I hate to remember it but once, trying to impress a French musician boyfriend (did I think I was cool) I streaked my hair pink to match my pink striped (French, of course) trousers. It wouldn't wash out so next day, as a very sensible civil servant ,I had to go to work with it. The hangover helped to keep me in a dissociative state ( guess what I've been reading about)

R.H. said...

How you're treated depends who you are. If a rock gets thrown through my window the police don't even turn up, but if it happens in a nice part of this same municipality there's carloads of them crawling all over the place. And you can go to the station to report some offence committed against you, but if you're not a bourgeois you're treated like shit. Meanwhile these coppers put up an heroic image of themselves, but without tip-offs from the public they'd rarely make an arrest anyway.

Ann O'Dyne said...

oh Plod ... don't get me started.

On the positive side - it is material for a page to be written in a garrett far far away from Hackney.
I'd love to be thrown in a cell so I could sing Stand by Your Man till they paid me to stop or let me loose.

(now I can see from above that is was not Quink, and he was my first thought, so maybe it is Little man What Now, but i do know that one of the pommy links we all know and love has described his own S&S in a post in about July.)

Ann O'Dyne said...

god i'm good

It was Little Man What Now? wot got S&S-ed and it was in July
and here is a link, or not.
(so you can compare aggravation)

marymaryquitecontrary said...

Did you smile for your 'mugshot?.

That's so pants said...

Hi Jane Jill

The great thing about hair disasters is that they're never permanent - unless you're Elton John obviously.


Not a problem for me - I can pass for bourgeois.

Hi Annie

I do believe it's 'or not'

Hi Mary Mary

Believe me, if any plod would have tried to photograph me looking like I did that day... I leave you to imagine.

R.H. said...

My mugshot looks happier than my wedding photo. More optimistic.
When you come here I'm taking you to the Spottiswoode Hotel: the only non-correct pub in Melbourne, featuring "Topless Waitresses and Foxy Bairmaids".
I don't know what a foxy barmaid is, but they're very popular with working men, lots of trucks parked outside.


That's so pants said...


Did you sleep through the sexual revolution or what? I never really got the whole reclaiming the playboy bunny thing. Give me a nice purple hat and a glass of claret any day of the week and twice on Sundays.



Political Umpire said...

There were good reasons for the weapons and Mrs Pumpie was acting, so no real cause for alarm (I hope). But I wondered if people not in my demographic group would have gotten off so easily ..

That's so pants said...


Seriously, do I have to come over there and beat this story out of you? Now spill, and be quick about it.



Minx said...

I have a suspicious looking cardigan but the Cornish police are mostly asleep when you have an emergency.

Noosa Lee said...

Hi Minxie

A suspicious cardie? And you're still on the loose? Just as well RH has gone to bed already.



R.H. said...

There's never been a sexual revolution, or any other kind of revolution, among the working classes.

That's So Pants said...


You could be forgiven for thinking there'd not been a sexual revolution for the way everyone carries on these days, but without feminism, there'd be no equalities legislation of any kind.



Political Umpire said...

"Seriously, do I have to come over there and beat this story out of you?"

Don't make promises you're not willing to keep, Pants. That's the sort of offer I blog in the hope of receiving. Maybe you could string me up on the rack in Baroque dungeons? (Shudders in fear). Ok, here it is:

Weapons derived from my days as a martial arts instructor. Left them in the wrong bag. Wondered why my bag was diverted at Gatwick. The eyes of the pleasant young chap who rifled through the bag nearly popped out completely. He took me aside. The following conversation ensured:

Security guard: are these yours?

Pumpie: err, well, that is my bag, I a...

SG: What are these?

Pumpie: Um.

SG: Would you wait here please.

Pumpie: I have a flight to catch in half an hour. Is this going to be a problem?

SG: Yes.

Pumpie. Bother.

SG: Can you tell me what you're doing with these?

Pumpie: (explains as above). Now can you let me go?

SG: No, this is an arrestable offence. So the police have to be called. But would you mind waiting here?

Pumpie: I suppose. But I don't want to miss my flight.

SG: I'll ring them. (picks up phone): Hello, yes, we have a Mr Pumpie. He's having trouble making his flight ... No, no, he's here ... Yes, with me ... No, it's that we've arrested him for possession of offensive weapons. Ok I will .... (puts phone down). Yes they're mindful that you might be late.

Pumpie. I see.

(Presently another SG interviews me and gets the same story. This happens about three times. I get agitated that it's taking so long. They call the police and tell them to hurry up).

Police officer eventually arrives, suppressing a large grin. Officer: are you known to the police?

Pumpie: NO!

Police officer checks details. Are you planning to return to the UK?

Pumpie: Well, yes. I live here.

Police: How did you get these?

Pumpie repeats story.

Police confers with SG, then runs through my story for the fiftieth time that morning. The weapons are mine. Left by mistake. Whoops.

Police: Ok we're going to let you disclaim these.

Pumpie: Eh?

Police: sign this form, saying they're not yours and you don't know how they got there. Then you can go.

Pumpie: ok. (does so, then bolts for plane, making it by minutes).

So having spent all bloody morning saying again and again that the weapons are mine, how I came by them (pair of nunchuks, made with Aussie hardwood, lethal things), they give me a form to say that they are not mine and I've no clue how they got there.

Second incident: more prosaic. Lost in town. Get pulled over. Come across as harmless-middle-class-WASP-with-tearful-wife. Get let off mandatory £200 fine. Told not to kill any tourists, or at least none with lawyers. Mrs Pumpie starts to laugh. We leave before anyone notices.

That's So Pants said...

Well, well Pumpie

Threats may be unpleasant but they definitely yield results! Note to self - be frightening more often.

I did aikido for quite a few years and regularly travelled with a wooden bokken and jo. Wouldn't be able to do it now. They once took a different plane than me from Tokyo to Sydney. They didn't say why but I had to wait around for a couple of hours for them to turn up.