Sunday, 18 July 2010

London Loves.....Police Car Sirens

For seven years I've visited Vendee twice a year to stay at my mother's farmhouse in the middle of the French countryside. In all of those visits I have never once seen or even heard a police car, policeman or policewoman.

Driving back into London straight from our Calais-Folkestone channel crossing on Saturday evening (the route taking us through Eltham, Lewisham, Deptford, New Cross, Peckham, Walworth, Aldgate, Shoreditch, Islington, Hornsey, Crouch End and Wood Green) we counted five police car sirens within one hour.

Us Londoners see a huge number of police cars every day, and the cars we hear but don't see are even more vast in number.

My old bedroom was a converted loft at the top of my house and my window would be permanently open all summer long. The soundtrack to those summer nights was "WEEAA-OOOO-WEEAA-OOOO".

In case you're wondering, that is the sound police cars make. It's not NEE-NOR-NEE-NOR anymore like it used to be in the 80s. Which makes me wonder; what noise do kids make when playing police car chases these days? In my day it was undoubtedly the NEE-NOR of the Rover SD1: possibly the most unprofessional police car ever manufactured...

Nowadays we have proper, Americanised, professional police cars; not black and white anymore but silver, sleek and ominous...

The noise of the police car siren has become almost omnipresent in London. Hang around any major junction for about 5-10 minutes and you are guaranteed to hear one (and if not a police car than certainly an ambulance or fire engine).

But where are these police cars going and do they really need to make so much noise getting there?

The cynical part of me thinks they put their sirens on just to get to the McDonald's drive-thru more quickly. Let's face it, McDonalds is the place we most frequently see the police. Either there or by the side of the road stopping and searching black motorists.

But my less cynical side knows there are many serious for the sirens we hear - particularly when three or four go past at once - and we all hope to god that the old bill would respond promptly if we were in some kind of trouble. It is deeply troubling then to hear that Metropolitan Police targets for responding to emergencies (set at under 20 minutes by the previous Labour Government) are to be scrapped by new Home Secretary Theresa May. I don't know about you but I would have thought reaching an emergency within 20 minutes would be an absolute minimum requirement for the victim if for example they were being attacked, bleeding to death or under some other kind of personal threat.

Clearly some emergencies are prioritised over others. Anything to do with "terrorists" these days will prompt an immediate response - an armed response unit. Whereas a mugging or break-in, you'd probably be put on hold. To be honest, most emergency calls are put on hold. Kind of making a mockery of the word 'emergency'. In the case of this ridiculous 999 call recently made by the Guardian's London blogger I would not only have put Dave Hill on hold. I'd have hung up on him or further, investigated him for wasting police time. Throwing stones at buses? Stones at buses??? Whatever next, Dave, a water balloon dumped on someone's head?? A stink bomb chucked into an off licence?? Kids talking too loudly at the back of the cinema????

It is often easy to overlook the serious things (not stone throwing) that happen in our city and in our neighbourhoods. Many of us generally walk around London as if we are indestructable superheroes completely oblivious to any dangers. And, that's one of the things that is great about this city. We should be able to walk streets carefree. But, while nine times out of ten the police sirens are simply breaking up the monotonous daily routines of the constabulary (paperwork, McDonalds, petty shoplifting call out, chatting up drunken Essex girls), here is an interesting (slightly morbid) website called Spotcrime detailing geographically some of the crimes (mostly stabbings to be fair) that happen in different parts of London. Next time you hear a siren, it may well be on its way to an incident like these.

Personally I find them strangely soothing. They lull me to sleep in a way that the total tranquility of the serene French countryside never could.


  1. This is a great bit of kit to wind people up when driving in a High rush.Switch on the animal tones and people look to see where this sound comes from.Apart from that great fun.Great product.