Hell in all its fury

I don’t believe in hell. I’m not sure many people do. It is a good thing too as going by the various descriptions it is quite, well, hellish. I don’t want to go there. All that flame and pokers can’t be good for you and, of course, it goes on for so long.

Is it the worst that can happen? I’m not so sure.

I’ve made a few, maybe more, mistakes in my life. As I’ve aged I’ve been able to accept them in a way that I was unable to at the time. Immediately after I’d cocked up, I’d go over the circumstances time and time again to try and understand why I made such a disastrous choice.

Some decisions I made as part of my job. I became quite skilled as a PC in hiding my errors from others, although I didn’t manage to hide them from myself. Sometimes I could not get to sleep despite being certain no one would ever know what I had done.

Hiding errors was a skill that came in very useful as a sergeant. PCs would come to me when it had all gone ratshit and I was often able to make things better for them. Later, though, things changed.

I was Ops 1 for two years, in operational control of spontaneous major incidents in their initial stages, when information was sparse and I had to make decisions based on limited information. Despite it seeming the worst of jobs, it was one that gave a lot of job satisfaction

If the information wasn’t there, how could I be wrong? Everything was guesswork. That didn’t stop me being criticised by those with perfect 20:20 vision in hindsight, but only when in a comfortable office with no time constraints. I could ignore such comments, especially as most had never been in the front line.

There was a high-jacking of an airplane in the 90s. It wasn’t publicised and hardly anyone noticed.

I was in operational control until I could get a senior officer to take over. Everything I said and typed, every conversation and phone call, every order and, most irritatingly, every question I was asked was recorded. Even as it started I realised that these things would be poured over, not only by other control room inspectors, but by those from other forces looking for learning points. Those who would dissect it in the minutest detail were senior officers looking for promotion points by way of pointing what went wrong in the tone of voice that suggested they would, of course, have done much better.

I made an early mistake. I was asked by my sergeant if he should call out press liaison to take pressure from the control room. I said not at that time and then promptly forgot all about it. 40 minutes later I asked my sergeant if the PR chap had given an ETA. Ah, well.

As I read through the printed log of the incident I was making notes of the decisions I made. My memory is a bit vague but I think I made 28 critical decisions in the first 90 seconds. Most were spot on and those that weren’t were not wrong.

None were errors as such as they were made with little information. After all, if you were asked what 30 x an unknown number was, any answer divisible by 30 could be wrong but as there were insufficient details, it was not a mistake.

That made the PR deferment an error as I had sufficient information at the time. So it was after midnight. It was always best to err on the side of caution and call them.

I was called to the debrief and I was asked about my decisions, all of which were more or less correct. Then the chief constable asked: why didn’t you call the PR chap out earlier. I said that it was an error on my behalf. I wanted to make sure, but when it was certain it was a high-jacking, I had too much else to do.

The decision kept me awake though. I could not understand why I had put off the decision. There was no excuse so I could not fathom my thought processes. It was then that I realised what hell must be.

I’ve made some terrible decisions in my time, some that have affected my whole life, limiting my opportunities and missing opportunities. These have little effect on me as I’m quite happy with, and in, the life that I have. Few would argue I deserve such riches.

The worst errors are those that affect others, particularly my wife and children. They return to haunt at times when my defences are low. If I’m away from home, in a hotel for instance, all on my own I’ll be suddenly hit by a memory where I had failed to take a step and my kids were affected. I spoke harshly to them without reason; hardly uncommon I know, but that doesn’t make it right.

Worst of all, I have failed my wife at times. I have not considered her when making a decision, done things without thought.

My brain is a wee bit foggy. I get some memories mixed up. I forget what I did, whom I worked with, the build up to an event. For this I am grateful as I think hell would be seeing the consequences of one’s failings and what would have happened had I applied myself, given more thought to others, weighed consequences.

It’s good that hell does not exist. The shadow of it that comes at the most inopportune times is bad enough.

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