Henry Chinaski - Charles Bukowski’s alter ego in Barfly - says, ‘I don’t hate the police… but I seem to feel better when they’re not around.’ That’s pretty much how I feel. Although sometimes, it has to be said, I hate them.
I don’t know whether it will surprise you or not to know this, but over the years, and without meaning to over-egg it, I’ve had my fair share of police encounters. A small handful, let’s say. A Beadle handful. As both crime victim and alleged perpetrator. And when they’ve been on my side, they’ve generally been mostly very sympathetic and humane. But when they’ve not been on my side, they’ve generally been disrespectful, abusive and just awful. Until that is, last Thursday evening. Let me tell you what happened.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I'd met someone who had some excellent green stuff. Well, I met him again early on Thursday evening and he supplied me with some of said self-same stuff. He probably deserves a name at this stage. I might call him Danny, as if he were my very own offspring. Errant Danny. My wayward son. It is written. So I left Errant Danny in west London and made my way to Oxford Circus where I met up with my old friend, Shambling Luther. Luther bought me a drink and we went outside to sample Errant Danny’s wares. We crossed the street with our plastic glasses and found a little window ledge in an adjoining back street.
I set about rolling a one-skinner. As I did so, I noticed a couple of chaps up the street, maybe ten feet away, loitering on the corner. I saw one of them looking straight at me and I assumed that a) he knew what I was doing, and b) he was probably a little envious. I know that whenever I see people smoking joints in the street, that’s how I feel. I even briefly imagined him coming over and asking if he could have a little, as occasionally happens. Anyhow, I carried on chatting to Shambling Luther. As it happens, we were chatting about the inherent risk involved in carrying smelly green stuff around London, what with all the sniffer dogs about the place, and police everywhere.
I finished making the joint and put it in my mouth. This would be the first tobacco I’d smoked in almost two weeks. I inhaled, but the light hadn’t taken. I was about to light it again when I saw that the two chaps on the corner were no longer on the corner, but were coming over. Naïve fool that I am, I still imagined they were going to ask if they could maybe purchase a little green stuff for themselves. In fact, I thought that right up until the moment one of them took out his badge and said something about the Metropolitan Police.
‘You have to be joking,’ I said, meaning it. Like there was no way this could really be happening. Like I was determined to cling to the paradise of the past, the good old days before everything had become tarnished, before the universe had become the heinous, unholy, nonsensical place it now was. They simply had to be joking.
They weren’t joking.
The first officer – let’s call him Bryan – reached out and took the tiny unsmoked joint from my hand. I think he said something about ‘a controlled substance’ as he placed the offending item in a jiffy bag and asked me if I had any more about my person.
‘You know I have,’ I said, sadly, the realisation of what was happening sinking onto me like a poison.
‘Yes,’ he confessed. ‘I do.’
With a heart as heavy as a barrel of bricks, I reached into my pocket and handed over £50 worth of the finest green stuff I hadn’t smoked in a long time. It really hurt. It didn’t seem fair.
Meanwhile the other officer was performing a perfunctory search of Shambling Luther’s person. ‘He hasn’t got anything,’ I said. ‘It’s all here.’
I asked if I could see the first officer’s badge again, just on the off chance it was all an elaborate scam by London-Omar types, small-time rip-and-run merchants on the make. When he showed me the badge a second time, I asked if I could take a photo. I told him I wanted to write about it, fully expecting him to say no. Instead he placed his badge on the window-ledge, right there on Errant Danny’s wacky stash-purse.
I've blurred his number so that he doesn't get in trouble with his colleagues for showing humanity.
Then he wrote up the incident, which he also let me photograph - but not the face, which, for an undercover copper, is probably fair enough.
He began by explaining the recent changes in the law, including the latest reclassification and explained that I would be receiving a warning.
I probably asked Bryan three times during the interview if he might not bring himself to just, you know, give me the stuff back, or at least some of it, maybe just one of the two little bags. Or even just the mini-joint. It would be a gesture. ‘I wish I could,’ he said.
‘But you can,’ I coaxed. ‘Just say yes.’
‘No,’ he said.
He asked me how much I’d paid.
‘Fifty quid!’ I cried, scandalised.
He asked me my name.
I wanted to refuse. ‘I’m anonymous!’ I wanted to yell. 'I disclose my identity to no man!' I told him my name instead. He asked me where I’d purchased the drugs. I wanted to tell him. ‘I got it from Errant Danny, who resides at 420, London High Street.’ But instead I said, ‘You don’t really expect me to tell you, do you?’
He said, ‘No. Shall I just put “street”?’
I said yes and thanked him for his sensitivity.
It really was remarkably civilised. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that, essentially, I was being robbed, I would have counted it as one of the most heart-warming first impressions I’ve enjoyed for some time.
At one point – in a moment of desperation – I tried something outlandish. I held the gaze of the second officer - let's call him Ross - and I told him, earnestly, ‘These are not the drugs you’re looking for.’
He rewarded me with a slightly indulgent laugh, for which I was grateful, but it was not my greatest Jedi mind moment, it has to be said. I was like a poor man’s Derren Brown tribute act. I was like Dan Brown. Dan Beige even.
‘What about a bribe?’ I ventured. ‘What if I was to offer you the single ten-pound note in my pocket?’
To which Ross replied, ‘A couple of pints of Kronenberg would probably do the job.’
My eyes lit up. ‘Really?’
He shook his head. ‘No. not really,’ he said.
At the beginning of the exchange, Bryan had asked me if I had any photo ID, but then amidst all the bonhomie, he seemed to have forgotten about it. I reminded him and asked if he still needed to see any. I could be anyone, after all. He said it wasn’t necessary, as I was clearly being cooperative and civil. He said if I had been uncooperative, he would have had me against the wall and searched me properly. I imagined plastic, powdery gloves and enemas. I was touched that it wasn't happening.
‘You two are going to get so wrecked later,’ I said. ‘That’s really good stuff.’
‘Nah,’ said Bryan. ‘I don’t smoke.’
‘You used to though,’ I said, ‘before you were a policeman. I bet. Eh?’
He looked at me, smiled and paused long enough to clearly indicate that the answer was a resounding 'hell, yeah!'
‘No,’ he said. How we laughed.
‘Oh, this is ridiculous!’ I said, politely exasperated. ‘Isn’t it?’
He agreed. ‘It’s the system,’ he said.
‘The system’s an arse,’ I said.
‘Yep,’ he said.
I asked him how come they happened to have been hanging around. ‘We’re everywhere,’ he said. He said they were particularly concentrated around Oxford Street because it’s a bit of a crime black-spot. A veritable street theft jamboree. I pointed out the irony. ‘You’re here to stop street crime!’ I hooted. ‘And here you are mugging me!’
He laughed generously. I’ve been mugged a few times, but this was by far the most humane. And as police experiences go, nothing could be further than my last experience. They asked me what had happened. I told them, mentioning that the arresting officer in particular had been a bad egg of the highest order. ‘With all due respect,’ I said, ‘he was an enormous cunt.’ I wondered as I said it whether I might have crossed a line.
Ross replied without pause. ‘About 90% of them are,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘And we have to work with them.’
It was very refreshing, and almost worth a pair of lost ponies for the insight into a different side of policing.
But not quite.
‘You do know I’m just going to have to go straight back and get some more, don’t you?’ I said at some stage.
‘That’s what everyone says,’ replied Bryan. ‘“I’m not gonna stop doing it.”’
We are a nation of children.
The next morning Errant Danny became Healing Danny and helped me out with some of his own supply, which was very kind and much appreciated. He understands, you see. Restless souls have needs.
I left Danny’s around 1pm on Friday and wrote the following in lovely big note book:
The sun is out. You can smell it. It is a striking day. I’m gliding along the broad bright platform of an unfamiliar train station luxuriating in a five-minute break, chewing over recent events as I wait for my connection. Loud dramatic pop is emoting for all it’s worth in my ears, transporting me to a slightly more cinematic universe. The train appears on cue and transforms itself gradually, gracefully, from a glinting pin-prick of light on the horizon to a perfectly ordinary full-sized train. That’s physics.
Through the glass of scratched train-windows, I smell the sun through my eyes. It reminds me of holidays, and I feel right with the world and right with myself for the rest of the afternoon. And I get a hell of a lot done.
It’s a highly beneficent treatment, this green stuff, and personally I consider it a symptom of a rather terrible administration, and a rather backward nation, that the use of it is a criminal offence. I’m insulted. And occasionally indignant.
Anyhow, now I’m off to the countryside to eat lots of hand-picked, purely organic, naturally occurring and wholly illegal mushrooms.
Good old nature. Silly old system.
All in all then, an expensive, but interesting and somehow slightly gratifying learning experience. Don't smoke dope in the streets, kids.
Let that be a warning to you...