New Rooms, New Clothes
My very first act as an on-duty police officer was to not get lost. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult. The excessive number of fire doors along the corridor I was navigating made the brief journey to room 112 unnecessarily awkward – more like moving through the compartments of a submarine – but soon I was there, together with my new colleagues. Most of us knew one another from various stages of the selection process, but one or two introductions were under way when suddenly, the half-glazed door of the classroom flew open. It hit the wall with a loud bang, shook violently and – in retrospect, rather disappointingly – held itself together. There, in all his grandeur, the sunlight dancing on various medals and pieces of finery attached to his uniform, stood one of the most uninspiring individuals I had ever, in my short life, set eyes upon.
Arnold Tendril, a former constable of the parish of Numptwich, was a fifty-something grey-haired man with a backwards-sloping forehead that was delightfully exaggerated and accented by a receding, greying hairline. Think Grandpa Simpson, only skinnier. He appeared to have a torso which, resembling an army surplus tea urn, was entirely uniform (pardon the pun) in circumference from waist to shoulders. This made him look more than a bit like a dressed-up sausage. Suspiciously baggy uniform trousers swept impressively downward under the irresistible force of gravity to imposing, unnaturally shiny ex-army ‘ammo’ boots. Those boots, eminently impractical as they were, creaked authoritatively with each step he took into the room. It may have been him who was creaking but it was a little difficult to tell at the time, and I didn’t like to ask.
His first booming sentence was a telling indication of the kind of personality we were dealing with; “I am Constable Tendril” (he pronounced it ‘Ten-drill’). “Yew will refer to me and everyone else in this establishment as Sir” This was delivered in a surprisingly strong baritone, and I wondered idly for a moment if this was a ventriloquist act and the real owner of the voice would step into the room at any moment. I also pondered on how female officers might react to being called `sir’. I fought down an impulse to voice my instinctive response to this silliness. Displaying a mote of wisdom and in the process breaking a long-held habit, I managed to keep my mouth firmly shut. It was the boots, you see – they were looking at me, as if to say “Go on, then! Say something you little shit, we dare you!”.
With just a few words, Tendril had instantly come across as something of a self-important, egotistical small-minded a**hole. I doubt that this was quite the effect he was trying to create. To our delight – and yes, that’s sarcasm – Tendril began to shamelessly enlighten us about; a) what an amazing example of homo sapiens he had been/still was, and b) what truly awful examples of the species we seemed to be/would probably always be in comparison. We were, he informed us, with absolutely no sense of how stupid it sounded, “…an absolute shower”. You can imagine how awestruck we all were. If you guessed ‘not the tiniest little bit’, you are correct and you win a large, shiny boot. Now, don’t misunderstand me; I know that there are games that instructors play with recruits, but there was something else going on here, and we all felt it. It helped a little that this nonsensical collection of words was being spoken by a man with a name like Tendril. It crossed my mind that he had probably been bullied at school. I almost hoped I was right.
After a short period of being yelled at by this silly man, we were instructed to go and locate (!) and then get into, our uniforms. These had – we were assured – been meticulously tailored for each of us. At last collecting the keys for our accommodation from a sullenly reluctant ‘Clive Of The Magnificent Trousers’, we were sent on our way by him with a rather puzzling “Don’t pee in the sinks lads!” I assumed that this was some sort of ‘in joke’ which would become hilarious as soon as I had more experience. Following this unusual piece of advice, we embarked on the first of what would become a great many journeys from the foyer into the depths of the architectural crime scene that was the accommodation block.
The only elevator in the five-storey building was fascinating. With a posted maximum weight of 1000lbs, it had been cunningly designed to have a maximum practical volume of one person fully laden with bags, or as we would find out later that day, three sweating, panting people in running kit. It was, of course, a freight elevator that had been installed as a cost-cutting measure with the word ‘Freight’ cunningly taped over to lull the unwary into a false sense of security. It was my first encounter with the police force’s compulsion to cut costs in any way that they could, so long as it did not impinge upon the convenience and comfort of senior officers (deep pile carpets, etc.). Painfully slow in both directions as well as incredibly noisy, the elevator became the vertical-axis vehicle of choice in subsequent years only when, after a busy evening of ‘relaxing’, the effects of alcohol had reduced our legs to useless tubes of pasta. At any other time, as vigorous young people in our prime, we used the many flights of stairs, whether heavily laden by luggage, equipment or the after-effects of an intense fitness session.
The residential rooms – when we eventually reached them – proved to be a quiet revelation. Bearing in mind my tender years and completely non-existent experience of hotel facilities, I was actually rather impressed. A built-in wardrobe, drawers and sink offered me delights hitherto unknown. The extravagance didn’t stop there. Not only was there a bed, but I also had a desk and chair, shelving and – be still, my beating heart – a reading light at my disposal! These were luxuries utterly beyond my experience! A fluorescent yellow counterpane – soon to be a major problem but on first meeting, an innocent enough object – smothered the bed with no little gusto, but was entirely outclassed in luminosity by a pair of the most painfully orange curtains ever hung in those fair isles. From the exterior of the building, the curtains had seemed to be merely horrific, but in close proximity, they actually emitted their own entirely new class of radiation. My retinas began to spontaneously detach and in an act of self-preservation I tore my eyes back to the large, plain cardboard box lying on the yellow bed like a mysterious, fallen monolith. Within lay my new identity as a police officer. My uniform. THE uniform.