Just entering the water and testing my dive equipment…
It’s been months since I have written a blog, there are reasons for this and there are fairly insignificant reasons why I decided to write one today.
Reasons why I haven’t written a blog for a long while:
As I have said before it’s just so busy here on the SSU. I need to juggle being an operational member of the team and the day to day running of the Unit which doesn’t leave much time for blog writing. When I have an idea of what I want to write about it usually doesn’t take long though as I’m quite quick at typing and some of them I do in my own time so I can only use that as half an excuse.
I want to write about subjects that I feel should be written about - some of you may judge me on what I find an inspiring subject if you have read some of my previous stuff but that’s the point of these isn’t it? You get to see a bit of the Sussex Police People as we really are - what makes us tick and sometimes you may not understand.
Another reason for finding it hard to blog is that certain local paper journalists read the SPP blogs and ring up the press office if you mention anything they may be able to get a story out of. Sadly, this has curtailed me being able to actively use Twitter, blogs and talk about lots of the stuff we go to - there are only so many times that you will be able to cope with the press office ringing you asking questions on behalf of a journalist when you’re at a scene in the thick of things and then regretting that you ever mentioned it - not to mention the upset this causes with the senior investigating officer who may not look favourably on the fact his or her operation has been referred to even though you took great care not to mention any specific details which could identify where you were working.
Why the return?
So, doughnuts and cakes (what else?!) are the reason for my return. Back in the beginning - when we did Sussex Police People Live I wrote a couple of articles about the experience and the reaction to it by the press. One thing noted in the Daily Telegraph by a journalist was our discussion of doughnuts and pastries during the live feed, he said the discussions were ‘banal and mundane’. This resulted in me writing a blog about this and there have been several more about baked goods since. My piece ‘Doughnuts and High Quality Pastries…’ discussed the significance of the ritual of doughnuts to us and the fact that you are either in or out with your understanding.
Rick was late today. We started at 7AM for a search commitment and he got the time wrong and thought we were in at 8AM. As the rest of us were in early we assumed Rick was having a prolonged visit to the toilet before his shift started (sorry to mention this but this is one of Rick’s characteristics that we know and love). We left for the search and rang Rick on the way. Rick arrived at the place we were searching an hour or so later having travelled by bus to our search location - naturally as he had made a mistake he had stopped by a well known bakers for the ‘punishment pastry purchase’. He was upset about being late anyway, but he described the shame of being in the bakers, in uniform, purchasing 8 apple turnovers feeling the knowing eyes of the bakery staff and queuing members of the public upon him because he had obviously committed a ‘doughnut offence’. I felt the only thing left to deal with Rick was a bit of public humiliation, hence mentioning his error in my blog - mean of me, I know, but he’s got to learn that he will never hear the last of it on a team like ours!
For anyone out there who is considering making a complaint that Rick has been late and has been purchasing apple turnovers which isn’t an effective use of tax-payers money, you can rest assured he will be more than making the time up at the end of the day. He is now sheepish and shame faced, £6.40 down and didn’t get a chance for his pre-shift ablutions which is more than punishment enough for today I think.
If any journalists from the well known local paper are reading this - today’s search was routine and nothing you would be interested in…
As for me - when I get time I’m going to compile all blogs and tweets with reference to doughnuts and high quality pastries and I’m going to email them all to the Telegraph journalist (if I can remember who he was).
As for you - I’ll do a more informative blog for you next time so you have both quality and a bit of quantity. I appreciate this one only falls into the latter category. Thank you for reading - as always!
I went to a bakery today, as usual it was on the way home from a search when we were all starving and hadn’t eaten. The type of visit when you rush in and buy lots because you’re hungry and then can never eat it all. When we were inside at the counter Jonathan pointed to the cherry bakewells and said “This is the cherry bakewell shop”. “What do you mean?” I replied, “You know, the one when the man shot himself in the head”. It was then that I was transported back to a job we had gone to where a man had indeed taken his own life and we had to go and deal with it. I was there with such clear memories, of wearing a white SOCO suit to protect my uniform, sweating in the heat and doing what we needed to do. I could remember it in such fine detail. No matter how bad it was we got to a stage where we all needed to eat and Critch went to the bakery and got us cherry bakewell tarts. And then we carried on….
It’s a strange thing the associations we make with tragic jobs we go to - obviously I’m not alone in doing this as Jonathan had made the link as well. In the bakery this was recognised and we took a trip down memory lane and then nothing else was said. I’m not sure why I’m writing this in a blog except to work through some questions in my mind, after all - does anybody read my blog? If you do are you thinking this is too personal or unsavoury? Does it sound like I’m slightly unhinged and rambling?!! (I know I’m not by the way, unhinged that is, I may be rambling…). Also, is this what the media office envisaged when they asked me to become one of the Sussex Police People and tell the story of what it is like to do my job in my own words?
I remember my first attendance to a suicide. I was on late shift and it was years ago. I was just about to cook my microwave meal and the call came in. A person had been seen to jump from a viaduct, could we go, locate the body and flag down the ambulance and any witnesses? For some reason I ran out of the kitchen and jumped in the car with Darren (my colleague) still holding my mirowave meal. With limited options on what to do with it when Darren started driving at speed I shoved it in the glove box. The job was grim, I still remember it well. Afterwards my Moussaka remained uneaten and although I’d happily eat it now if presented with it I’ve never really eaten it since.
I suppose in our line of work such associations are inevitable. They are memories that you have from time to time when you have dealt with stuff in the past, it happens with places too sometimes where a river or other place links you to a particularly tragic job. We mention it and reminisce and then move on much like we do from day to day. My point is that ideally it would be better to associate cherry bakewells with a summer’s day picnic and other foods with the first romantic dinner you cooked your other half but really my life’s not like that.
We all have tough times and we work through them in our own way. For every challenging memory there are several hundred good ones and sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to have the perspective to see the happy and sad side to a cherry bakewell…
Just a quick note about this week as I’m due off in 26 minutes and still have loads left to do before I go. The week has gone by as fast as any other and soon I will be cycling home against the wind, doing my thinking on the way (unless the phone rings between now and then!).
My week started with a great meeting on Monday morning with some colleagues from the RNLI about how to share our knowledge and data about deaths in water to contribute to trying to prevent such tragedies occurring in the future.
Operationally this week, the SSU and I have searched; under a house in a confined space, in outbuildings on a plot of land, some vehicles, a river, a wooded area and an open area as well as a plot of land with lakes on. We have also done our three yearly sea survival recertification which involved a theory input and a practical session in the pool.
My week has ended this afternoon with another good meeting with the sergeant on the Hampshire Marine Unit about how we may be able to work more closely together to be more efficient and save money. I’m excited about the potential here, we are moving with the times and in this case change is good.
Most of the week has been a high point except for when I found that my boots leaked whilst searching a field filled with raw sewage and getting up at 0430AM on Wednesday for our search that day. The worst bit though? Having to see Rick in his tiny Speedos during the practical session of the sea survival course. No matter what I have to deal with in this job I just don’t get paid enough for that!!!
Here’s to a quiet weekend. I’m not (offically) on call this weekend and so am off to see my parents as I won’t see them at Christmas.
I hope your weekend is as peaceful as I’d like mine to be!
I haven’t done a blog for a while as I’ve just been so busy. Keeping up with operational duties and stuff inside the office is a juggling act at the best of times. Also it’s not always right for me to tweet or blog about jobs that we do -either out of sensitivity for family and friends or for confidentiality issues if it’s a crime job.
This week started off with us being called out to recover the body of a man who had drowned and it reminded me how tragic it is when we go to find a family’s loved one.
About this time last year I did a blog called Early Festive Greetings. My Mum (who used to read my blogs at the time) rang me up and told me it was miserable. No one likes to be told off by their Mum at aged 35 so I read it back to myself and decided actually she was right. I suppose any excuse that I may have is that at this time of year I become more reflective, the amount of body recoveries we do usually increases and this makes me a bit sad and eager to continue to do what I can to reduce such incidents.
I know I’m a small person - both in stature and significance (in the grand scheme of things!) but I’m a trier and I’m stubborn and this means I have not stopped thinking about and doing what I can to make some changes.
In 2009 I started a project about body recoveries from water which is still ongoing. This was aimed at identifying where bodies may end up if we know an entry point. It deals with the variables of the person themselves (like age, weight, height and clothing) and also the water conditions (flow, depth, temperature, obstructions etc..). The main aim is to reduce search time and get the body back for the next of kin as soon as possible but as I designed the form I entered some data fields which could be used to try and prevent incidents occurring in the future. I didn’t know quite how I would turn this data into public safety information at the time so it was a stroke of luck when some years later I had a chance telephone conversation with Kirsten (see The Start of Something Good?) who is a contributor on the National Water Safety Forum.
Since my recent initial meeting with Kirsten and the other agencies who contribute, I have given over all my data (collected so far) for entry onto the Water Incident Database and have established that I may be able to have access to the Database to add further incidents as they occur. I have been able to get an invitation to a National Police Dive and Marine meeting and I presented an argument there for the police nationally contributing to the Database and Forum (if they do not already do so), which will mean greater liaison and contributions from all concerned.
I’m excited to see how this all turns out. As usual I am full of optimism and am buoyed by meeting a bunch of people who want the same thing. Miserable blogs may not work at preventing accidents but there is always another way and I look forward to seeing how it all pans out…
The Kirby Morgan ‘Superlight 17’ helmet we wore in training - It was light enough when you finally got in the water!
The time has come for Arf to retire. He joined this Unit in October 1989 and as far as the SSU is concerned he’s definitely been around the block a bit. Over the 23 years he’s been on the Unit he’s seen it turn from a part time dive Unit into a full time one in 1994 and then as new skills came on board the name was changed to the Specialist Search Unit. He’s developed extra skills in almost everything we do so we won’t just miss him as a person we’ll miss his vast experience.
From a personal point of view I’ll miss Arf a lot. He was one of the optimists on the Unit and gave me huge amounts of support when I joined as I knew nothing. He continued to support me until he left and always gave me good advice and had the best interests of the Unit at heart. If I was working away from the rest of the SSU or was having a challenging time Arf always checked to see if I was alright - he understood the pressures that we face.
When you leave the Police you have to give notification in writing of your departure, and of course you have a special form to fill out. The way that Arf delivered his form to me was typical of his sense of humour and life on the SSU:
I was on a dive looking for a weapon and like all our diving I had nil visibility. I had been diving for around an hour and was coming to the end of the jackstay near the bank when my hand touched something round and manmade. By the smoothness of the object I knew it was new and had not been in the water long and I was intrigued as I knew it wasn’t related to the item that we were looking for due to it’s age. I picked the item up and could feel that it was heavy and was probably made of tin. I tied a knot in the jackstay (to mark where I had left off) and swam along it to the bank where Critch, Arf and some of the others were and dropped the tin off on the bank. I then went back and finished my search.
On exiting the water Critch encouraged me to open the tin. On closer inspection I saw if was taped shut with a note ‘FAO Sgt Dennison-Wilkins’ on. Inside were some diving weights and a laminated form notifying me of Arf’s impending leaving date. How appropriate! I wouldn’t have expected Arf to have informed me via conventional means, one of the many ways in which he brought a smile to our faces.
I know that because of the person he is Arf will be happy and successful wherever he ends up after leaving our Unit.
I wish you all the best Arf and many thanks for all you did for the SSU and Sussex Police.
It’s 5.52 AM on Friday in UK and I’m sat in my room on my first day off in Abu Dhabi watching Ajazeera news on the television. It’s been nearly a week since we arrived (see ‘It’s work but not as I know it’ if you want to know how I came to be here)
We have already had one class of ten Abu Dhabi Female Police Officers and have completed day two of our second group of students. The Islamic Holy day is today so the weekend starts here, when we get back to work on Sunday we will complete the final day of the second course.
We are staying in a hotel in Downtown Abu Dhabi and this week our days have gone much like this: I get up at 6AM and have breakfast downstairs with Mel at 6.30. Because I’m a bit of a lightweight and found getting up hard with the time difference (I’m rubbish in the mornings anyway!), I sit in silence until I have had my first two cups of coffee and then Rashied a police officer from the Abu Dhabi Police comes to collect us in a plain car. The training centre is about 20 minutes away but although the infrastructure is great here it is still busy at that time in the morning so some days it takes longer. Coincidentally I started learning Arabic about 18 months ago so each day poor Rashied has been subjected to me speaking Arabic with him to get some practice, he is very accommodating and both him and Mel bear this kindly so I have learnt to say much more as a result.
The training centre is a modern building on a police complex, similar to our HQ at Lewes. It is marble and air conditioned inside and the classrooms are on the ground floor, Captain Khalifa’s office is upstairs. The facilities are the same as ours in the UK, we have chairs in a semi circle and Powerpoint with a smart board. We check in at the office which is opposite the classroom and see Peter, the trainer who helped get us here to assist the training department and Samar (our interpreter) and then we start at 8AM.
The ladies either wear a green police uniform and scarves to cover their hair or sometimes an abaya. Hardly any of the women speak English so we rely wholly on Samar, the interpretation is flawless so we always seem to interact easily. Both classes that we have had so far have been very proud to be taught by the British Police and they are really interested in learning from us and also in what our policing roles are like back in the UK.
Melanie and I deliver our person search input with theory and practical lessons and then we finish class at 1PM. We meet with Peter afterwards and then go and find Rashied who takes us back to our hotel where we eat lunch. In the afternoons we have been refining our lesson plans for the following day. Most days this week it has taken up to midnight to do this (with time out for dinner) but we’re hoping this will ease as time goes on and we’ll have more free time in the evening to get out and about.
Today is our first day off. We will go and visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and other sights - tomorrow Melanie and I plan to cycle along the Corniche (a sort of prom by the beach) although Melanie wants to rent a Go Kart instead as she’s worried she’ll fall off a bike - This I have to see!
Outside the Abu Dhabi Police Training Centre with Rob, Melanie, Superintendent Hobbs, Captain Khalifa and Peter. Rob and Peter are trainers at the training centre and Captain Kahlifa is the boss there.