When the polis knew their place

Police say the attack happened on Saturday. Picture: Julie Bull
Police say the attack happened on Saturday. Picture: Julie Bull

I was told a wonderful story the other night that really made me laugh. It wasn’t a joke and it wasn’t read from a text on a mobile phone. And it didn’t start off being a humorous tale.

We were chatting about how policing has changed over the years. How the local bobby, with his intimate knowledge of all things local and all people local, has almost become a thing of the past.

We recounted how – at various common ridings, gatherings and festivals – the constabulary knew exactly what was happening, where they had to be, what junctions required to be closed, where the bands were going, where the horses were coming from and where the crowds would be gathering, meaning traffic would have to be diverted or held up.

These days, we mused, officers are rarely truly local and require sheaves of computerised orders to put them in the right places. And sometimes they still have to ask the gathered locals for advice. I’m not knocking them by any means – it’s the way the system crumbles. And the polis of bygone days – well, the more seasoned of them – always had a canny knack of knowing where and when they could snatch a wee snifter, more often or not well outside licensing hours.

I know one – of Selkirk origin – whose beat was the county, but who was pulled in to operate in Galashiels. He relished helping out on the morning of Selkirk Common Riding and would arrive in the sweltering heat of a glorious June morning clutching a civvy overcoat. The coat was only a token attempt at disguise in order that he could enjoy some early – very early – hospitality. He never made the CID.

But back to the chat that made me laugh. My compatriot is a member of some organisation or other of which I am not. Somewhere in the midwest, I think, he had been in the company of others of his ilk when the question of bands arose, and along with it a whisper that the top brass of the then Strathclyde constabulary were seeking to impose a ban on marching music before nine or ten in the morning.

It came to nothing, but with a single Police Scotland allegedly being manipulated along the old Strathclyde thinking, we should be on our guard. No flute band to rouse Teries or Souters, or the natives of Langholm from their Night afore the Morn slumber. It could never happen, could it?

Our conversation moved to – I think it was Airdrie – where, a few years ago, a leader of my friend’s society was awaiting burial. It was to be a massive affair. The centre of Airdrie would have to be closed off. The polis objected and it went to some court hearing or other. Organisers produced a photo of town-centre Airdrie at the time the funeral was intended – it was virtually empty.

The magistrate asked what position one had to be in to be buried with such honours. The reply from the principal organiser stunned the beak and brought down the house – “Horizontal,” he was told.

I was in Hawick on Monday and met Councillor Davie Paterson who has a bee in his bonnet about dog poo. “I’m going to get my teeth into that,” he said.

I think you put your foot in it there, Davie.