There has been much comment on the issue from those who must know a lot more about it than I do, but my claim to be able to comment on the suggested institutional racism and sexism of the police is based on the fact that many years ago I worked for them. Not as a serving officer, I hasten to add – I was a civilian support worker in the human resources department. In fact, my relationship with the (female) civilian manager there led directly to my claim for asylum in Scotland, but that's another story and if I told it even now I might face a law suit. Enough to say I am eternally grateful to my adopted country for taking me and my family in.
My experience with the serving officers suggested there were two sorts. One was absolutely delightful, good, kind and virtuous, and in the main dedicated to protecting the public. I once went on an outdoor development course with a group of them – I was the only female and I suspect my instruction to attend was to make life as difficult as possible – yet I had a wonderful time and met some constabulary saints.
The other lot – often associated with Freemasonry, which is sad, as I have no problem with romantic secret societies, although not when they protect those who shouldn't be protected. But suffice it to say that whatever racist and sexist attitudes existed, they came from this lot. I will make an exception for the constable who informed me with a rather scary expression on his face: 'I ***** hate rich people!' as I can't say I always disagree with that view.
But whichever type you might be as a police officer, the sad fact is that the individuals from underrepresented groups that you will run into in the course of your job will be mainly folk from the criminal fraternity. This doesn't excuse racist and sexist attitudes, but it goes some way to explain them, for our attitude to any group is surely based on the people we meet regularly. The obvious answer is for the police service to recruit more individuals from underrepresented groups, but cultural change takes time.
The First Minister recently commented on the number of times he, as a young Asian guy, was stopped by the police for no apparent sensible reason. Others like him are unlikely to want to join an organisation which treats them in this way. But let's not ignore the majority of serving police officers who are in the job for the right reasons. Stereotyping can work both ways.
When I moved house, I had to leave behind a significant number of plants that I would have liked to take, but I'm sure every gardener who moves house will have experienced such frustrations. I did manage to transport a small wisteria in a pot, and it has flourished – climbing up the fence but now invading next door's side. I must remember to ask them if they are happy to have this invasion or if they would like me to cut it back. It's not flowered yet as wisterias are slow developing.
Talking of stereotypes, years ago I lived in a house where the naughty wisteria from next door had sent its flower sprays all over my side of the fence. Next door lived an elderly lady who informed me proudly 'I'm a church goer!' and then proceeded to make life difficult in every way she could. My son once looked through her hedge to see a blackbird on its nest and suggested its beady black eye was reminiscent of the human resident.
One day when I was away, the old lady summoned my husband and informed him he should cut down the wisteria as it shouldn't be growing there. He, as a non-gardener, thought it might be poisonous, so did as she instructed. When I came home and saw the damage, I wept at this total destruction – Mrs X next door could be heard laughing in the garden. For years, I thought the attitude of 'it's mine and I'm not sharing it' applied to all churchgoers. And for some reason it reminds me of the Conservative Government's attitude to immigration…
Figures of speech?
I guess there's only one pronunciation of 'wisteria', but the same doesn't apply to 'clematis'. I have always called it clemAtis, with the emphasis on the 'A', but my more aristocratic late husband always swore it should be clematis with no stresses. He maintained my pronunciation was that of the plebian sector. As a child in Nottingham, in the English Midlands, I was told that the inhabitants of a rather posh Nottinghamshire village called Southwell (the magnificent minster there is well worth a visit if you ever venture into English territory) always referred to it as SOUTHwell, while we non-resident peasants pronounced it Suthall. This may be apocryphal, but I was told that when the message got around as to which was the posh pronunciation, the inhabitants changed it back to Suthall to catch out the 'hoi polloi'.
As a working-class kid at Oxford, I was made fun of for my 'funny, flat Midlands accent', as one kindly soul put it on hearing me speak. The scion of a family of squillionaires, this individual subsequently became a psychotherapist, but I don't envy their clients. At that time, of course, I would have pronounced words such as 'bath' as bAth, rather than 'barth'. I could never work out why it was supposed to be barth mat rather than bath mart. But I guess the self-professed aristocracy always find ways to keep us out of their esoteric territory.
My poor mother always assured me that, not to have my working-class origins detected, I should never cut up a bread roll with a knife, but break it up with my hands. Oh, and never write notes on lined paper as this was unutterably vulgar, and would immediately confirm my peasant status. Was it one of the Mitford sisters who compiled the list of 'U' and 'non-U' words? I think we proud peasants should fly the flag for our humble and honest origins by constantly referring to serviettes and toilets wherever we can.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant