I awoke before the alarm, showered and set off to work as usual. It was cold and dark and I peered through the rain, wipers on, with strained red eyes.
I switched on the radio to hear a local news story. The Exeter branch of clothing retailer,TOP SHOP (the female equivalent of TOP MAN) had decided to create ‘gender fluid’ changing rooms in response to a complaint from a transgender man who was not permitted to use the female changing area.
The Male and Female DJ team pondered this decision. “I’m not sure,” said the woman. “I think some mums might not like their 13 year old daughters changing with men.”
It appeared to me, rather a knee-jerk reaction, but with all the recent controversy and confusion surrounding gender, I imagine they felt they had little choice in the matter.
Political correctness is the hot topic in my office at work and in particular, the new changing hut, built inside the WW2 RAF hangar in which we conduct our training. But since we work for the local constabulary, any frank discussions are usually preceded by furtive glances under the dirty window blinds, a quick visual sweep for any hidden devices and instructions to ‘put the wood in the ‘ole’; or shut the door for the uninitiated.
It’s as if some sort of masochistic tendency causes us to discuss the very things that annoy, irritate and infuriate us the most.
Mark declared that a few days off had cleared his mind of all the ‘bloody nonsense’ and that not thinking of these things had vastly improved his quality of life.
This latest disclosure had brought it all flooding back; but, like the rest of us, he was drawn in again.
It was later, whist contemplating these things at my desk, that I became aware of the sound of distant drums. Actual drums. The lads (or gender neutral public servants) investigated, only to find this was part of a women’s only ‘confidence in policing’ workshop. How foolish I must be to imagine that women might find such an activity, facile and demeaning. A straw poll at home later, however, confirmed my suspicions.
Some of us are are in the twilight of our policing careers and feel able to speak with a degree of candour, if a little nervous of the seeds of liberal fervour and ultra-sensitivity, planted in the psyche of the new recruit, who might take offence and snatch our hard-earned pensions. The other, younger half of the office have already had a good chunk of their pension stolen by HM Govt. and will have to remain at work into old age to see the remainder, which brings its own freedoms.
The fact that our office faces the ‘professional standards department’ and adjoins the sterile and humourless corridors of ‘Learning and development’, merely adds to the thrill.
I’d like to mention at this point, that we do not speak with the typical white male, institutionally racist, misogynistic bigotry, that anyone might deduce from a cursory glance at our profession and appearance, but I think that these things, like trapped wind, are better out than in. Stifling healthy debate merely fosters resentment, particularly when mere membership of certain groups or protected characteristics can enhance or dash ones career prospects. None of us is without some sort of prejudice, of course, including those who would, no doubt, all too readily judge me and my colleagues.
Like the waiting room of a successful Harley Street clinic, we often receive a small queue visitors, seeking brief respite from the straight-jacket of inoffensiveness, and the tonic of tea and laughter.
So abandoned are we by the establishment, that our teacups and soup bowls have to be washed next to the twin cubicles of a shared toilet. Rather that, say the lads, than risk a verbal slip in the open offices next door.
It was GK Chesterton who complained, ‘the act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.’ That’s exactly how I feel in this topsy-turvy world. You see, in the grand social experiment that is the modern Police Service, we are the guinea pigs for any and all of the latest ideas and liberal thinking- No offence intended to small, furry, buck-toothed creatures.
It all started with words like ‘chalkboard’ replacing blackboard. Then we had whiteboards, which apparently offended no one, but still became marker boards. Then ‘smart boards’ reigned, as presumably, no-one cares whether they offend thick people. Personally I’m not offended by any colour, except perhaps taupe. ‘Human Resources’ replaced ‘manpower’ although we now have much less of either, thanks to government cuts. Then good ideas became ‘brainstorming,’ but someone thought that might offend someone else with epilepsy, so it became a ‘thought shower’. For the elite kings and queens of gobbledygook, new ideas became ‘blue-sky thinking,’ although all this new language did give birth to that favourite game of tedious meetings, ‘bullsh*t bingo’. One only had to resist the temptation to shout, ‘HOUSE!’
I’m not sure that this corporate doublespeak isn’t another attempt to distract the eye, whilst the sleight of hand takes place unseen. Nevertheless, some are completely taken in by it.
Football hooligans became risk supporters and prostitutes were labelled sex workers. There seemed to be a positive spin on everything negative.The traditional force Christmas card was changed to a ‘seasonal’ card with ‘Seasons Greetings’ for a time until someone had the unusual sense to reinstate the word Christmas.
In some quarters, sound character and experience have been replaced by unabashed self-promotion and self-interest, especially if you belong to one of the on-trend support groups.
I find that I am weary of the fact that the Emperor has, once again, slipped on a new birthday suit and is admiring himself in the mirror.
On my return to work following a tussle with cancer, I was slightly surprised to find there was now a third gender on the official force propaganda. I received a notification of some new training that I must undertake to enlighten my primitive mind to this development and prepare me for the Gender Equality Act. I’m all for equality, but I don’t think they mean mine. Given that I am already emasculated by the necessity to have hormone injections to remove the testosterone upon which prostate cancer feasts, I resented the suggestion that I could apparently now chose the sex to which I most identify, as if selecting from a restaurant menu.
I also discovered that my and my colleagues wellbeing was now a ‘priority,’ although sadly in the modern service, priorities are measured by the dozen. At least some officers got some free fruit, I heard, to make up for the extra workload they have to carry and the fact they can’t get leave when they want it.
I was lured back to my desk by my teammates, immediately becoming suspicious of the smirking faces that greeted me. My eyes rested on a mass of fake cobwebs and black plastic spiders that festooned the ceiling, chair and computer. My laughter released a great guffaw from my eager spectators, I am sure in relief that I got the joke. In one stroke of genius, the ice was broken on a difficult subject for some and little else needed to be said. I felt right back at home again.
Upon my diagnosis some months before that, post-it notes had been affixed to my personal effects to indicate who should inherit my stuff in the event of my untimely demise. The picture of my daughter, my coffee machine, my certificates and commendations, my jacket, were all labelled with details of the lucky recipient. Nothing was exempt. My West Ham United mug was not wanted however and labelled simply, ‘Bin’.
I love these guys and I hope there is still a place for humour and fun in the police service long after I am gone. I hope that we won’t all take ourselves so seriously and that leaders remember that sometimes, laughter really is the best medicine.
I also hope that we stop all this naval gazing nonsense and stick to nicking criminals and serving the public.
Music for today is plan B- Heartbeat
Bruce Hornsby and the Range-The way it is