Only a short time after my interview with Mr Pyle, and having been officially found by the force medical officer to possess an appropriate – if disappointingly unremarkable – set of genitals, I was in. My next task was breaking the news of my impending departure to Donald Protheroe. With no choice of a starting date, my last day with The Venereal (oops) was imminent. The short conversation in Protheroe’s office went as expected: he was hung-over, in a bad mood, and yelled a lot. He was still yelling when, with a new job already in the bag, I turned on my heel and left his office.
Within a week I found myself driving once again towards the same force training centre that my father had attended almost thirty years before. The significance had not escaped me, his expectations pressing me into the seat. I’m sure that Crumpton has, since the days of my acquaintance with it, become a thriving metropolis of culture, colour and light, It may have become a wonderful place filled with joy and laughter.* However…how to put this delicately…in the early eighties, the grotty little town could only be described as a grimy, miserable, self-obsessed dump which seemed to have been left behind by words such as ‘progress’ or ‘happy’ or the number ‘1950’. Sesame Street it most definitely was not.
The Force Training Centre (‘FTC’) was mostly comprised of a rather imposing and – let`s be honest here – downright ugly Victorian building which had started life as a convent around the turn of the century. The convent for some reason failed to fulfill its religious promise and was therefore acquired by the constabulary some forty years later, by which time the building was already reputedly haunted. Having for many years looked at old, creased monochrome photographs of my father’s miserable-looking training class pictured outside the very same building, it was a slight shock to see that there was, in fact, a little bit of colour in the dirty old blackened bricks. I think it was a particularly daring, ambitious effort by the standards of Crumpton; an attractive shade of purple/brown with black soot ground in there just to make sure the jolliness didn’t get out of hand. Nevertheless, the thought struck me that those old monochrome photos of my dad in front of the very same structure may have been taken on colour film after all.
I followed the formal and severe-looking signage and gingerly drove around to the rear of the elderly and forbidding building. As I did so the relatively modern accommodation block hove slowly into view. Unfortunately. Looking at it felt like being beaten around the face. This triumph of aesthetic terrorism managed to achieve the impossible by making the old and very austere pseudo-gothic wing appear to be an absolute marvel of creative and elegant architecture. Try, if you will, to picture a 1960s block of flats which has, in a vicious and cynical genetic experiment, been forcibly mated with a cardboard egg carton, and you get an idea of the style – as well as the external texture – of the beast. This pebble-dashed concrete thing – the windows of which sported the most violently orange curtains ever produced outside of a rogue planet with no natural light of its own – would be my home for a week in the immediate future, and for many, many more weeks at irregular intervals over the years to come.
Violently shaking by the time I’d parked the slightly distressed car as far away from the building as I could, I realized that I was probably being watched from the building, and had a significant amount of real estate to negotiate. Intensely conscious of being judged on everything from my clothing to my perambulatory skills, I made my way across the parking lot. Disproportionately relieved, I finally arrived at the rear entrance of the building, pushed the ‘pull’ door for a moment or two, hoped that nobody was watching me, entered and made my way to the reception desk.
There, in the suddenly hushed atmosphere, I was startled to be met at the desk by a grossly overweight Humpty Dumpty-shaped man of advanced middle age. Worryingly, he was dressed in a pseudo-uniform which included the largest pair of pants that I had ever seen. Might this impressively-trousered figure be the Chief of Training himself, I thought. He wore a pale blue shirt of uniform issue but without epaulettes of any kind and which made him look half-dressed. The shirt was almost invisible from the neck down, as his amazing, intimidating pantaloons were fastened just below his nipples in order to accommodate what I shall charitably refer to as his ‘waistline’. Of truly global – and I mean global – shape and proportions, it set me thinking. I assumed – erroneously, as it would turn out – that before me stood a former and now ancient ‘Bobby’. Is this, I wondered, what the job did to a man? What did the future hold? Had he once been the reasonably athletic and fit young man that I regarded myself as? Just how much was I expected to eat?
The figure behind the counter was unique, certainly. I’d never seen anyone attired quite that way before, and the trousers were, in all honesty, both mesmerising and in their own way, magnificent. Each trouser leg rather daringly – if not downright cheekily – stretched from the nipple region to ankle at the front, and from lower shoulder blade to ankle at the back. It was a truly remarkable garment; a triumph of the tent-maker’s art. I’m sure he had legs in there somewhere but they never stood a chance of touching the inside of these magnificent leggings due to the huge overhang created by the rest of him. Inanimate objects though they were, those trousers scared me. Was this what lay in store for me? For my legs? It was a terrifying thought.
After finding my name on an extremely short list, he moved – stiffly and rather grumpily – across his office to point out where my room keys sat upon a hook. I held out my hand for them but he shook his brylcreemed head. “Nay lad, yoo ‘av to be givvun cleeyerance fust.” Since the organization had invited me there, this seemed a little churlish, but there was nothing to be done with the fellow, who was obviously relishing his moment of power. He moved back towards me, those acres of pants appearing to be just one trouser leg. Only his feet appeared to move; it was fascinating. With bristling grey eyebrows the size of my hands and the bloodshot gaze of the committed drinker peeping out from underneath his slicked-back, startlingly black hair, he planted his hands on the countertop and leaned towards me. Suddenly, he grinned. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I decided not to share my feelings on the matter. In a kindly ‘you have no bloody idea what you’ve let yourself in for, son’ manner – enhanced by the alarming lack of several teeth normally involved in grinning – he imparted his final piece of information. “Roowum wun-wun-two.”
Following his helpfully extended digit, I took my leave of him, sucked in a deep breath and headed into the haunted convent, ever closer to the precipice of my future.