Release Date: July 23rd, 2020
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I received this book from the publishers via NetGalley. Reviews remain my own.
I usually end up saying this in the reviews I do of non-fiction, which probably tells you the kind of non-fiction I’m drawn to, but this is not an easy read. Yes, it’s clever and funny, and Nick Pettigrew manages to strike that fine balance between stuff that is quite frankly depressing, or upsetting, or tear-inducing, and humour, blending the two together in such a way you don’t forget the negatives, and the jokes attach themselves to the stories in a way that ensures you will remember.
The images Pettigrew creates are striking, and there’s always the underlying sense that whatever he thinks of the people he deals with, and whatever he has done, he wishes there were more ways he could make their lives better. The ASB officer’s role is complicated and difficult, and the kind of job that needs years of experience to make a really, very good officer, and you need those officers with experience to pass on the knowledge to younger folks joining them. Sadly, as Pettigrew lays out, this is not happening. Lacking adequate support, many of the officers who have been doing this ‘not a paramedic, police officer, social care worker but actually a little bit of all three’ role for a while are leaving, and it’s not the kind of job with good retention in the early stages.
Maybe we should be talking about this issue alongside issues such as teachers and GPs leaving their professions, because I promise you will not come out the other side of this book without a very good understanding that what ASB Officers do is vital and important to the communities they serve. And they do serve, moving from one estate to another, listening to the complaints – sometimes valid, sometimes not – of tenants, whether it’s about neighbours moving in their upstairs flat during their day to day lives, or abusive behaviour from the person living next door. These officers are instrumental in ensuring people are able to live in relative peace, without being threatened, harassed, or having their communal zones taken over by drug addicts and dealers, as well as, where they can, getting help for those suffering from addiction, and mental health, and other issues.
Importantly in this memoir, it’s clear one of the things that makes Nick Pettigrew so very good at his job is his empathy and understanding, some element of that coming from his own upbringing. And with those skills, he gets the reader to understand his position as well as the situations of the people he deals with on a day to day basis. To be fair, he always puts forth arguments about countering what happens on some estates, on how things can be better managed for the sake of all involved.
He’s also very open about his own mental health problems, and how his job impacts them. There’s a very memorable scene where he goes away on holiday, and speaking to another couple about his job, he gets asked about mental health. And it’s easy to picture Nick Pettigrew responding with yes, they have things they can do for the tenants, yes it’s all very underfunded and limited but they do what they can…
Until it’s pointed out the asker was enquiring to his health, acknowledging how the job must impact the officers. Even through his writing, it’s easy to see how deeply Pettigrew cares – he cares when they’re able to help tenants, he cares when someone is going through something horrific, he cares when they’re not quite able to help as much as they would like to.
At one point, the UK had a strange fascination with ‘anti-social behaviour’, driven partly by the introduction of ASBOs – anti-social behaviour orders – which were then handed out so regularly, for sometimes ridiculous reasons, largely to teenagers, they took on their own kind of meaning. Rather than being a deterrent, for some teens these became badges of honour, and it wasn’t hard to get one. Then they were replaced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and though many have probably been witness to ‘anti-social behaviour’, or heard stories of such, the whole concept kind of disappeared from the public eye.
Yet where there are humans, it seems there will often be some kind of ‘anti-social behaviour’, and ‘anti-social’ is too often in the eye of the complainer. But in the book Pettigrew details not only the worst cases, but almost everything he dealt with in a single year. And it’s a lot, a job where it truly seems ‘no day is the same’, though that’s not always a good thing. What shines through is how good he is at the job, even when it involves switching from one mode to the other, and even when faced with abuse himself he manages to keep such a deep well of compassion.
This isn’t the worst of humanity, and Pettigrew is careful to demonstrate this, too, showing how these communities come together in times of crisis, and how even at the end of receiving abusive behaviour, the average person will want to help the person who maybe just needs something that is currently missing from their lives.
Again, not an easy read, but definitely, very much worth it, and an excellently written account into a relatively unknown profession. And just on the off chance he does read this, at some point – thank you, Nick. For the job and for allowing us readers a peek into the profession.