Today was Mordred (see 12th. July) day No. 50, so I bought an Independent in Londis, on my way to my normal Colliers Wood route. I was having coffee with Carol in SW1 and lunch with Norman in Harlesden. Alongside the Wandle, brambles, nettles, bindweed, willowherb, and other foliage were ‘as high as an elephant’s eye’, to quote a wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Oklahoma! (1955), but the footpaths were clear. A blackbird with a damaged wing skipped awkwardly across one. Families were flocking to Deen City Farm (see 16th. May). Someone had wheeled a giant shuttlecock into the river. In fact it was ‘a beautiful morning’ when I set out.
After coffee I returned to Victoria to take the tube to Neasden, changing at Green Park. I had forgotten how jam-packed these stations can be during the tourist season.
On the Jubilee Line from Green Park I sat opposite two silent, expressionless, young men wearing dark glasses. This took me back 25 years. By the 1980s, violence on public servants was becoming quite a problem. I had myself been attacked by a disgruntled client wielding a coffee table. I was prevailed upon to re-enact the scene in an ITV programme on such violence. Deciding my staff needed training in the management of these situations, I approached the police for help. They were unable to provide any. There was nothing for it but to create my own course. With the help of my friend Brian Littlechild, one of the Social Workers at the time, a suitable event was planned and carried out. This was just for the Area team. My enduring memory of that day is the glee and accuracy with which the secretarial staff role-played their Social Work colleagues. It was hilarious, somewhat chastening, and informative. In the early years of my freelance consultancy practice, this course was very much in demand. Initially Brian continued to partner me, using days of his annual leave. Eventually we separated and went our individual ways, still remaining very good friends. Years later, when I sought a similar course for the staff of Stepping Stone Community (posted 10th. August), Brian recommended a trainer. The staff found the course stimulating and useful. They were particularly pleased with the handouts, which they showed me. Most of the material was what Brian and I had produced.
What we focussed on was scene setting, defusing of situations, and knowing when to get away, rather than self-defence. It was our belief that most Social Workers were not belligerant enough to carry through specialist holds or other fighting techniques, and therefore more likely to get into trouble attempting to apply them. There was, however, so much pressure for this element to be included that I approached Eden Braithwaite, a martial arts expert who I knew, to offer a sequence on the subject. He wouldn’t do it, for exactly the same reasons that I had refused to countenance it. ‘Then you are precisely the person that I need’, I replied. ‘You will have the authority to make them hear what they will not from me’. He agreed. The participants did accept what he said, some, I am sure, with a certain amount of relief.
During the morning of the day on which Eden was to present his piece, Brian and I, as usual, during our session on potentially threatening behaviour, had spoken about dark glasses. If you cannot see someone’s eyes, you cannot determine their mood. If you need to conceal your eyes, you are preventing the other person from knowing what to expect from you. The unknown is frightening and will elicit a fight or flight response. Strangely enough, we had some difficulty getting this concept across. This was quite a large group containing both men and women, perhaps twenty in all. When Brian and I returned after lunch, all the men were lined up together. They were all silent, with arms folded. All presented fixed features. We had no idea what they were thinking. One of them had been shopping and provided them all with dark glasses. Far from being threatening we found this, as we were meant to, laughter-provoking. This post-lunch session was much less somnolent than usual, and the group were nicely warmed up for Eden.
On leaving Carol’s flat just before mid-day, the pavements showed me I had escaped a shower. Emerging from Neasden station, I was not so fortunate. I walked straight into one. Seated on a wall around a ’70s Council block of flats whilst sheltering under some trees, I reflected on the difference between suburban Neasden and the opulence of Victoria Street which I had recently left to board the tube.
Norman fed me on melt-in-the-mouth lamb shank; cherry pie and custard; and a superb 2001 Gran Reserva Navarra.
On the way back I finished reading ‘The Land God Gave to Cain’ by Hammond Innes. This was a gripping mystery adventure which reminded me why Innes had been a favourite of mine in my teens.