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Home > Reviews > Antisocial


Author Nick Pettigrew


Review date 03/07/2022

No of pages

Publisher Penguin

Publisher URL

Year of publication 03/11/2021


Our Review


£ 7.37

Books by people in occupations that are diaries or memoirs that lift the lid on the job have been popular for a while; think of The Secret Barrister, and PC David Copperfield. The latest is Antisocial, by Nick Pettigrew.

He does more than chart a year as an antisocial behaviour (ASB) officer in south London; he shows the effect that the stories he hears has on his (mental) health. In the end he resigns and is diagnosed (privately, thus saving many months off the wait) with ADHD and starts taking prescription drugs.

Illegal drug dealing, and mental health, are behind many of the cases he had to deal with, whether loud music and other noise from neighbours, urinating in public, or cuckooing (a hospitable person taking in someone, who brings in their boyfriend, and in stages they become cuckoos, who take over the person's home and bank card).

The book also shines light on local government more generally, such as the training day that leaves Pettigrew thinking that he would be better off actually doing his work than hearing about how he could be more efficient in his work.

It's also a book about how one man doing work that can be rewarding and bring change for the better to people, gives up on having 'the psychological shit' kicked out of him, every day. Pettigrew is opinionated about austerity and how funding has been cut and yet services still get delivered: "But people can't be halved, and when nobody is around to do a job that's needed - looking after the elderly, the addicted and the insane - that job becomes everybody's. And not everybody is equipped to do it."

The book came out pre-covid, but an addition to the paperback edition takes in the pandemic. On the one hand, the common experience of lockdown could make for a community feeling that lasts - if it is made good use of. On the other hand, he recalls how the covid restrictions were presented to the public, and how people still play loud music - that is, are bad neighbours. And no-one likes to 'grass', to tell on neighbours.

Has the field of ASB work succeeded, or at least done some good? As Pettigrew recalls, the original 1998 Crime and Disorder Act was 'an attempt to drag all the scraps of sub-criminal behaviour that annoyed people into one set of laws'. So often ASB is not quite a (mental) health issue, or one for the police; having done their best, those agencies hand over cases, in a 'pass the parcel' manner, to the ASB officer.

For your money you do get an authentic slice of life, often squalid or unutterably sad: to name only smells, there's praise for the sniffing power of sniffer dogs, and 'Dead Human' smell from an elderly flat tenant ('like a joint of meat that's been left out at room temperature for several days and the pear-drop smell of the ketones that are part of the decomposition process'). The next day Pettigrew returns to the flat with water, a bowl and cat biscuits in case more cats are in the flat and hiding.

"The police told me one thing which will haunt me forever: 'We think when he died he was writing out Christmas cards to himself from his cats.'"