The girl behind the desk looked up at me as I stood in front of her. I handed over the reference number as she invited me to take a seat and then she disappeared into the depths of the office in order to look for the master copy of the job I was interested in. A short while later she came back with a frown on her face. She sat down and looked at me again, looked at the card in her hand and regarded me a second time.
‘The ambulance service?’ she asked.
‘Hmmm!’ she hummed.
I was regarded for a third time as if she was weighing up my suitability. I could see what she was thinking, she was imagining a situation where she might need to call on the service, and being in that situation wondering what it would be like to have me come to her aid. The look said it all. I was obviously found wanting.
‘Are you sure?’
I nodded again.
She sighed. ‘Okay, I’ll give them a ring for you. You don’t have any O levels do you?’
‘No,’ I agreed.
‘They like O levels as a rule, but we’ll see what they have to say.’
That didn’t bode well.
She rang the number anyway and spoke to someone on the other end. For some reason I was feeling a little nervous as she discussed me with the invisible person, she chuckled a little and shook her head as she said ‘No.’ I could only imaging that the O level situation had been broached. A bit more conversation with a few more shakes of the head and then she looked at me. ‘Are you free for an interview next Tuesday?’ she said, somewhat surprised.
An interview? I thought. Already? ‘Er...yes,’ I replied, my voice a little strained. ‘No problem.’
She hung up and began to scribble down on a piece of paper. ‘This is the address, nine thirty on Tuesday morning, try not to be late.’ For the first time her face softened and something like a smile found its way to her lips. ‘Good luck, I hope it all goes well for you.’
I thanked her profusely and left the office. An interview arranged and I had only asked about the job a few minutes earlier. The weather was wet, it was a cold miserable November day and I got soaked as I walked back to my car....an omen perhaps?
The interview was to take place at St Albans station, and I was to be interviewed by the district superintendent. There was also a driving assessment to take place, presumably to see if I could negotiate my way through the streets without banging into things. Suited and booted I arrived with time to spare; I waited in my car for a few minutes, checking my watch every minute or so until the appointed hour. The ambulance and the fire service shared premises and there was a lot of activity as the firemen were playing at putting out fires, I watched for a bit and then made my way to the front door. Inside I rang the bell and waited. A fireman came through and I explained why I was there, he gave me a look of sympathy and then disappeared back into the building. Shortly another man came through and introduced himself as the superintendent who was to interview me. He smiled, we shook hands, and then he guided me through the corridors to a little office on the far side of the building.
I sat down and we went through my employment history and he then told me a little about the service, we chatted away for a few minutes and then he asked me why I wanted to join. I couldn’t tell him that it was only going to be a stop-gap until I found something decent to do, so I just said the first thing that came into my head.
‘I’m still not sure I do want to join, I’m here to find out a little bit more about it; but from what I’ve heard so far it’s certainly making me more interested.’
I suppose he was used to most people saying that they want to give something back to the community, or help people, or, as I was reliably informed later, that they wanted to drive around with the sirens and the blue lights on! (They didn’t get the job) so maybe I had come up with a new one for him as he seemed quite satisfied with my response. He stood up and indicated that it was now time to see if I could drive.
We went through to the appliance room where all the vehicles were parked up. The room was divided down the middle; one half was filled with big red fire engines, while the ambulances filled up the other. He picked a day vehicle, basically a mini-bus with ambulance painted on the side that was used to take people to out-patient appointments. Unfortunately there were a few blue light vehicles parked in front of it. He then started moving vehicles around in order to extricate the one he wanted. I soon found that he had an audience as I turned around to find three or four ambulance staff standing around and watching him, they were grinning, and then helped him along with a few choice comments, one suggestion being that he should have sorted it all out earlier. I noticed that no-one came over to help. Eventually we hit the streets with him still swearing and me trying to sink as deep into the seat as was humanly possible. Fortunately the drive went without mishap and as I relaxed that he told me that he had moved the one I was to use first thing in the morning, but as soon as he was out of sight the staff decided to re-arrange everything for him. He couldn’t say a word to them seeing as I was standing there, but he warned me that “things had a tendency to happen” within the service.
Eventually he told me to return to the station, and as we were pulling up he told me to park in the middle of the yard. He then asked me to take the key out and hand it over. He was grinning as he stuffed it into his pocket and strode across to the small crew room with me following hard on his heels, he poked his head through the door and then tossed the key to one of the two crews sitting there who were drinking tea and playing cards.
‘Park that up for me,’ he said. ‘Needs to go right to the back as it won’t be needed for a while.’
I looked over and immediately recognised that having pips on your shoulder could come in very handy sometimes, it seemed that they would be moving vehicles around for the rest of the morning.
A few days later I received a letter asking me to attend a medical, which despite my lack of fitness I passed with flying colours, a few days after that I got another letter, this time telling me that I was required to attend the ambulance HQ for a three week induction course. It was to commence in January 1981, and was to be the start of my ambulance service career.