Handling New Challenges


When I was 17 yeas old and at school I had to spend some days on work experience and my first was in a local police station. 
I arrived early to find the police station was on a main road and at the top of a hill. I informed the desk sergeant who I was and he told me to take a seat as, “Old Baker’s taking you out and he won’t arrive until 10 minutes before his shift starts.
In this way I got to spend some time watching the officers go about their business. After a few minutes I realised there was an air of expectation about the place and quickly realised everyone was very nervous. People were polishing things and talking about which chairs looked best in which position. After about 20 minutes I understood from a few comments that a new inspector was due and they all wanted to make a good first impression. It seemed he had a reputation for being a very tough boss and full of his own importance.
About 10 minutes after that, in marched a very smart and official looking officer. He stood in the doorway and looked all around him. Then he walked up to the desk and said in a very loud voice, “Right sergeant, I’m here and an hour early. You had better be ready, as I want to start an inspection of the station right now.”
The sergeant said, “Yes sir, of course sir. Would you like to leave your car in the reserved parking spot?”
The inspector looked at him and snorted before shouting his reply, “Hah! Do you think I would give the game away and warn you all of my arrival by using the official entrance to the station car park? I’m too smart for that. You’re going to find that you won’t be able to catch me out. I’ve not come to make life easy for you. Things are going to have to improve and tighten up around here if you’re going to live up to my   standards. I used a perfectly good parking spot just under the railway bridge outside so I could take you all by surprise.”
As I sat there watching this scene unfold, I could not help but notice a sudden silence and then a “ripple” of knowing looks going round between the constables who were present. Glances were quickly swapped and then each person seemed to bite his lip and quickly look at the floor. I had no idea what I was missing but I was sure that I noticed the corners of some mouths starting to curl upwards into a grin before being forced back down. It seemed to me there was some sort of shared, inner joke between them and it was only the new inspector and myself who didn’t understand.
Eventually PC Baker appeared. He walked in and clearly had an air of calmness and certainty about him. He saw me, realised who I was, walked over and introduced himself. I immediately formed the opinion that he was a most pleasant chap. He then clocked in with the desk sergeant who said, “He’s here, our new boss.” To which PC Baker replied, “I’ve seen it all too many times before Sarge.” The two of them talked for a minute then PC Baker nodded to me and we walked out onto the street.
As we left the station I explained about the arrival of the inspector, how he seemed very bossy and full of himself and also how he tried to catch everybody out. When I mentioned how the inspector had taken the trouble to park on the street, PC Baker simply said, “Never any space.”
“He found a spot under the railway bridge,” I said. I turned around and looked down the road. At the bottom of the hill there was indeed a railway bridge. “Look,” I said, “It’ll be that grey car right under the bridge.” I looked up and noticed PC Baker had a grin on his face. He said, “Well, there’s always a space there and that car’s not grey”.
Yes, it is, ” I said, “I can see it from here.” As I spoke I  thought back to the reaction of the men to the inspector’s chosen parking space. Now, here was PC Baker with a big grin. It was too much of a coincidence.
“No it isn’t,” he insisted and then said , “Oh well. I suppose we’ve got time. We’ll go and have a look.”
We both headed off to the bridge as he tried to explain, “Everyone who knows the area knows never to park under the bridge but it’s better to see for yourself.”
As we got closer I gradually began to see why locals would always leave a parking space under the bridge. There were hundreds of pigeons nesting in the eaves of the bridge. I have never seen so many in one spot before, except perhaps on TV at Trafalgar Square. Underneath, there was the inspector’s car and in-between all the grey pigeon poo that covered it. I could see in the occasional odd spot that the car was in fact a shiny metallic blue colour. PC Baker looked inside through a tiny patch of clean glass and said, “Yep. It looks like he keeps his car in immaculate condition. He won’t be happy when he comes to collect it. Best not to be around.”
I stood there amazed. I had never seen a car so covered in pigeon droppings before but I could remember my Dad moaning about how hard it was to get one lot off the windscreen. I dreaded to think how much work would be involved in cleaning it. Also, it had been there less than an hour. I wondered what condition it would be in when the inspector finally returned many hours later. At that moment it seemed to me the inspector’s attempt at a surprise inspection and harsh treatment of the men had indeed made an impression on the officers. I thought of my form tutor at school advising me that in any new situation I should always slow down and listen before forming an opinion or trying to make any contribution.
As I left the station that evening I passed two policemen looking down the road towards the bridge and clearly laughing before they resumed their duties. This inspector had certainly made a first impression that would never be forgotten.
I was reminded of the phrase, “Look before you leap.”