Subtitled "Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby", this book by Martyn Johnson is exactly what it says: memories of a policeman in Yorkshire. The author worked as a policeman in Sheffield in the 1960s; he started in 1962, when he was 19 years old, and those were indeed different times!
The police had very few cars in use back then, some motorbikes, quite a few push bikes, but most of the work was done on foot. Mobile phones did not exist, but each bobby was required to ring in at the police station from police boxes placed all over town every 20 to 30 minutes during their shifts so that they were always being accounted for, and if they would not meet their scheduled calls, their colleagues knew they were in trouble and sent reinforcements.
A lot of what Martyn Johnson and his colleagues experienced was only possible because they walked every inch of every road on "their" beat every day and every night. That way, they got to know all the people living in the area and befriended many of them. They saw the kids grow up, they helped them to safely cross the road to school, and years later met them again when they went to or came from the then thriving steel works, something Sheffield was famous for.
Sometimes, they would meet them in less favourable circumstances when they were called in to restore order at a brawl in a pub, or to a "domestic". They knew who was likely to be behind petty theft and burglary, or who was driving without a license; they knew who nicked coal out of sheer necessity, and who stole out of greed.
His view of walking as opposed to driving reflects my own; I once wrote about why I do not drive on this blog.
The author describes funny incidents as well as serious, tragic, dangerous and very sad ones. We are with him when he has to deal with his first body and when he struggles to come to terms with a particularly tragic accident. But he also invites us along when he sets eyes on his future wife for the first time, when he befriends two lads who were stupid enough to verbally abuse him on one of his first days on the beat, and when he shows the ropes to a new colleague who is fresh from police school and very full of himself.
Sheffield is portrayed in much detail the way it used to be in the 1960s, with every street name, pub, shop, and even the full names of many people given. Everything in this book really happened, and while Martyn Johnson is a lot less poetic than Jack Sheffield, while at the same time he digresses more often (but always comes back to his original track), I really enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to the second book. Another good thing for many readers will be that he does not overdo it with the local dialect. In written form, it just never comes across as good as the author intended it to be, I think.
You can find out more about the author on his website. Let me finish this review with a quote from the book:
I can honestly say that I've never been bored in my life. If you've ears to listen with, eyes to see with and a brain to think with [...], you should never be bored.