In John Buchanan’s 49 Steps he refers more than once to the secret of deception. He claims the key to mastering the art is creating a certain atmosphere by body language, disguise and mannerisms that cloud the perceptions of your accusers and throw them into doubt. We are all human (except for Tony Blair who is now possessed by an alien) and prone to uncertainty. Playing on this uncertainty with a convincing display is usually enough to brazen your way out of most situations. Without knowing Buchanan’s theory I have been doing basically the same thing for years. I have been getting away with it. And by “it” I mean having weed stashed somewhere and not being caught by the police. In the UK I was stopped in Exeter late at night by an officer of the law on the street and asked to show the contents of my bum bag (a fashion solecism now but considered acceptable in the late 80’s). The constable saw my lump of hash but my pose of insouciance made him not see it. I was allowed to pass. In Malawi a nasty uniform peremptorily asked if I was carrying any marijuana. I pretended to not fully understand the question because such a thing was the furthest from my habits. I was allowed to pass. At the entrance to a festival I was given a pat down. The man must have felt my bottle of vodka and the speed taped to my thighs but either through pity or my apparent pose of innocence he let me pass. In an earlier post I described how a French policeman felt my dirty dreads for ganja but his disgust and my atmosphere of compliance made him miss the obvious. He let me pass. At customs I never get pulled despite sometimes possessing illegal substances. Just the brazen boredom and unhurried approach is enough to let me pass.
That’s why dogs are completely fucking off side in my opinion. They can’t be fooled like people. The cute critters are the bane of my life. In an Argentine bus I attracted the attention of a police canine but the coppers ignored it. I wasn’t carrying anyway. In Victoria Coach Station in London I was and a sniffer dog, the sweetest looking Labrador, immediately came over to my wife and me and sat down. “Oh shit,” I thought.
To step back a few scenes: last Christmas George Michael gratefully didn’t give me his heart, but I decided to round off a really good year of wandering the globe with a trip back home. Naturally back in the USSR, I mean UK I wanted to spend time hanging out with my mates. One of my first ports of call was a chum living in the countryside near my mum’s house. We got right into all the best things Blighty has to offer – Indian takeout, Tusker single malt and Thai stick. It was a long night that ended in an odd argument about my rich mate being working class. Such are the unexpected twists and turns of the journey through a mini bender. I went to bed in a cloud of smiles and forgetfulness. Before passing out I vaguely remembered still having about a joint’s worth left.
The next morning was my body’s turn to take its revenge for the damage done the night before. Bleary eyed and thick of head we ate left over curry and played with my mate’s two lovely young daughters. Then we got a lift to the coach station. With just enough time for a quick rollie we got on the National Express Coach.
One thing I did notice about England is that we have pretended to get all high-tech and law abiding. The coach was a good example of this strange development. On our e-tickets was the proud boast that I could plug in my laptop and use the internet. Naturally once on board I soon discovered that neither the plug socket nor the wifi actually worked. This failure to deliver on promises both irritated me and reassured me that things hadn’t changed that much since I was last home. And this thought was re-confirmed by the number of people who took their seat belts off after the driver had checked we were all belted up and had returned to his seat. Much healthier than Japan I thought this respectable sense of disrespect.
The hours drifted by as did the bleak rain stained scenery. We arrived in Victoria Coach Station in good time to keep our lunch appointment with a friend working and living in Hackney. We grabbed our bags and proceeded with everyone else through the sole exit corridor. I quickly spotted several uniform policemen lingering at the end of the tunnel. No way back. Looking hesitant or trying to walk through the coach parking area would have drawn more attention to us so time to brazen it out.
And sure enough I tried to step around that dog but it wouldn’t be so easily out maneuvered. Its two handlers, PC Lightyear and PC Chubby, soon appeared at my side.
“Hello sir. Are you carrying anything you want to tell me about? It will be better for you if you tell me now.” The shorter one with a blonde crew cut said looking stern and serious.
I’ve often wondered why they say that. It’s not as if by confessing to a crime they are going to let you off. What is there to gain by honesty? And honesty was a bit of a problem for me at that moment since I wasn’t entirely sure if I had anything in my bag.
I looked at them with my best blankness of expression and said completely the wrong thing, “No, I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean, sir? Are you carrying illegal substances or are you not?”
“I said I’m not sure.”
“OK sir. Follow me.”
That’s another thing about police – they always call you “sir” like they are deferring to you, when the truth is they have the power of the law and their weapons and tight black flap jackets on their side. The respect is window dressing. It is the politeness of the accuser, the sarcasm of the wielder of power. If I was a real fucking knight of the realm I wouldn’t have to take a National Express Coach and I wouldn’t have sniffer dogs checking out my person and belongings.
The two officers led us to one side by the pay phones. The taller portly fellow with the first flush of youth still on his face said nothing. Officer crew cut was all business. He talked into the radio on his shoulder and then did that spiel that all hippies hate to hear. The one that goes that I’m detaining you under some arse sucking clause of some law that I didn’t vote for and that because I appeared to step away from the sniffer dog I was hereby bereft of my rights to privacy and that another numbered damn clause gave these barbarians the right to search my possessions.
“Do you understand what I have just said?”
They didn’t need a response. It all seemed very rhetorical to me but despite the superfluity of it all Officer Buzz asked again:
“Do you understand what I have just said?
I wanted to say something in Hindi but instead meekly replied: “Yes.”
Officer Buzz then asked me to empty my pockets. It was winter and I was on the move. I had lots of stuff in my pockets. He then braved a hand into my pockets to make sure I hadn’t been withholding anything. I was handed back my snot rag, hat, gloves, wallet, and bits of paper, pen and keys. Officer Chubby looked on impassively as his co-worker started rummaging through my bag. In under a minute his manicured hands were around a plastic money bag. The game was up.
“Yes, you’ve found it.”
This sent Officers Buzz and Chubby into automatic second stage. They had a quick look at the twigs and seeds left in the bag and concluded amongst themselves that it was “cannabis”. Remarkable, they hadn’t even smelt it. They would be easy to rip off on a street deal.
“Is there anymore, sir?” Officer Chubby said his first words to me.
“No, that’s it.” And amazingly they took me at my word. They stopped searching my bag. My wife who was standing by wasn’t searched at all and neither was her bag. Serious over-sight I thought.
“You said you didn’t have anything to tell us, sir. This is bad for you. I’m not happy that you lied.”
Come on bitch I’m sure you’ve had your heart broken before.
“I said I wasn’t sure. And I wasn’t. You see I got drunk last night. I couldn’t remember if I had smoked it all.”
“You do know the seriousness of lying to an officer of the law?” Officer Buzz Lightyear enquired.
I was losing my patience. “No, I don’t. You’re the experts on the law not me.” As soon as I said it I knew it was a mistake. Both B and C set their faces.
Procedure was raining down on me now like acid rain. They first wanted to know my name and address. I knew the first; the second was a bit harder since my parents are divorced. I can never remember the number of my Dad’s house. My mum’s address I eventually managed to dreg up from the depths of my memory. They asked for ID. I dug around in my money belt in vain. I had Mrs. Trippy Traveller’s Japanese passport (we thought there may be a contingency where we would have to prove she wasn’t an illegal immigrant). They weren’t impressed with the Japanese passport. The only other thing I had was the torn stub of my boarding card with my name on. B and C exchanged glances that said something like, “What the fuck?” No credit card, no mobile phone, no passport, no library card – just cash; a Japanese passport that clearly wasn’t mine and a boarding stub.
“Come on guys. It’s Christmas. Let me off.” I wasn’t beyond begging. My wife looked worried (she probably needed the toilet) and I had a date to keep with my mate. We were only talking a joint’s worth after all.
My plea, I detected, did draw the smallest softening of Officer Buzz Lightyear’s features, but that passed like a cheeky public fart. He did some more talking into his shoulder. He explained that because I didn’t have any ID I couldn’t be ‘processed’ at the coach station and I couldn’t be issued a drug warning on the spot. Instead I would have to be taken back to the station.
My wife looked a bit panicky. I asked if she could come with me. Officer C nicely said he would show her around to the front of the station where she could wait for me. They trustingly let me be taken in without my bags (to save time) and Officer B. nicely carried a bag for my wife as he led her away. That left Lightyear and me to do the walk of shame. He didn’t cuff me but kept a solicitous hand on my elbow as he guided me around the corner to the back entrance of the cop shop that turned out to be right next to the coach station.
Funnily enough he started to show his humanity at this point. He asked me about what it was like living in Japan. He asked about my job and then told me he had been to Narita twice for some martial arts event. Very jolly really, if only it were in the pub and not on the way to the house of anti-hippy.
At the station I met the avuncular Desk Sergeant. He got shirty when I put my hands on his desk.
“Don’t lean on my desk, son.” Obviously his elevated position in copdom allowed for a different form of address.
We then got down to business of putting my details into a computer database. They wanted to know more shit about me than facebook. At the same time PC Lightyear gave a brief nearly English summary of the events leading to my being there. It seemed to take ages before the Sergeant Desk got around to inspecting my stash. He was more street than Buzz because he actually took a whiff of my gear. He wrapped it up again and left it on the counter.
“The nature of your crime is no more serious than riding your bicycle on the pavement.”
I must remember never to ride my bike on the pavement.
“Unfortunately, because you don’t have any ID we have no choice but to issue you with a caution. If you had had ID we could have given you a warning. Even homeless people have mobile phones. You’re the first person I’ve encountered who doesn’t even have a mobile phone or a credit card or something other than money.”
“I guess hippies are a dying breed.”
He didn’t comment on that.
“Officer Chubby will get you finger printed and photographed and then Officer Lightyear here will interview you and then you’ll have to wait to see somebody upstairs who will officially caution you. It’s your lucky day. We aren’t so busy at the moment.”
And so the processing began. They took my cash, weed, watch, snot rag, shoe laces and belt from me and I shuffled along holding my trousers up, following PC Chubby.
In a small room full of equipment away from the seriousness of Sergeant Desk, Chubby became friendlier towards me. He explained that a caution meant that a record of my offence would be kept for 5 years and that future employers would have access to the details of my caution. I protested that I was being unfairly treated and that I didn’t want a caution, that it seemed a bit harsh. Chubby told me the alternative was to be prosecuted for my crime and that would mean spending the weekend in a cell and seeing a magistrate on Monday morning. Just great.
“Not much of a choice then?”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
I think he was sincere in his apology. We then got down to documenting the Trippy T. photo (on film because digital isn’t admissible), the Trippy T. fingerprints (electronically) and the Trippy T. DNA (a swab in the mouth). At least they didn’t give me an anal search like those delightful French coppers.
As we were finishing up PC Buzz entered the room to take me for the next stage of my ordeal. At that point they seemed to ignore my presence. Chubster was complaining about some onerous chore that he had to do and told Buzz with the petulance of youth that he was going to wonder off down the road and turn off his radio to get out of ‘it’. I couldn’t for the life of me figure what ‘it’ might be. Perhaps that anal intrusion was coming after all.
PC Lightyear led me down a few corridors to a narrow room with a musty brown carpet and a chipped wooden desk. He unwrapped two cassette tapes (I love the analogue nature of my experience) and told me what was going to happen. That I had the right not to answer questions but my silence could be deemed incriminating.
The dual tape decks were put on record and we began. PC BL. asked the usual questions and made scruffy notes.
“How much did you pay for this marijuana?”
“Fifteen pound for an eighth.”
“In your experience is that a good deal?”
“I don’t think he was doing me any favours.”
“Where did you get the marijuana?”
“I don’t want to talk about that. Err. Some random bloke.”
I could actually see Lightyear write down “some random bloke” in his notes. That random bloke better watch out – they’re on to him.
The rest was very mundane. Twenty minutes later I was in a small cell by myself. With no shoelaces or belt I couldn’t hang myself. I looked up. There was no convenient pole or pipe to use anyway. There was a platform with a plastic mattress and a rough woolen blanket. I sat down and stared at the door and the toilet without a seat. For the oddest reason I needed a shit. Luckily someone slid open the peek hole in the door and asked if I wanted lunch. I said no thanks but could I get some toilet paper. The window shut. A few minutes later a hand bearing toilet paper came through the hole.
Just in time, I really needed to vent my bowels. I hovered my bum over the seat less hole and exuded a long solidity. I was on target and luckily it was a clean action. Nevertheless, the small white cell stank afterwards.
Stewing in my own stink, I had second thoughts about my life choices. I felt I had let myself down. I felt sad that this caution thingy was going to rob me of a chance of getting a job in my own country. What happened to Tony B and his new enlightened tolerance of ganja? What about Cameron and his coke habit? It all seemed unfair and over-kill. The only consolation was that Buzz had promised me I would be out soon.
They say time stops in prison. I wouldn’t know I didn’t have a watch on me. They took my cheap plastic digital watch off me. I guess it must have been twenty minutes before the door swung open. PC Lightyear stood in the door way and said in a whisper:
“It’s your lucky day. We’re giving you a warning.”
I wanted to ask a question but he put his finger to his mouth to hush me. What joy. A reprieve.
He led me down some more corridors to another small room. This time it was square not rectangular. A young copper sat at a desk. He had to do some computer work to process me but he and Lightyear both reassured me that I had gotten off lightly and would soon be a free man again. As he tapped away at the computer we chatted. They told me how they loved working at Christmas and New Year because they got double time, how their self-defense training was pitiful and how they thought living in Japan must be cool. I could almost like them if they weren’t representatives of an unjust law system. Still I was mighty glad they were bending the rules for me. Despite not being able to prove who I was they took me on my word and would let me go without a caution on my record. There was no moral lecture about the evils of drugs. It was just blokes doing their jobs.
And indeed as PC Lightyear led me through yet more corridors and doors and out to the front of the station he did say in an apologetic way that I had to understand he was just doing his job.
I spotted my wife and we went outside for a fag. She had a lot to tell me. It turned out that she only had a pocket full of bronze in money. She had tried to get change from a woman waiting in the station like her. The woman didn’t take the money but let my wife use her mobile phone to call my mate and apologize for missing the rendezvous.
While waiting she saw the copper behind the grill be very rude to a Malaysian who had lost his passport and less rude to a posh bird who had a crate of champagne stolen from her parked car. It seemed all kinds of crimes were constantly going on near the coach station. Out of all those possible violators of the law they had caught me. No wonder Officer Lightyear felt the need to apologise.