A little while ago I moved house. On my way home one evening soon after doing so, I passed van after van full of police officers clutching riot gear, and when I actually reached my door, there were two dozen constables standing outside it. (I should say that this rambling anecdote is just here to assuage my guilt in just introducing a link to somwhere else. You can skip to the end if you just want to get out of here....) Of course, having just moved I didn't know exactly what my new neighbourhood was like. But I'd only moved a few hundred yards, so I reckoned I had a pretty good idea. Thus I was perturbed. I asked the nearest copper whether there'd been any trouble; clearly, the days in which a constable would automatically address anyone vaguely middle-class-sounding as `sir' are long over, since the chap replied simply, `no, we're just shutting the pub'. And, indeed, there were revellers -- well, at least, glum-looking and inadequately-dressed people -- pouring out of the boozer opposite in order to mill around on the street corner. Obviously I'd make a rotten policeman, as I'd imagined that they would be more disruptive out there than inside the nice warm pub with a pint or seven of European Fighting Lager inside them. There wasn't any significant trouble, as it turned out. Well, there wouldn't be, would there, not with a whole platoon of police looking on. At least, not here. I don't think Cambridge's residents are natural rioters; apart from a pitched battle with off-duty soldiers in the mid-'70s, I understand that the place has been fairly quiet ever since the Civil War.
I don't think I've ever seen so many police in one place at once -- not in Cambridge anyway, other than at animal rights demonstrations. The number seemed more appropriate for ensuring that demonstrators remained inside a `free speech zone' or outside an arms fair than for closing a pub early, even on a Saturday evening. The event which occasioned this police presence was not, as I had initially assumed, a tip-off that Osama bin Laden was out on piss or perhaps that the publican had hidden the Weapons of Mass Destructions behind the bar, but in fact the annual Midsummer Fair. Naturally the weather was lousy, so rather than entertaining themselves by trying to win coconuts or strapping themselves into one or other sort of centrifuge a hundred and fifty people had sensibly spent the afternoon in the pub, whence they were being ejected by PC Plod and his more menacing colleagues, some of whom were -- I kid you not -- festooned with Batman-style utility belts while others stood around filming the ejectees. I'm not sure whether this is a tactic to intimidate the mob, or if it's just a way to gather humourous material for the force's Christmas party.
Anyway, this whole operation went off fairly successfully without any offences being committed, other than various crimes against good taste by some of the more ill-dressed fairgoers. To each their own, perhaps. Naturally the police all buggered off back to their cups of tea as soon as the revellers had been ejected from the pub onto the cold damp street, at which point they all started squabbling over taxis. Well, it's not as if anyone could have predicted that....
Now, I'm not really sure why anyone would want to read about this little episode; really I'm just sticking it up here by way of introduction for my advice that you should read The Policeman's Blog, an entertaining web log written by a serving police officer. Politically it is, shall we say, a little unreconstructed (perhaps I am mistaken in taking as unironic the praise lavished upon the work of Melanie Phillips by its author) but in any case I can recommend it highly. Just as splendid is The Brick Testament, a collection of Bible stories accompanied by excruciatingly faithful (and frequently explicit) LEGO illustrations. Tip thanks to Chris Brooke and apologies that I don't have a personal anecdote to introduce the link.