12 August, 2012


Tales from the Multiculture: caught in the act

When I went down to Greenwich yesterday it was actually quite busy. The Olympic visitors outnumbered the policemen, REOs and the spectator assistants with the big pink pointy glove thingies for once. (Apparently the latter — the assistants not the gloves — fall under the category of "games makers". Coo-er!) The temporary pedestrianized areas were actually made use of and the tumbleweed had gone into hiding.

I was taking refreshment in the crowded Gate Clock when I heard a shout from across the room. A slightly aggressive shout. I ignored it. A certain amount of boisterousness is not unusual in pubs. Some more shouts followed. Whether they were words or not was unclear. There was certainly an element of threat. Was a fight brewing? I looked about and eventually saw the source, a man who was remonstrating with a group of men who were at first confining him and subsequently restraining him. The body language seemed to make it clear that he was not being attacked but being prevented from moving away. He continued shouting, indistinctly and in a mixture of plaintive and threatening tones.

My first thought was that chummy was having a fit of some kind, or that he was coming down after a particularly bad trip, or some other medically violent cause and was being restrained to prevent him damaging himself or others. Then the buzz came through that he was in fact a pickpocket (and/or bag-dipper) who had been unlucky enough to be spotted in an act of furtive non-consensual property transfer.

The shouting continued, with the struggling thief being forcefully but not unnecessarily violently restrained by a group of young drinkers, until the police arrived. Their entrance was unexpectedly dramatic. Greenwich is an Olympic venue, with posh horse dancing and such taking place in a temporary stadium in Greenwich Park. In consequence there are a number of armed police officers about, and it was two of these who responded. The arrival of these two gentlemen with what I guess were MP5s hanging from their necks — don't quote me on that, I've been looking at likely matching piccies on the Internong — well that made me a bit nervous. Chummy was absolutely terrified. He thought he was going to be shot.

A bit of firm, controlled shouting from the police — "Do not resist. If you do what I say you will not be hurt." — calmed him down. All of chummy's struggling and shouting suddenly ceased. He was calm and businesslike as he awaited further processing.

The humdrum business of questioning and statement-taking ensued, although there was a bit of action when some earlier victims of chummy's little spree came into the pub to add their complaints.

As to the multicultural® element, well we in Olympic London have been warned to expect the arrival of the world's finest pickpockets to ply their trades. Which climes this particular gentleman came from was difficult to pin down. He had a sort of not-quite Chinese appearance, Mongoloid central or east Asian perhaps: think Genghis Khan wearing a Harrington jacket. Who knows? Doubtless he'll be nicely settled in social housing in Deptford and sending his kids the John Roan school before I've finished writing this post.

An interesting experience. Two observations come to mind.

The first is the calmness and orderliness of the response. There was no panic or uproar. The miscreant was restrained by members of the public in a firm but non-retributive manner. Drinkers in the immediate area moved away to clear a space around the incident. Sean the manager arrived and took a general interest and supervised the safety and clearance of the area, while one of his deputies kicked off some kind of incident recording procedure. The rest of the pub either watched vaguely from a distance or just got on with what they were doing.

(Mind you, this nonchalance can go a bit far. I recall being in another pub in Drury Lane many moons ago. A chap was lying flat out on the floor, being attended by a rapid-response paramedic who had arrived on a motorbike. The paramedic was deploying various instruments and procedures. Eventually a proper ambulance turned up and a stretcher was brought in. There was no hurry and the two new paramedics hung around for a chat before loading up the patient — who had, it appears, already expired before their arrival. All this time the crowded pub carried on around the scene and occasionally had to be chivvied out of the way by the paramedics. As it happens, the late gentleman had fallen inconveniently and was blocking the way to the ladies' loo. From time to time women were casually stepping over his prone form to reach the facilities. At the time I was mildly offended by the general lack of reaction, but then again, everything was in hand and under control and there was nothing further could be done for the chap, whoever he was. Keep calm and carry on.)

Turning to my second observation, I don't know if chummy was genuinely frightened that he was going to get a hiding. Perhaps where he comes from he would. But was all the shouting fear or was it, wholly or in part, an act? Petty criminals, when caught, will swear blind their innocence even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Like everybody else I have been approached by street conmen on the streets of London. By street conmen here I mean the sort of arsehole who approaches you with some elaborate sob story the dénouement of which is a solicitation for money. I've been around long enough to be approached by particular individuals repeatedly. But when you confront them with precise details of their spiel and remark how unfortunate it is that they find themselves in their predicament so often, they actually become offended. Brazening it out seems to be a standard technique. It costs nothing, and it sometimes works by seeding doubt and by manipulating people's trained social responses.

Hmm. Maybe they should have given the Wetherspoons toerag a good kicking after all. Too damned civilized by half, the English.

'He had a sort of not-quite Chinese appearance, Mongoloid central or east Asian perhaps: think Genghis Khan wearing a Harrington jacket.'

An Afghan Uzbek perhaps ? If so, and given that his current homeland has been in permanent state of war for over 30 years, and that the leader of the ex soviet stan to which he could owe alternative allegiance is prone to boiling his opponents in oil, I'm not surprised he semed alarmed when nabbed by our boys in blue , with kevlar accessories !

I think we're supposed to label everyone who is not obviously white or african as "Asian".

That's how it seems to work on the BBC.

'...an act of furtive non-consensual property transfer...'


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