Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Leith Police Dismisseth Us

One of the things you don't expect when cycling with your three year old daughter in the bike seat behind you is that a police man will attempt to squash you with a van.

However, once the squashing attempt has failed - and particularly if the policeman has been considerate enough to attempt the squashing outside a police station - why then the juxtaposition of the scene of the attempted squashing and the proximity of the police station must surely result in the squashee marching smartly in the aforementioned police station to report the squasher.

Having survived to watch the van drive off, it's pilot unaware of the near-squashing he'd just administered, I'd had enough time to take the number plate so I gave it to the duty officer who dutifully trotted off to get the sergeant.

First they couldn't find the right sergeant There are two forces operating out of Leith they told me knowledgeably as I nodded my eager interest. Each one has a sergeant and the one talking to me was not the right one.

Then they had to establish which van it was.

"But I gave you the licence plate !" I said.

"Yeah, but there are two vans," they retorted.

"Not, I hope, with the same licence plate! I mean, I know you're the police and everything but still..."

"Yes," they said patiently, "but we have to make sure it's the right van."

"It's the van that has that licence plate bolted to the back," I said, perhaps a little too sharply.

They rewarded this comment with a level stare and then continued their hunt for the van and the sergeant.

At this point I'd like to set the scene for you - better late than never. All you ever see of the inside of Leith Police Station (unless you have done a crime) is a tiny room with a hard bench and a huge sheet of security glass separating the "customers" from the actual polices. In this tiny room were two big radiators. Despite the fact that it was about 15 degrees outside these radiators were on. I was wearing waterproofs and a bike helmet and was holding onto the bike. S was on the bike seat. Both her and the seat were enveloped in a lurid yellow waterproof cape with a not-very-nice picture of a teddy on the front. We became hot.

40 minutes passed. Lots of people can to the window to do pointless things whilst sneaking a sly look at S and me in full cycling gear busily sweltering in the small room with two radiators. I expect they thought we were going to get bored and go away. They were 50% correct.

I don't know if you've been into a police station recently. They are full of neatly pinned up but dire posters. By which I mean they are both dire in terms of content and from a design point of view. If you are three and bored and they are all you have to look at then they are very interesting. And when things are interesting then questions need to be asked. Questions that require answers.

"Daddy, what's that purple one?" S pointed to a poster with a cartoon of a man cycling in midair whilst another man in a stripy shirt and a mask steals his bike from underneath him. "DON'T LET THEM STEAL YOUR BIKE FROM UNDERNEATH YOU!" it says.

Another showed a picture of a little girl picking up a syringe. The point of this one was to appeal to drug dealers and users not to drop used needles in parks. "DRUG ADDICTS AND DEALERS!" It said, "DON'T DROP YOUR NEEDLES IN THE PARK!!!!"If I was a dealer I would have made sure to pay a visit to the police station so that I could be edified by this striking publication. "What is that one for? What is that girl holding? Why has she picked it up?" I tried to explain about not picking up things you find on the ground.

"What is she holding in her hand?"

"A jaggy thing"

"Why is she holding the jaggy thing? Where's her Mummy?"

"I expect her Mummy is standing in front of her and we can't see her in the picture."

"Is her Mummy taking the picture?"


Yet another poster advertised a service for alcoholics. It featured a glum, monochrome scene of a bunch of feckless, badly dressed people sitting on wildly-patterned sofas getting drunk. The message was obviously meant to warn you of the awful soft furnishings you will end up with if you allow your drinking to spiral out of control. I regarded the assembled drunks with something approaching envy.

"Are those people drinking lemonade? Why are they drinking lemonade? Is it a party? Why are they sad at the party?"

Then the no smoking sign attracted her attention. I told her that a red circle with a line through it means that you mustn't do the thing on the picture in the middle of the circle. In another part of the room was a tripartite sign indicating that not only mustn't you smoke, but you mustn't eat or drink either. "Don't smoke, don't have a cup of tea, don't have knives and forks," opines S. Then "Daddy, what's that purple one?" and so we circled back to the beginning, repeating in random order for the duration of our wait.

Finally, when they ran out of people to send down to stare at us and they realise that I have staying power brought about by having had to patiently answer asinine questions for the last six years, the right sergeant was located and the van was attributed to the plate.

The sergeant was very nice to both of us and proceeded to ask me all the questions with which even the most minor incident is burdened: where was I born? What is my ethnicity? What is my job title? None of which has any bearing on the incident. I was calm and polite. S flirted. He did his job. Did I want to press charges? No. What did I want to happen? Just tell the driver that he's an idiot and the mirror is not for checking his hair.

Apparently I'll get a letter telling me what's transpired. Delivered by bike I hope.

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