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Home > Reviews > Call Sign Chopper

Call Sign Chopper

Author Chris Nott

ISBN No 978-1-80031-737-6 (ebook)

Review date 03/07/2022

No of pages 280

Publisher iink Media

Publisher URL https://callsignchopper.com/

Year of publication 08/01/2021

Brief

Our Review

price

£ 4.99 ebook

This cracking book is perfect lockdown reading for a day – vivid, entertaining, and utterly different from midwinter Britain, writes Mark Rowe.

The opening to Chris’ Nott’s memoir Call Sign Chopper is out of James Bond; in an accomplished and economical piece of writing, the author grabs the reader’s attention with visceral danger. We’re in a 4x4 with Chris in Haiti as he finds himself driving towards a ‘manifestation’ – an on-street riot with burning tyres blocking the road, cars being hijacked and someone appearing to be on fire in the barricade. Chris gets out of that and a few blocks away all is calm and he orders a hamburger. That’s our introduction to the chaotic and intermittently if at all lawful island of Haiti, where ‘life is cheap’ (page 251); where the supermarket's windows all have grilles (picture, page 133); where even the bottled beer can be dangerous and where women expose their breasts if they think it will help get some trade (page 55; among other places). And yes, there is vodou (page 256 onwards; and it’s painful, and yes, apparently soon fatal).

It makes the Southmead estate in Bristol sound tame by comparison. Chris whizzes through his near 30 years in the police which ends with an accidental broken neck. He was training the Bristol Doorsafe scheme – one of the local door superviser training courses around the UK in the 1990s, the era before the Security Industry Authority (SIA). When he had to leave the police, he enrolled on one of the courses he had helped to run and became a doorman: “I believe that anyone considering a career in the police or military should work at least six months of weekends on the door of a lively bar or nightclub,” he writes wisely. The equivalent is there in many trades and professions; the point as Chris spells out is that it tests your qualities required; not only the job skills, but having strength of character, and getting into the team culture. He does admit that in those days doors were ‘something of a cowboy business’ thanks to drug dealing and other crime.

Also of interest to the security career person is how one thing can lead to another – if you are alive enough to opportunities. Thus for Chris, door work and training led to the BBC TV documentary series Muscle in 2000; and a few non-speaking roles as a copper or gangster. Interestingly, Chris reports that his former police colleagues took a dislike to Muscle. He got over his mid-life crisis by first doing ship security work and then in 2002 took up the offer of joining the protection unit of the embattled president of Haiti installed by the United States, Aristide. After Chris' time, Aristide went into exile in South Africa.

Chris from then on immerses us in the sights, sounds and smells of Haiti: the strong coffee, the heat – of the sort which hits the first-time visitor at the airport – the begging urchins, the general hustle and hurly-burly (‘it was a sensory overload!’ – page 40).

“We carried out the dangerous, hard contact, day and night job of keeping the president and his family alive.” Chris gives us several stories in one – besides the work and off-duty hours, what he saw as a blann (‘white man’) of the country (the theft of electric power, home invasions, the street protection rackets to look after your parked car) and what he made of his loud, profane, mainly American colleagues.

The main character in the book is as much Haiti as the author – with such enticing chapter titles as ‘Ring of Tyres’, ‘Cannibal Army’, and ‘Tittie Run’ (and yes, the subject is roughly what you might think it is - 'my first social outing with the Americans'). Rather than give a digest of all, ‘Free Rice?’ gives a flavour (pardon any pun) of the country, the police (an ‘oppressive arm of the government and inept at police work’, page 253), Aristide and the difficult job of VIP protection. Briefly, the bright idea was for Aristide to connect with his supporters in the capital Port-au-Prince by doling out free two-kilo bags of charity rice, and entertain the crowd with a popular band. It goes wrong; the giving of rice to the starving becomes chaotic and in the crush Chris fears that he’s going to die in the crush in front. Even shots won’t stop the unfolding mass fatality. The bags get tossed into the crowd in an effort to keep people at bay, and to get Aristide (protected in a hug by his bodyguard) away in his limo. That chapter concludes (page 208): “I could see dead bodies trampled underfoot - I have no idea how many. The crowd were attempting to close in on us but we left them floundering in our wake. There were no further rice-runs.”

This well-written memoir has plenty that the security person can learn from, besides smile and laugh and nod along to, such as the unexpected object that a Liverpool doorman used to disarm trouble-makers at his door (page 20).

The best compliment to give Chris Nott is that I hope he goes on to write more, and the very end of the book hints at a sequel. Perhaps as well he could go beyond his first-person memories. Although; if he were to turn his hand to fiction, nothing imaginary would be as wild, exciting or exotic as what he writes of in Haiti.