My song today is ‘Stuck on You’. This was Elvis Presley’s first hit single after his two-year stint in the US Army, and his thirteenth Number 1 single overall. It reached Number 1 in 1960 in the US ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart. ‘Stuck on You’ also peaked at Number 6 on the R&B chart. The record also reached Number 3 in the UK.
The song was written by Aaron Schroeder and J. Leslie McFarland and was published by Gladys Music, Elvis Presley's publishing company.
I remember an experienced work colleague called Irene Daniels who was a Probation Officer in Huddersfield for many years. Irene sadly died many years ago, but I will remain forever beholding to her and her colleague Joyce Patterson, who also died recently.
I joined the Huddersfield staff in 1971 as a 30-year-old who was determined to change the world for the better and to sweep aside any wrongs that came my way without fear or favour. For my first year, Irene and her close colleague, Joyce, were asked by the Senior Probation Officer to keep a close watch over me during my Probationary year , and to steer me in the right direction if my enthusiasm was ever sending me down the wrong path of all idealists. All people have a tendency to be too hard upon themselves, and none more than when they are learning the ropes of a new job. This includes all new recruits who are eager to do well and not let the team down after embarking on any vocational career.
The Senior Officer could not have selected two better colleague officers to watch my back. Irene and Joyce soon sussed out that I had been born and brought up on the wrong side of the track and was usually the type of person to be found sitting at the wrong side of a Probation Officer’s desk. In 1970, most new Probation Officers had a good degree behind them, plus all the privileges of a middle-class upbringing., especially in the areas of speech and social graces, There would be Few new Probation Officers who had been born into working-class households on a council estate in those days, as most Probation Officers invariably came from a better social crop of middle-class families. My background was likely to get me into all manner of trouble if I allowed myself to over-identify with the criminal side of Probation clientele too much. My greatest danger was to come across in my role as being one of those Probation Officers who looked at their clients and started to get emotionally involved in their plight and feel sorry for any poor start in their life. I needed to constantly be aware that though I and my clients had probably grown up on the same side of the tracks as I had, I was no longer like them. I had opted to cross that social divide for better life without criminal behaviour, whereas many of my clients had not. I will never forget Irene telling me “There is nothing stopping you liking toffee apples, Bill, and getting close enough to them to sniff out what they are made of, as long as you remember that at the end of the day not to get stuck on them!”
In her own wily way, Irene was telling me not to be conned by the apparent affability of some Probation clients, especially the ones with which I might more easily identify with. She was warning me that some clients would use my working-class background in their favour, if I let them. She also told me, “By all means empathise with them, Bill, and sympathise with their situation, but resist any temptation to patronise by feeling sorry for them or you will take your eye off the ball and not be able to help any of them”. She was so right.
I never learned too much about Irene’s background. I knew that she was married but did not know if she had been a parent. Like her close colleague, Joyce, they kept to themselves. However, both she and Joyce were as streetwise as one needed to be when it came to understanding the criminal mind of many of our clients, along with knowing better than any other office colleague how to assess the machinations of the minds of the three Senior Probation Officers at the Huddersfield office. There has never been an era when all workers could not have benefitted from being better resourced to carry out the daily work tasks required of them, and the 1970s was no different to the 2020s. All management structures constantly seek to find ways of getting their workers to change their work practices and to work harder on fewer resources and in less time than was previously allocated! It is what is essentially perceived as managing the staff and the resources available.
To this end, the most important management function weekly was ‘the office meeting’ on a Friday morning, and 100 % attendance by all Probation Officer staff. Although it was never stated that attendance at office meetings was ‘compulsory’, everyone knew that their presence was considered as being obligatory, unless the funeral service of a family member being held that day could not be altered and arrangements made at the 11th hour to get the presiding priest to hold the service in the afternoon instead of the morning to facilitate the Office Meeting still going ahead!
The weekly meetings would last up to two hours, during which every item on the agenda was a proposed change of working practice that was always fiercely resisted by the twenty main grade Probation Officers. At the meetings, (those which Irene and Joyce ever attended), while everyone else in the room would be engaged in talking over each other and putting forward their own views and proposals vigorously, Irene and Joyce would remain totally silent and occasionally nod their head to show that they had not fallen asleep during proceedings. Irene would always be knitting in a corner, and in the chair next to her, Joyce would be quietly writing a court report that she would have been writing anyway, had she been at her desk instead of at the office staff meeting.
The only persons who I ever knew miss a weekly office meeting and receive no punishment were either Irene or her friend Joyce. Every officer was supposed to submit their car travel expenses on the last day of each month. Most of us would not require telling, as the average amount would often be over £100, which was a considerable sum during the 1970s. Usually, the Senior Officer (in the name of office efficiency and economy) would question the absolute necessity of some trips main grade officers made during the week, as it was very rare for two officers to double up and use just one car.
The problem that Senior Probation Officers had with Irene, was that if ever they queried a journey she had made, she would invariably have forgotten the reason for it, and would just reply, “Forget it, and give someone the money!” The reason she would forget was that when it came too recording her work and also submitting her expenses, she would always be at least six months behind, stating that ‘doing the job and helping the client was what she was really paid to do!’ The Seniors could never respond as they would have liked or sanction her for her oversight.
Every Probation Officer would have an obligatory monthly supervisory session with their Senior Probation Officer. The purpose was to deal with any personal issues or concerns raised, and afterward, the supervising officer would be expected to make some suggestions for officer improvement in some aspect of their work practice. The problem was that Irene had served twice as long as any Senior Officer, and to put it bluntly, none could tell her anything she had not already learned when they were still attending Secondary School.
Irene’s friend, Joyce, had never owned a car or had ever earned to drive, She travelled everywhere by public transport and hitching a ride with other colleagues when they were going in the same direction. It had always been a prerequisite of every Probation Officer before commencing their career with the Probation Service that an Officer had a car. Joyce had been in the Service over twenty-five years and had somehow always managed to bever own a car. She was the only Probation Officer in the country who was in this position.
During one journey up north to HMP Durham, one day, Joyce joined me on my journey as she had a prisoner in Durham also. We had a few hours to talk each way, plus an hour over lunch. I would learn more about the methods used by Irene and Joyce that day than ever before. By our return, both colleagues had risen inestimably in my esteem.
I wanted to know what the secret of their survival skills was that rarely witnessed them angry or worked up, whatever the situation. I asked Joyce on the way up to Durham Prison,” What’s your secret? How do you and Irene just carry on your own sweet way, and you never get pulled over the coals?"
Joyce gave me that Miss Marple smile that says nothing but seems to suggest everything. The upshot was that neither lady ever allowed other people to make them angry, and if ever they ever appeared to be angry, it was for the purpose of effect to throw an adversary off the scent, as opposed to any lack of control.
They had seemingly learned to give their senior officers the type of answers that satisfied them, or the kind of answers they were unable to respond to but in an unsympathetic way. When in supervision sessions, if they were ever asked to do something they simply replied, “Of course, that will be no problem at all”, but they would never do what they said they would do! If ever their Senior suggested something to them that they had done wrong, they would instantly apologise and say it would not happen again, but it always did! Joyce told me that there is nothing better for taking the wind out of a Senior Officer’s sails than inflating their ego by allowing them to think that you acknowledge that they were right in their judgment and that you had been wrong in yours. This could be immediately achieved by apologising profusely whenever your Senior Probation Officer is expecting an argument or backchat from you instead. She also indicated that both she and Irene were not averse to playing the ‘poor female card’ if a few crocodile tears were required to get them off the hook.
Long before Obama came up with his ‘can do’ attitude, Irene and Joyce were responding “Can do’ to all of the requests that their Senior Officers made. While implying they ‘would do’ they ‘never did’. Joyce also said that the world always turns faster than we are able to readjust to our next position. She then reminded me that humans change their minds as often as they make them up in the first place. and that was why following the mind of another is often futile and energy-wasting.
Whereas most individuals found getting out of sticky situations uncomfortable, like licking a toffee apple when you are not really enjoying the taste, Joyce and Irene took whatever situation they faced in their stride. I would bet my life that Irene and Joyce were never the types to drop their toffee apples as children at the fairground or eat their candy floss in an undignified manner, unbecoming of their ladylike station in life. They were the two most streetwise Probation colleagues I ever had the pleasure of working with. I refrain from saying ‘knowing’ as nobody ever really got to know them.
The puzzling thing was I do not know where their street knowledge came from as both ladies were born at the better side of the criminal tracks than I was, and I know that Joyce had spent a period as a nun before leaving the Order and becoming a Probation Officer extraordinary.
Love and peace