Saturday, May 5, 2012

London Guildhall, part 2

As the last part of the Guildhall tour, we went through an art museum there with lots of HUGE paintings and also several large sculptures. Our guide informed us that the larger-than-life standing statue of Margaret Thatcher was behind plexiglass because at one point a visitor had picked up a guidepost marker and knocked her head clean off! She still inspires quite strong feelings. After our tour through the Guildhall, Keith's friend took us to the office of the police for the City of London (again--this is an approximate square mile in the heart of what is called London). There we met Matt, the policeman and dog trainer, who gave the boys some seriously cool boy time. First he showed us the dogs: Billy the bomb sniffer, and Asa the drug sniffer. These dogs live with him, in his back garden, and come to work with him every day. It's clear that they have a very tight relationship. He let Asa out first. He was a beautiful black lab who immediately started sniffing at the hems of our pants. Since Keith's friend had just given the boys shoulder bags with assorted loot, I joked that hopefully nothing had been planted on them. Thankfully, Asa decided we were all clean. Then we met Billy, an English springer spaniel who was VERY excited to be out and about. He immediately started sniffing the vehicles nearby (we were in an outdoor garage type of area). Billy came and said hi but was totally into the experience of his nose. Once Matt explained how things worked, he put Billy back in his crate and then showed the boys......get ready...bombs! Matt brought out some real C4 plastic explosive and showed us all how moldable it was. The boys had to put on gloves to touch any of this stuff because Matt didn't want their smell to get onto the tools they use to teach the dogs and definitely didn't want to get the smell on them. He made sure we weren't about to travel abroad anytime soon because any dog would fix on them. Matt showed us a model of the bomb that was used in the tube on July 7, 2007. It was a backpack with a reach around sort of tube that had a button on the end. The whole thing was worn on a person's back with the trigger in their finger. One of the bombs was packed with pepper and the other with flour. When I told this to my friend Tracey, she understood why her bags of flour going from England to Ireland got so much attention at airport security. Matt and the boys hid a bit of C4 in the bumper of a truck---completely out view---and then he let Billy out. He put Billy on the lead to let him know he was working and then started him at the beginning of the garage. Very quickly Billy went to the bumper. Matt had told us that he might bark but instead he came up to the spot and then threw his head back over and over, in a very human-like gesture. Basically: It's over here! It's over here! Then he was rewarded with his favorite chew toy. Next, the boys got to hold a real gun--again while wearing plastic gloves. Matt made a show of removing the clip and bullets and instructed them to hold it pointing down at all times. They both remarked on how heavy it was. British police don't carry guns in part because there aren't handguns everywhere. When they have a violent crime involving a gun they can often pinpoint and find the exact gun--often with the help of the dogs. Matt then had the boys take turns wearing police protective gear. The heavy vest went down to their feet and the helmet completely covered their head and shoulders. They looked very proud and fierce nonetheless. Then he showed us special shields with an electrical charge. These are used when the police confront a violent dog but they don't actually shock the dog. They put out a zap and the sound combined with the change in the ozone smell causes the dogs to back off. Pretty sure this was slightly irregular, but the boys each got a turn holding a shield and pushing the button to cause the zap. Matt warns: 'Don't point it at your parents, lads.' Pretty cool afternoon of boy stuff. Finally, Matt gave them each a lapel pin with the police insignia and suggested they wear it when we fly home and show it to the police and dog handlers at the airport. I'm pretty sure my little superheroes in training have got enough fodder for many hours of play and many nights of dreams.

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