Tuesday 9 April 17:04
Just entering the water and testing my dive equipment…
Tuesday 19 March 14:39
Lack of Contact...
It’s been months since I have written a blog, there are reasons for this and there are fairly insignificant reasons why I decided to write one today.
Reasons why I haven’t written a blog for a long while:
As I have said before it’s just so busy here on the SSU. I need to juggle being an operational member of the team and the day to day running of the Unit which doesn’t leave much time for blog writing. When I have an idea of what I want to write about it usually doesn’t take long though as I’m quite quick at typing and some of them I do in my own time so I can only use that as half an excuse.
I want to write about subjects that I feel should be written about - some of you may judge me on what I find an inspiring subject if you have read some of my previous stuff but that’s the point of these isn’t it? You get to see a bit of the Sussex Police People as we really are - what makes us tick and sometimes you may not understand.
Another reason for finding it hard to blog is that certain local paper journalists read the SPP blogs and ring up the press office if you mention anything they may be able to get a story out of. Sadly, this has curtailed me being able to actively use Twitter, blogs and talk about lots of the stuff we go to - there are only so many times that you will be able to cope with the press office ringing you asking questions on behalf of a journalist when you’re at a scene in the thick of things and then regretting that you ever mentioned it - not to mention the upset this causes with the senior investigating officer who may not look favourably on the fact his or her operation has been referred to even though you took great care not to mention any specific details which could identify where you were working.
Why the return?
So, doughnuts and cakes (what else?!) are the reason for my return. Back in the beginning - when we did Sussex Police People Live I wrote a couple of articles about the experience and the reaction to it by the press. One thing noted in the Daily Telegraph by a journalist was our discussion of doughnuts and pastries during the live feed, he said the discussions were ‘banal and mundane’. This resulted in me writing a blog about this and there have been several more about baked goods since. My piece ‘Doughnuts and High Quality Pastries…’ discussed the significance of the ritual of doughnuts to us and the fact that you are either in or out with your understanding.
Rick was late today. We started at 7AM for a search commitment and he got the time wrong and thought we were in at 8AM. As the rest of us were in early we assumed Rick was having a prolonged visit to the toilet before his shift started (sorry to mention this but this is one of Rick’s characteristics that we know and love). We left for the search and rang Rick on the way. Rick arrived at the place we were searching an hour or so later having travelled by bus to our search location - naturally as he had made a mistake he had stopped by a well known bakers for the ‘punishment pastry purchase’. He was upset about being late anyway, but he described the shame of being in the bakers, in uniform, purchasing 8 apple turnovers feeling the knowing eyes of the bakery staff and queuing members of the public upon him because he had obviously committed a ‘doughnut offence’. I felt the only thing left to deal with Rick was a bit of public humiliation, hence mentioning his error in my blog - mean of me, I know, but he’s got to learn that he will never hear the last of it on a team like ours!
For anyone out there who is considering making a complaint that Rick has been late and has been purchasing apple turnovers which isn’t an effective use of tax-payers money, you can rest assured he will be more than making the time up at the end of the day. He is now sheepish and shame faced, £6.40 down and didn’t get a chance for his pre-shift ablutions which is more than punishment enough for today I think.
If any journalists from the well known local paper are reading this - today’s search was routine and nothing you would be interested in…
As for me - when I get time I’m going to compile all blogs and tweets with reference to doughnuts and high quality pastries and I’m going to email them all to the Telegraph journalist (if I can remember who he was).
As for you - I’ll do a more informative blog for you next time so you have both quality and a bit of quantity. I appreciate this one only falls into the latter category. Thank you for reading - as always!
Monday 17 December 17:59
Memories of a bakewell tart...
I went to a bakery today, as usual it was on the way home from a search when we were all starving and hadn’t eaten. The type of visit when you rush in and buy lots because you’re hungry and then can never eat it all. When we were inside at the counter Jonathan pointed to the cherry bakewells and said “This is the cherry bakewell shop”. “What do you mean?” I replied, “You know, the one when the man shot himself in the head”. It was then that I was transported back to a job we had gone to where a man had indeed taken his own life and we had to go and deal with it. I was there with such clear memories, of wearing a white SOCO suit to protect my uniform, sweating in the heat and doing what we needed to do. I could remember it in such fine detail. No matter how bad it was we got to a stage where we all needed to eat and Critch went to the bakery and got us cherry bakewell tarts. And then we carried on….
It’s a strange thing the associations we make with tragic jobs we go to - obviously I’m not alone in doing this as Jonathan had made the link as well. In the bakery this was recognised and we took a trip down memory lane and then nothing else was said. I’m not sure why I’m writing this in a blog except to work through some questions in my mind, after all - does anybody read my blog? If you do are you thinking this is too personal or unsavoury? Does it sound like I’m slightly unhinged and rambling?!! (I know I’m not by the way, unhinged that is, I may be rambling…). Also, is this what the media office envisaged when they asked me to become one of the Sussex Police People and tell the story of what it is like to do my job in my own words?
I remember my first attendance to a suicide. I was on late shift and it was years ago. I was just about to cook my microwave meal and the call came in. A person had been seen to jump from a viaduct, could we go, locate the body and flag down the ambulance and any witnesses? For some reason I ran out of the kitchen and jumped in the car with Darren (my colleague) still holding my mirowave meal. With limited options on what to do with it when Darren started driving at speed I shoved it in the glove box. The job was grim, I still remember it well. Afterwards my Moussaka remained uneaten and although I’d happily eat it now if presented with it I’ve never really eaten it since.
I suppose in our line of work such associations are inevitable. They are memories that you have from time to time when you have dealt with stuff in the past, it happens with places too sometimes where a river or other place links you to a particularly tragic job. We mention it and reminisce and then move on much like we do from day to day. My point is that ideally it would be better to associate cherry bakewells with a summer’s day picnic and other foods with the first romantic dinner you cooked your other half but really my life’s not like that.
We all have tough times and we work through them in our own way. For every challenging memory there are several hundred good ones and sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to have the perspective to see the happy and sad side to a cherry bakewell…
Friday 14 December 16:07
A snapshot of my week.
Just a quick note about this week as I’m due off in 26 minutes and still have loads left to do before I go. The week has gone by as fast as any other and soon I will be cycling home against the wind, doing my thinking on the way (unless the phone rings between now and then!).
My week started with a great meeting on Monday morning with some colleagues from the RNLI about how to share our knowledge and data about deaths in water to contribute to trying to prevent such tragedies occurring in the future.
Operationally this week, the SSU and I have searched; under a house in a confined space, in outbuildings on a plot of land, some vehicles, a river, a wooded area and an open area as well as a plot of land with lakes on. We have also done our three yearly sea survival recertification which involved a theory input and a practical session in the pool.
My week has ended this afternoon with another good meeting with the sergeant on the Hampshire Marine Unit about how we may be able to work more closely together to be more efficient and save money. I’m excited about the potential here, we are moving with the times and in this case change is good.
Most of the week has been a high point except for when I found that my boots leaked whilst searching a field filled with raw sewage and getting up at 0430AM on Wednesday for our search that day. The worst bit though? Having to see Rick in his tiny Speedos during the practical session of the sea survival course. No matter what I have to deal with in this job I just don’t get paid enough for that!!!
Here’s to a quiet weekend. I’m not (offically) on call this weekend and so am off to see my parents as I won’t see them at Christmas.
I hope your weekend is as peaceful as I’d like mine to be!
Wednesday 5 December 18:13
Change is good...
I haven’t done a blog for a while as I’ve just been so busy. Keeping up with operational duties and stuff inside the office is a juggling act at the best of times. Also it’s not always right for me to tweet or blog about jobs that we do -either out of sensitivity for family and friends or for confidentiality issues if it’s a crime job.
This week started off with us being called out to recover the body of a man who had drowned and it reminded me how tragic it is when we go to find a family’s loved one.
About this time last year I did a blog called Early Festive Greetings. My Mum (who used to read my blogs at the time) rang me up and told me it was miserable. No one likes to be told off by their Mum at aged 35 so I read it back to myself and decided actually she was right. I suppose any excuse that I may have is that at this time of year I become more reflective, the amount of body recoveries we do usually increases and this makes me a bit sad and eager to continue to do what I can to reduce such incidents.
I know I’m a small person - both in stature and significance (in the grand scheme of things!) but I’m a trier and I’m stubborn and this means I have not stopped thinking about and doing what I can to make some changes.
In 2009 I started a project about body recoveries from water which is still ongoing. This was aimed at identifying where bodies may end up if we know an entry point. It deals with the variables of the person themselves (like age, weight, height and clothing) and also the water conditions (flow, depth, temperature, obstructions etc..). The main aim is to reduce search time and get the body back for the next of kin as soon as possible but as I designed the form I entered some data fields which could be used to try and prevent incidents occurring in the future. I didn’t know quite how I would turn this data into public safety information at the time so it was a stroke of luck when some years later I had a chance telephone conversation with Kirsten (see The Start of Something Good?) who is a contributor on the National Water Safety Forum.
Since my recent initial meeting with Kirsten and the other agencies who contribute, I have given over all my data (collected so far) for entry onto the Water Incident Database and have established that I may be able to have access to the Database to add further incidents as they occur. I have been able to get an invitation to a National Police Dive and Marine meeting and I presented an argument there for the police nationally contributing to the Database and Forum (if they do not already do so), which will mean greater liaison and contributions from all concerned.
I’m excited to see how this all turns out. As usual I am full of optimism and am buoyed by meeting a bunch of people who want the same thing. Miserable blogs may not work at preventing accidents but there is always another way and I look forward to seeing how it all pans out…
Wednesday 5 December 17:14
The Kirby Morgan ‘Superlight 17’ helmet we wore in training - It was light enough when you finally got in the water!
Wednesday 5 December 09:00
Mail the SSU way and the end of an era
The time has come for Arf to retire. He joined this Unit in October 1989 and as far as the SSU is concerned he’s definitely been around the block a bit. Over the 23 years he’s been on the Unit he’s seen it turn from a part time dive Unit into a full time one in 1994 and then as new skills came on board the name was changed to the Specialist Search Unit. He’s developed extra skills in almost everything we do so we won’t just miss him as a person we’ll miss his vast experience.
From a personal point of view I’ll miss Arf a lot. He was one of the optimists on the Unit and gave me huge amounts of support when I joined as I knew nothing. He continued to support me until he left and always gave me good advice and had the best interests of the Unit at heart. If I was working away from the rest of the SSU or was having a challenging time Arf always checked to see if I was alright - he understood the pressures that we face.
When you leave the Police you have to give notification in writing of your departure, and of course you have a special form to fill out. The way that Arf delivered his form to me was typical of his sense of humour and life on the SSU:
I was on a dive looking for a weapon and like all our diving I had nil visibility. I had been diving for around an hour and was coming to the end of the jackstay near the bank when my hand touched something round and manmade. By the smoothness of the object I knew it was new and had not been in the water long and I was intrigued as I knew it wasn’t related to the item that we were looking for due to it’s age. I picked the item up and could feel that it was heavy and was probably made of tin. I tied a knot in the jackstay (to mark where I had left off) and swam along it to the bank where Critch, Arf and some of the others were and dropped the tin off on the bank. I then went back and finished my search.
On exiting the water Critch encouraged me to open the tin. On closer inspection I saw if was taped shut with a note ‘FAO Sgt Dennison-Wilkins’ on. Inside were some diving weights and a laminated form notifying me of Arf’s impending leaving date. How appropriate! I wouldn’t have expected Arf to have informed me via conventional means, one of the many ways in which he brought a smile to our faces.
I know that because of the person he is Arf will be happy and successful wherever he ends up after leaving our Unit.
I wish you all the best Arf and many thanks for all you did for the SSU and Sussex Police.
Saturday 13 October 15:10
A day in our week with Abu Dhabi Police
It’s 5.52 AM on Friday in UK and I’m sat in my room on my first day off in Abu Dhabi watching Ajazeera news on the television. It’s been nearly a week since we arrived (see ‘It’s work but not as I know it’ if you want to know how I came to be here)
We have already had one class of ten Abu Dhabi Female Police Officers and have completed day two of our second group of students. The Islamic Holy day is today so the weekend starts here, when we get back to work on Sunday we will complete the final day of the second course.
We are staying in a hotel in Downtown Abu Dhabi and this week our days have gone much like this: I get up at 6AM and have breakfast downstairs with Mel at 6.30. Because I’m a bit of a lightweight and found getting up hard with the time difference (I’m rubbish in the mornings anyway!), I sit in silence until I have had my first two cups of coffee and then Rashied a police officer from the Abu Dhabi Police comes to collect us in a plain car. The training centre is about 20 minutes away but although the infrastructure is great here it is still busy at that time in the morning so some days it takes longer. Coincidentally I started learning Arabic about 18 months ago so each day poor Rashied has been subjected to me speaking Arabic with him to get some practice, he is very accommodating and both him and Mel bear this kindly so I have learnt to say much more as a result.
The training centre is a modern building on a police complex, similar to our HQ at Lewes. It is marble and air conditioned inside and the classrooms are on the ground floor, Captain Khalifa’s office is upstairs. The facilities are the same as ours in the UK, we have chairs in a semi circle and Powerpoint with a smart board. We check in at the office which is opposite the classroom and see Peter, the trainer who helped get us here to assist the training department and Samar (our interpreter) and then we start at 8AM.
The ladies either wear a green police uniform and scarves to cover their hair or sometimes an abaya. Hardly any of the women speak English so we rely wholly on Samar, the interpretation is flawless so we always seem to interact easily. Both classes that we have had so far have been very proud to be taught by the British Police and they are really interested in learning from us and also in what our policing roles are like back in the UK.
Melanie and I deliver our person search input with theory and practical lessons and then we finish class at 1PM. We meet with Peter afterwards and then go and find Rashied who takes us back to our hotel where we eat lunch. In the afternoons we have been refining our lesson plans for the following day. Most days this week it has taken up to midnight to do this (with time out for dinner) but we’re hoping this will ease as time goes on and we’ll have more free time in the evening to get out and about.
Today is our first day off. We will go and visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and other sights - tomorrow Melanie and I plan to cycle along the Corniche (a sort of prom by the beach) although Melanie wants to rent a Go Kart instead as she’s worried she’ll fall off a bike - This I have to see!
Saturday 13 October 15:03
Outside the Abu Dhabi Police Training Centre with Rob, Melanie, Superintendent Hobbs, Captain Khalifa and Peter. Rob and Peter are trainers at the training centre and Captain Kahlifa is the boss there.
Saturday 6 October 19:42
It's work, but not as I know it.
I’ve written a few blogs from hotel rooms in the past. Usually I’m waiting for the glue to dry on my dive suit or preparing in other ways for my next day of work or training. Today is no different except that I am in Abu Dhabi.
A week ago, life was as normal and I was with the rest of the SSU getting over the Olympic and political party searching that we had been doing all summer, when suddenly a request was confirmed from the Abu Dhabi Police - Could the Police National Search Centre supply two female PolSA’s to deliver an input on counter terrorism security searching to female police officers in advance of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix? For cultural reasons the trainers here who are male can’t teach the female police officers what they need to know so they needed to hire in officers from elsewhere to do this role.
I was asked to a meeting at the Police National Search Centre where I met Mel, a PolSA from the British Transport Police who would be going with me and a few days later we were on a flight.
I think it’s a real honour that the Abu Dhabi Police regard British policing and training so highly that they have asked us to come and teach their staff. It’s an incredible opportunity to represent British Policing and Sussex Police and learn more about the culture here in Abu Dhabi.
Tomorrow is the first day of the first of three courses Mel and I will deliver, we will be here for two weeks. I will be able to tweet and blog from the Hotel room when I have done my work each day so I’ll keep you posted on how we get on. My uniform is pressed and paperwork ready and as I’m in a different time zone it’s time for bed.
Wednesday 5 September 13:12
Why I love Twitter
I had wanted a Twitter account for the SSU for ages and in preparation for getting the professional one I got my own account. As a result I entered into the World of social media with a bit of a start.
My Dad has hearing difficulties and what with this and busy lives we didn’t tend to use the phone that much, since we have been in contact on Twitter we have had nearly daily contact when before it was sparse. I have to spend long periods of time away from home or I’m at home on my own so I use Twitter to keep in contact with my Husband, family and friends - and the world in general. I would define my personal Twitter account as being like a room full of family, friends and like minded people (that I may not have met but would probably like if I did) and I can enter the room when I choose and can either sit in comfortable silence enjoying the company or initiate or join in a conversation at any time.
My expectations of the SSU Twitter account have been exceeded. I can link to our photos on Flickr, YouTube or my Blog so I can show what we’re doing in real time. Last night I got called out from home for a missing young man with autism called Oliver. I tweeted that I was en route to the office and within seconds I had messages relating to my call out from those of you in Sussex and one from my Deputy Chief Constable Giles York. It may seem like a small thing but to realise that people know what you’re doing and wish for things to go well is quite touching. Throughout the evening and into the night I tweeted details relating to Oliver which got retweeted and circulated throughout Sussex, my colleagues in other areas had real time updates without always having to go through the police system and members of our Twitter (and wider) community were looking out for Oliver all over Sussex. The fact that Oliver was missing was reported on local radio in record time and we had a sighting from a member of the public as a result of this exposure. I was amazed by the support we had in finding him.
After handing over to night shift and a few hours sleep I got up to find that Oliver was still missing. I initiated the press release through direct messaging the media office from home, I then sent the press release with Oliver’s photo out on Twitter. He was found this morning after sleeping outside all night. I can’t thank those of you who helped both in the practical sense and through moral support enough.
I use the hashtag ‘#TeamSussex’ sometimes. To me it signifies the fact that when you engage with us by traditional means or through social media and join with us to achieve one common objective you become part of our team. We all work together for our goal, whether it be to find a vulnerable missing person, to provide information that may help us prevent or detect crime or just to show support for doing the right thing.
It’s humbling to know we are not alone. We are strong and we have so much potential if we all continue to work together. I feel very proud to be part of what we have become and I’d like to thank you all for being part of Team Sussex.
Saturday 1 September 13:43
Special visitors at the Base. These Guys were going off to work at Shoreham Airshow and had got ready in our crew room…
Tuesday 28 August 14:19
The start of something good?
I was just wondering what would be a good topic for a blog (in the absence of being able to talk about the Olympics for the time being) when I had a phone call from a lady called Kirsten from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
in reply to some emails that we exchanged some time ago.
Kirsten works to prevent drownings and promote water safety, she sits on the National Water Safety Forum
I was really excited to hear from her as I’ve been recording data from our body recoveries in water for some time and have included information that could be used to make people safer near water.
On the SSU we go to body recovery jobs where we know that the death could have been prevented with a bit of care (see Early Festive Greetings
If I can do anything at all to help towards the reduction of deaths in water then I will do everything I can, it’s something I’m really passionate about.
I look forward to meeting Kirsten in the future and maybe colleagues from various other agencies like the RNLI
and the National Water Safety Forum.
I think of what a difference all of these people make with one main objective - to make people safer near the water and I hope that I may be able to contribute something so I can do my bit to help…
Tuesday 14 August 13:07
An arial shot taken by H900 of us diving and using the dredge pump at Cuckmere Haven.
Thursday 2 August 15:14
Social Media Silence…
It’s been a while since I have blogged or even tweeted. It’s been so busy here and we’ve been on Olympic deployments during which we’ve been told we can’t use social media. Rick has settled in very well and most of us have been away for one reason or another - it’s strange not to have the whole team here. I have a rest day in lieu for tomorrow because I worked eleven days in a row last week. Just enough to recharge my batteries for next week!
Our Olympic deployments have mainly been in Dorset at the sailing events, but we have also been to Surrey for the cycle race and Thames Valley. We have been doing diving security searching, marine security and general searching so our tasks are aimed at making sure designated areas are safe and secure. I’ve been to Portland for eight days already, Jonathan and Arf are there at the moment on marine patrol and later on in the month Critch, Moomin, Bret, Darran and I will be going down to do diving while Arf and Jon come back. Then (finally) Jon and Arf will go for their second stint. All of the swapping around means that we still have a capability here back in Sussex as Paul and Rick are here throughout.
This week we have done 3 premises searches - one for Brighton and Hove Division, one for West Sussex and one for the Paedophile Online Investigation Unit. We were called to search a rooftop in West Sussex using our rope access equipment and found a suspect hiding on the roof (who promptly got arrested) and evidence hidden on the roof, this will directly contribute to any conviction at court. We have attended the scene where a missing diver has been found on a beach and we have being involved in dealing with the kit and other evidence so we can analyse it and do an investigation on behalf of the coroner on why the diver lost their life. We have also managed to get some hours rope training in to reclassify everybody for another year (we do our training in house).
I’d like to do some blogs on what interests anybody that reads my posts most - I did tweet some time ago to see if there were any frequently asked questions but only had two responses. I’ve saved the two questions I did get to put into a future blog so if you have any more - about anything feel free to send them to me, via Twitter or Email (email@example.com) and I will include them in a future blog (if they are decent enough!).
As always, thanks for reading my blog…..
Saturday 14 July 19:45
Ready for diving in boots… on Flickr.
It’s been a really hectic few months - I’ve been away on annual leave as we have a leave embargo for the next few months and have been preparing for the Olympics. We are going away doing various duties, mainly at the sailing events in Dorset.
Since I last wrote a blog Rick has arrived on our Unit. He’s one of our part time divers but has been seconded to the SSU for the next few months to make us more resilient as we get taken off for specialist duties.
On his first day he arrived with a lemon drizzle cake (which he made himself) and a coffee machine which works on a timer. His popularity knows no bounds! Welcome Rick to the Team.
Monday 25 June 13:33
Our procedures: Premises searching
As I talk about premises searches on Twitter I thought I’d write a short piece on what we actually do when we’re called to these searches:
Most of our work is spontaneous and we never know what we will be required to do on a given day but normally searches of premises are an exception to this rule. This sort of activity will usually be planned and we know in advance what we’ll be doing. Initially we get called by an officer on the investigation team (this could be the intelligence unit, the Paedophile Online Investigation Team, CID, the Major Crime Branch or any other department) who is investigating some criminal activity at (or linked to) a premises and may have got a search warrant from the court. The reason for getting a warrant could be for drugs offences, or an evidential warrant to find evidence of other criminal activity. These warrants are quite specific and usually we have a list of things to look for from the investigating officer or a POLSA if they become involved.
We plan a start time with the investigating officer - this can involve us booking on duty at a time different to our usual start. On a typical day we arrive at the place our colleagues enter the house and speak to the occupants while we usually wait in the van. Once everything has been explained to any people inside the premises we move in to begin our search. Sometimes if the occupants are likely to be aggressive or if there are other factors which pose a risk to the officers doing the initial knock on the door we will go in support of them so we can assist if the situation escalates.
Once inside the premises we fall into our search procedures. The searching officers work in pairs and another officer takes on the role of exhibits officer. The exhibits officer fills out a search log booklet and allocates areas for each pair to search. It’s a very structured process and the exhibits officer keeps detailed notes of who searches what area and what is being seized, as items get seized they are sealed in bags by the searchers and taken to the exhibits officer who enters them into the search register.
It’s a lengthy process searching inside houses and other buildings. The time it will take depends on on how many belongings are in the space you’re searching and what you’re looking for. In a previous blog ‘Valuable Advice’ I wrote about when Darran and I spent 14 hours in a loft on one particular search (it was the same search where we had to deal with the snakes, see ‘A light hearted blog about animal encounters’). Once you have been allocated your search area, you enter the room with your search partner and work your way round it in different directions so you don’t hinder each other.
We appreciate how unsettling or upsetting it must be for the occupiers of the houses we search so we try to explain why we have to carry out the search and how we will go about it. Because of the way we deal with situations I can’t think of too many searches recently where the owner has caused us trouble. We are very respectful, often rooms are tidier when we leave than when we entered and if we need encounter any issues we speak to the occupier to see what the best way round them is.
Once we’ve completed the search we leave a record of what we have seized for the people at the address and the investigation officer makes sure they have a liaison point back at the police station. We collect up all of our search kit and the exhibits officer takes the seized items to book into the secure property storage at the police station. At the police station we do our evidential statements using the search log.
Because it takes so long to do one premises we would normally only do one place a day but have been known to do more and sometimes be part of an operation where several are done simultaneously. These searches are our ‘bread and butter’ searches and we only do these if there is not requirement for us to do specialist searches elsewhere. using us means the investigation team gets a quality search and they don’t have to provide their own resources to staff it. As you can imagine, demand is high so we’re never short of work which is a good thing. It takes a lot of patience and concentration to search premises and it’s not for everyone.
If you want to see what equipment we use you can take a look round our search van and at our search kit here
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Monday 25 June 09:42
The view from halfway up the mast at Kingstanding