As I walk into the Christchurch Police Station on this clear winter day, I ask for “Brenda”, as instructed, at the desk, and am told to wait, as she is just coming from a visit to Lapland. Moments later, a door to my right opens, and a woman in casual wear and a smile on her face appears, “Hi I’m Brenda”, she says as she ushers me into a small impersonal room, which I find out later is the room where people get arrested by appointment.Brenda Traylen however quickly brightens the atmosphere of the room as we set down for the interview and she starts talking freely of her life.
A woman of slim built, and short ash blond hair, it is hard to believe that in just sixty years she has travelled around the world for charity, worked for the police force and the territorial army for two decades, met the Queen and managed to raise a daughter.
Although Brenda Traylen retired in July, she wasn’t yet prepared to become inactive, and loved her job on the Safer Neighbourhood Team so much, that she decided to return as a Special Constable. “As a special I have no paperwork, I can just go out and chat to people and make them feel safe”, says the woman who is averse to sitting at a computer desk all day.
No technology fan
In fact, computers is what pushed her into joining the Police in the first place! She was 42 at the time, and was working as a data technician for Wessex Water, when she realised the job was more about staying in the office than going out to collect data. She decided there and then to change careers, and happened to stumble upon an ad in the paper for police officers.While she admits she was quite half hearted about it at first, she soon changed her mind : “By the time the interview came I really wanted the job, I was stopping police officers in the street and asking them what it was like”. Although she had to go through extensive fitness test, “which at 42 is quite difficult”, she succeeded and became a Beat officer.
Brenda reveals one of the best sides of her job is seeing how people she has arrested in the past have become better behaved. She happily recalls a young lad, the “bane of her life” who she had dealt with on several occasions for public disorder. She came across him while she was on the watch at a nightclub on New Year’s eve, and she thought he was illegally trying to get in as he was only seventeen at the time. “He walked across the road as if he was going to go in, and he just came up to me and gave me a kiss and wished me a happy new year, and that was wonderful” she says proudly.
She has nonetheless had to deal with the sadder tasks her job entails, and recalls the day she had to wait for undertakers to come collect the body of a ten year old autistic girl who had died naturally. In these cases, she finds it hard to be like the detached police women she saw when she first arrived on the job “you need a release, if you become hard, there must be something inside that’s not right”.
"I cry for England"
Brenda says that officers often have this conversation, and that whilst some of them leave their feelings aside, she feels when an event changes someone’s life forever you cannot remain impassive, “having no husband at home I do think about these things and do indulge myself in a weep”.
Brenda doesn’t limit herself to her job however and, as Ian Frew, desk officer at the station puts it, she is “not your run of the mill officer, she does charity work and has a very caring attitude”. For as well as seeing to the safety of Christchurch people, she has been actively involved in charity for most of her life.
In 1998 and 1999, she cycled in the Israeli desert and rafted down the Zambezi to raise money foe Mind and Scope. Four years ago she was among the three out of seven who finished climbing mount Kilimandjaro, although it was no pleasure cruise “I’m quite proud I’ve done it now, but at the time I didn’t, I was like just take the photograph and let’s get out of here!”
And she readily admits that those extreme days are over, and now she’d rather go build schools in Africa, an activity she thinks is “very much appreciated and you feel good at the end of it, you don’t feel like death, like after Kilimandjaro”. She especially hopes to involve one of her three grandchildren in her trips, so they can teach African children to play rugby.
Going over her personal life, Brenda jokes that she had a good life because she was an independent woman, and that she was only married once but “ got rid of him a long time ago”. She can in fact be branded as a “free spirit”. Pregnant at sixteen, married at seventeen, and divorced just shy of her twentieth birthday, she managed to find a job and raise her child. “It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done, people didn’t do that in the sixties”, she realises. Although she had a little help from her parents, she remembers it “ being particularly hard, making a chicken last most of the week, but I did enjoy it”.
"The hardest thing ever"
And her daughter Jackee, now in her thirties, remembers she never missed on anything : “I think my mum did a fantastic job raising me in very difficult circumstances. Although money was extremely tight I can honestly say that I did not miss out on anything”.
But although Brenda prides herself on having a tight bond with her family, a shadow hovers over her. When she was just twenty-seven, she had to deal with the tragedy of losing her younger brother. He was only three years younger than her, and she admits it has hard: “Losing my brother was the worst thing ever, he committed suicide over a girl, it was the hardest thing ever . I do miss him, we were very close, we used to laugh and laugh”. Although she admits she felt very strange towards the girl in question, she has come to forgive her, and both women have remained in contact over the years.
However a happier mood was in order when Brenda took her family to London in 2004 when she received the Member of British Empire award for her services, by the Queen herself. And though Brenda relished the memory of meeting her Royal majesty, she has a particular moment she doesn’t want to forget “we had the most fantastic meal, and to see my mom get slightly inebriated was wonderful”.
But at the end of the day, the reward Brenda Traylen will no doubt treasure, is how her daughter sees her : “I am very proud of what my mother achieved in her life. She has done so much, and not just for herself, but an awful lot for others”.