By the 1980s violence against 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.
Without giving too many details, I can say that this man made demands concerning a child abuse case with which it would have been wrong to comply. One was that the file on him should be destroyed.
Unfortunately the Team Leader concerned committed me, as Area Manager, to meet the client. Before the subsequent interview I instructed that anything that could be used as a weapon should be removed from the designated room. The heavy table was left because the staff member could not lift it.
Suddenly, silently, the angry man rose to his feet. I sensed what was coming, rocked back in my chair, and kicked away the metal legs aimed for my front. I then rose to my feet and received an onslaught of kicks and punches which I contained to some extent by wrapping my arms around the perpetrator. The Team Leader rushed into the room. From the centre of the melee he witnessed my specs emerging in one of my hands. “Take these, and call the police”, I cried. Just as the punches were beginning to hurt rather too much and I was thinking “I’m going to have to hit him”, he ran out of steam. I counted seventeen cuts and bruises.
I charged him with assault. He received a small fine and an order to pay me £50 compensation, which I refused to accept.
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 , 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.
The TV appearance mentioned above was not my only one. The next was much more fun, and will feature in good time.