Into The Valley by Chris Clement-Green
Encouraged by the sizeable pay increase and high divorce rate, Chris Clement-Green decided that answering a recruitment ad for the Thames Valley Police was just the thing for a much-needed overhaul of her life. It was 1984, a time before political correctness, at the height of the miner’s strike and in the middle of five years of race riots. Perfect timing. Expanding her police knowledge, her love life, and undeterred by sexist remarks and chauvinists she decided to make her mark, while kissing goodbye to her previous dull and conventional existence. Chris captures the colourful characters and humour in many of the situations she found herself in, but the job had it’s serious side, too. She was at the centre of a riot in Oxford, during which her life was saved by a young black man she had previously stopped and questioned, and was attacked by a man with mental-health problems who was a consequence of the decision to move ‘care’ into ‘the community’. Consistently coming up against the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s politics; from miner’s picket-lines, covering (badly) for striking paramedics during the ambulance dispute to everyday drunken disturbances caused by the haves (Yuppies and Oxford students) and the have-nots (alcoholic homeless and unemployed youth), Chris also tackled sex crimes and abuse. An often humorous, always candid and no-holds-barred reflection of the life of a policewoman in the 80s, this book offers a personal account of a life in uniform, while touching on the Newbury Bypass demos, the effects of Scarman, the Hungerford Massacre, the bombing of Libya, the AIDS epidemic and working under the notorious Ali Dizaei.
It was a warm morning in mid-April when I stood to attention with 39 other recruits in the lecture theatre of Sulhamstead Park near Reading. With my right hand raised and a serious- ness of purpose I’d never experienced before, not even on my wedding day, I swore allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen.
I swear by almighty God that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality. I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserve and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will, to the best of my skill and knowledge, discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.
Although I didn’t believe in God, I meant every other word.
Thirty minutes later my lungs and legs were burning; I could feel sweat dripping into eyes scrunched against such unknown exertion. The fitness test consisted of a one-and-a- half mile run, followed by a minute each of press-ups, burpees, sit-ups, thrust-jumps and star-jumps. It finished with a flexibility test which, thank God, involved sitting down and stretching forward to touch upturned toes. The WPCs had thirteen-and-a-half minutes to complete the run; the men were allowed only ten.
My efforts were rewarded by a new force record, which, as far as I’m aware, has never been beaten. No one in the illustrious history of Thames Valley Police recruit training has ever taken 26 minutes to complete that run – exactly twice the allotted time – and I didn’t stop once. I was in perpetual motion, with one of the physical training instructors walking alongside my jogging frame yelling encouragement, ‘Come on WPC Foster – make a fucking effort!’
My teenage friends would have been horrified that I joined the police at all. They would have condemned me for going over to the ‘dark side’. They were a great group of cider- drinking, bike-riding, pretend Hells Angels, who head-banged to Lynyrd Skynyrd and grew their own marijuana from seeds collected from packets of budgie food.
I am secretly proud to say that I cultivated a number of plants to a respectable height, although they never reached the maturity required for use. I was sixteen and studying hard for my O-levels when I recall my mum walking into my bed- room with an armful of ironing and a cup of tea. She noticed the three small tomato-like plants on the windowsill, which I’d moved from behind the normally half-closed curtains,
‘They’re nice, love, what are they?’ ‘Pot plants,’ I replied without looking up. ‘Lovely.’ She closed the door, leaving me to my studies.
My first solo foot-beat resulted in my first ten-nine shout, and I blame this embarrassing fact entirely on Maggie Thatcher. It was a direct result of her Care in the Community policy, the government-sponsored abandonment of the mentally ill so that mental hospitals, situated in large grounds on the outskirts of expensive cities, could be sold off for the development of lucrative luxury apartments.
Fergus was a schizophrenic who, to all intents and purposes, had been made homeless by this policy. He’d been placed in an unsupervised halfway house where he’d been left to his own devices; which did not include taking his medication on a regular basis. Thus, I was dispatched to sort out a disturbance in an alleyway called Fryers Entry that runs down the side of Debenhams.
On my arrival, Fergus was ranting obscenities at passing shoppers and at first I mistook him for a new dosser – he certainly looked and smelt like one – but he did not play by the same rules. When I took hold of his arm to place him under arrest, he spun to face me and with a wild roar grabbed my throat in a vice-like grip. His thin, filthy fingers were topped with yellow talons and I’d felt this same manic-strength once before.
I had a flashback of a skinny white arm reaching across my shoulder to grab a slice of quiche at a barbeque in a friend’s back garden. My reflex reaction then had been to grab the arm, but that thin white arm, with a wrist that looked like one good twist could snap it, managed to knock my well-fed body onto its well-fed arse. The lad had then bounded from the garden, eating as he ran. He, too, had been a resident of Littlemore, the local mental institution that was in the process of being closed down.
Fergus threw me to the ground and, with his grip still choking me, tried to bite my face. I can still feel the shock of his spit hitting my eyeballs as we struggled on the urine-stained paving slabs of the dark alleyway. Two workmen in hard hats tried to haul him off, but Fergus’s strength was almost superhuman. All they could do was hold him clear of my throat and face. Freeing an arm, I managed to yell ‘ten-nine Debenhams’ into my radio, before Fergus knocked it from my hand with such force that the grey plastic block smashed and died.
By now he was actually frothing at the mouth and, leaping to his feet, he knocked the two burly workmen backwards. Freeing himself of their feeble restraint, Fergus raised his bearded face to an invisible moon and howled at the afternoon sky. I crawled away from the distracted animal and while the workmen stood bravely blocking his escape from the alley in one direction, I and my pathetically small wooden truncheon, blocked his escape in the other. None of us wanted to take hold of him again.
Fergus then collapsed to his knees as though he had been shot and, whimpering, started to bang his forehead on the pavement as though trying to shatter his own pain.
I sighed with relief as a multitude of sirens closed in on the four of us, trapped so unexpectedly in this spectacle of broken humanity. Daniel was the first to reach Fergus, and his touch made Fergus roar again. It was as though human contact burned him, electrifying him into violence. It took six of us to carry him to the van and six of us to sit on his still-struggling frame as we made the short journey to the station. As we manhandled Fergus into the custody office, each of us tried desperately to avoid his snapping, rabid mouth as he was pushed face down onto the recently polished floor. We all sat on his writhing body with Daniel holding his hair, ensuring his head was turned to one side so that he could breathe, but keeping it in constant contact with the floor to avoid his spitting.
It was a wonder that we didn’t suffocate him. Safe prisoner restraint was not something that had been considered at this time – it was every man or woman for themselves.
Fortunately, the police surgeon was already in custody for another prisoner, and diving into his case he quickly produced a syringe with a clear liquid that rendered Fergus compliant within seconds. I booked him in under Section One of the Mental Health Act as being a danger to both himself and the public.
When I came back from my meal break an hour later, Fergus had been released back into the community. To be more specific, he had been released into the care of his mental-health nurse – the one who had not seen him for the previous two weeks. I didn’t hold out much hope for either Fergus or the community.
Littlemore hospital was up-cycled. It once more provides a gated-community, but this one is made up of houses and apartments costing upwards of a quarter of a million pounds apiece.
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35836529-into-the-valley