Monday 30 September 2013

First job.

  • I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity and privacy I've changed the names of individuals and sometimes places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics, so the people described do not necessarily reflect the actual person or persons involved. Incidents and situations are as I recall.
  • Swearing happens. I have used, and will use, some words that some people might find offensive.

The year is 1981

One thing about working on an ambulance at Berkhampstead in the early eighties was that it couldn’t be said to be busy. My first morning in my new job saw me drinking tea, smoking and pacing around the station, ostensibly to find my way around. However, Berko was a small station, so it didn’t take very long. On a Sunday there was just one crew on, and we were it, the seven to three crew.

 We worked a three shift pattern; seven in the morning until three in the afternoon, then three until eleven at night, and then the night shift, which was from eleven to seven in the morning, doing each eight hour shift for seven days in a row.

Matt spent most of the morning asleep, while I was still too twitchy to even think about closing my eyes. There was no morning telly in those days, so the box sat idle in the corner. I picked up my book, read a little and then put it back down again. Stupidly I left my lunch box at home as I was thinking about what my day would entail and walked out forgetting to pick it up. I was hungry but had nothing to eat.

Matt continued to snore until a sharp piercing ring rang through the station. I jumped. It was the red phone! I leapt up and went through to the office as Matt was still groggy from sleep. Normally the attendant answered the phone while the driver made the tea, but he sort of waved a floppy arm and mumbled that I should answer it.

‘Hello, Berko,’ I said tremulously.

‘ ‘allo Berko, is that Clive?’


‘Not done a lot this morning, ‘ave you?’


‘Never mind. Seeing that you’ve ‘ad a good sleep, you may as well ‘ave a dinner as well. Time for break.’
‘Oh, right. Thanks.’

I put the phone down and went back to the crew room. Matt looked up with a questioning eyebrow.

‘They said it’s time for break.’

‘Oh good,’ came the reply.

Immediately he began to rummage in his bag and brought out a box of sandwiches. I looked on slightly enviously as mine were still sitting on the table back home. It was only another three hours, so I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to wait a little longer.

Matt was munching through his sandwiches and chatting at the same time, I began to learn a little bit more about the station and the service as a whole when the phone rang again. Matt sort of gave a yelp of delight and jumped up to answer. The delight was because if you got a spoiled meal break, you got money for having the break interrupted. I could hear a few yes’s and righteo’s and then I heard the phone hit the cradle.

‘We got a red call,’ he called out, and then came through clutching a piece of paper. ‘Collapse, sudden illness. Not too far, just around the corner really.’

My heart began to race and already I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my system. I hoped I would get used to all this as if this happened every time the phone rang I would be knackered by the end of the day.
I jumped into the driver’s seat while Matt pulled the appliance room door open. I drove out and waited as he closed it. He then jumped in and gave me the address.

‘Er...Where’s that?’

Matt was very patient. ‘Do a right down Castle Street, I’ll guide you the rest of the way.’

I switched the headlights on and pulled the switch to turn on the blue lights. I put the motor into gear, released the clutch and then we sort of kangerooed across the yard. The clutch was a bit fierce. I jumped on the brake and brought the vehicle to a stop. I grinned an apology and then tried again, this time managing to drive the bloody thing properly.

We had the address, but details of the job were scant. Just a collapse/sudden illness, which in reality could mean anything. Matt guided me through the streets to a very well-to-do road with big modern detached houses. He checked the address and we pulled up outside. We got out and started to walk to the front door. Matt turned around and looked at the vehicle.

‘I think it might be a good idea to turn them off.’ He pointed to the roof where the blue lights were still revolving; I’d forgotten to turn them off. ‘I don’t think we’re going to need them here.’

Sheepishly I turned around and went back, switched the blue lights off, and then the headlights, as I had left them on as well, and hurried back just as the front door opened.

A well dressed middle aged woman stood there looking worried and upset.

‘Oh God, I’m glad you’re here. He’s in the front room.’

‘What’s the problem?’ asked Matt.

‘It’s my husband. He’s a diabetic.’

She showed us into the front room and there was a smart middle aged man sitting on the sofa. He was twitchy and looked up at us.

‘I think he needs some sugar,’ said the woman.

Matt nodded. ‘Have you tried a strip?’ he asked.

There were only a few glucometers around in those days, though patients did have impregnated strips which turned colour when blood was applied. You then matched the colour against a card to determine whether the patient was hypoglycaemic.  Nowadays, all crews have glucometers and are able to either inject with Glucagon or are able to put up glucose drips, but then.....nothing!

She shook her head. ‘No, I tried but he wouldn’t let me.’

‘Ok, let us try,’ said Matt. ‘Have you got the stuff there?’

She nodded and then handed over the kit she had. He turned his attention to the patient. ‘Hello sir, we’re here to help. We just want a little pinprick of blood.’ He went to grab hold of his hand but the patient pulled it away.

‘Fuck off!’ he yelled, flailing an arm at Matt.

Matt ducked and tried to grab the arm as it whizzed past his ear. ‘Grab hold of the other arm Clive,’ he said to me.

I did as was told and grabbed hold, pinning his arm to his side. The patient turned to look at me. ‘Fuck off!’ he yelled into my face, and then the arm that Matt was trying to catch came flying towards me. I tried to duck and move out of the way, but I was too slow. The fist came round and smacked me in the side of the head.

I saw stars for a few seconds. ‘What the ....?’ I went to yell, as a kind of reflex; then I remembered where I was and what I was meant to be doing.

‘Now, now. There’s no need for that sir,’ says Matt calmly. ‘You alright Clive?’ he added to me, a little smirk playing at his lips.

‘Yes,’ I said, my ear still ringing from the punch.

‘I think we are just going to have to get some sugar in him,’ he turned to the woman. ‘Have you got some jam, not diabetic jam though?’

‘Yes,’ says the woman and she rushed off to the kitchen while Matt and I struggled to keep hold of the patient. He was strong and extremely aggressive. The language became courser and he continued to try to hit and kick out, when that failed he started to spit at us. It wasn’t the patients fault, hypoglycaemia can do that to people, but it felt like we were on the wrong end of a serious assault. The patient fought harder and I received another punch, but this time in the chest. Somehow Matt had avoided being hit, but I had copped it twice so far!

The woman returned with a jar and a spoon and handed it over. 

Matt held dug the spoon into the jam and then held it up to the patient’s lips. ‘Eat this,’ he ordered.

To my surprise the man did as was asked and opened his mouth. The man swallowed and Matt dug the spoon into the jam once more. As he ate the patient began to relax, the sugar beginning to get into his system.

Eventually we let go of him and his wife produced a Mars bar. The patient ate it greedily, and as he did so his demeanour changed dramatically. Jam was everywhere; on the patient, on us, on the sofa, on the carpet. I even saw some on the curtain. I took a quick glance at my watch; we had been inside the house for over half an hour.

‘Did I go hypo?’ he asked apologetically.

Matt nodded. ‘Yes sir, but you’re alright now.’

‘Did I hurt anyone?’

‘Not at all,’ replied Matt, giving me a quick look. ‘Not at all.’

The patient looked at me. ‘Are you sure?’

‘No problem,’ I said, knowing I was going to have a few bruises come out later. ‘You were no trouble at all.’

Wednesday 25 September 2013

A French fancy - a review of One Summer in France by Bev Spicer

Bev and Carol are off to France. A break from their student days takes them across the water to inflict their own personality on our gallic neighbours. One Summer in France is a delightful memoir full of charm and humour. The writing reminds me very much of Spike Milligan (not that she was in a war, but we are talking about France here.) insomuch as the narrative paints a vivid picture and is full of well timed punchlines and one-liners. A lovely little romp which deserves a good deal more exposure - rather like Bev and Carol’s foray to the nudist beach!

Suggest best read with a chilled bottle of Chablis and a bag of chips wrapped in newspaper.

One Summer in France (prequel to 'Bunny on a Bike')

Tuesday 24 September 2013

It begins

  • I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity and privacy I've changed the names of individuals and sometimes places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics, so the people described do not necessarily reflect the actual person or persons involved. Incidents and situations are as I recall.
  • Emergency workers swear. I have used, and will use, some words that some people might find offensive.


Regional school ended in a flurry of exams and a party. Everyone passed, so everyone got hammered. It was a fitting end to six weeks of study.

Around the corner reality would bite into some of us pretty deep, as however true to life the school tried to make the various mock situations, it was no substitution for the real thing. Nice sterile conditions with plenty of fake blood and plastic bones, together with a patient who was trying their best not to burst out laughing were not how things would be once we were let loose on an unsuspecting public.

Sunday morning, 0700 hrs, my first shift begins.

It was dark, cold and drizzly as I walked up tentatively to the front door. Juggling my kit I pulled it open and stepped inside, I had crossed the threshold and there was no turning back now. It was warm inside with the heating going full blast. There were three people sitting on old arm-chairs with four steaming mugs of tea placed on the table. With a jolt of comprehension I realised that one of them was for me.

‘You decided to turn up then,’ said Maurice, grinning broadly. ‘We were wondering if you’d changed your mind.’

‘No, I’m not late am I?’ I replied. Worried that I had misread the time I should be starting. I gave the clock on the wall a quick glance, five to seven, five minutes early.

‘Not exactly late, but we all try and get in fifteen minutes before the shift begins, just in case a late job comes in.’

‘Oh, sorry.’

‘Never mind, you’ll know for tomorrow now, won’t you. That’s if you decide to come back of course. Tea’s on the table.’

I nodded and smiled nervously. ‘Er, yes. Um, thanks.’

I wasn’t sure I liked the “If you decide to come back” comment, what did that bode? And fifteen minutes? How many hours of overtime would that work out to over the years? Overtime that I wouldn’t get paid - ever.
I knew the name of my crewmate, but I hadn’t met him before. Matt held out a hand and then indicated a seat; he was in his forties with a thick mane of greying hair. ‘Don’t worry; it’ll take a bit of time to get used to the ways of the station. We all try and help each other out.’

‘Well, some of us do,’ interjected Maurice, enigmatically.

Matt smiled. ‘Well, yes. Alright, most of us try to help each other.’

Maurice seemed pleased with that response, so I could only assume that someone on the station wasn’t quite so keen to help out. Neither of them enlightened me, so I would have to find out for myself to whom they were alluding to.

The clocked ticked over and the big hand hit seven. Straight away Maurice and Denny stood up and went through to the vehicle to take their gear off. This meant that it was now my turn to play at being an ambulanceman.

Two minutes past seven the phone rang. My heart missed a beat and I froze in putting my kit on the vehicle. The ringing was cut off and I could hear Matt on the end of the phone, there was an extension in the appliance room, he laughed, and then he spoke quietly so I couldn’t hear. Matt turned and saw my face. I can only imagine that the colour had drained completely out of it.

‘They’re just checking we’re here, it’s not a job. What do you want to do, drive or attend?’

I sort of shrugged non-committedly as I took a deep breath and felt my heart began to work properly again.

‘You can drive in that case. Don’t panic, I’ll break you in gently.’

Thursday 5 September 2013

Regional school

  • I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity and privacy I've changed the names of individuals and sometimes places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics, so the people described do not necessarily reflect the actual person or persons involved. Incidents and situations are as I recall.
  • Emergency workers swear. I have used, and will use, some words that some people might find offensive.


Regional training school came around rapidly and soon I was trundling off to Surrey. I shared my car with one of my colleagues and we were swopping stories as we drove down. It turned out that he had a little bit more to do during his riding out week, but he was at a main station whereas I was at a satellite. The difference was that where I was still optimistic, he looked a bit like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. The reality was that there was going to be more to this lark than either of us realised.

We were billeted in the nurses home of the local cottage hospital. It was somewhat run down, but it did have the advantage of having a canteen where we could buy cheap food. The training school itself was a couple of miles away and, after the first day, transport was arranged so that we didn’t all block up the car park.

There were twenty eight of us, all from differing counties.

The format was similar to the induction course that we had all just negotiated, the difference being now that it was much more involved in the emergency side of things. The instructors were seasoned and experienced and all of us quickly gelled as a group.

Alcohol played not a small part in this. We quickly came to the conclusion that sitting in a tiny little room of an evening and reading course books was perhaps not ideally suited to rest and relaxation. The pub pretty quickly became an extended part of the training school.

Mock situations came thick and fast throughout our time there. We all had a good grounding in the theory side from the induction course, so it was just a matter now of hammering it all home and to prepare us for what we might encounter out on the road. It was quite hectic.

At one point we all piled into mini-buses and travelled down to an airport. There was a plane used by airport staff for training purposes and now it was our turn. We took it in turns to arrange and supervise evacuations from every part of the plane. I can remember standing on the wing in the freezing cold and thinking ‘How did I get into this?’ as I stood looking down at the ground. It turned out that the hardest place to get someone out of in an aeroplane was the pilot’s seat, the cramped space and hundreds of dials and switches kept getting in the way and proved a real pain in the proverbial. But it was fun nevertheless and if it taught us one thing, it taught us never to become pilots.

Another time a road traffic accident was mocked up, cars were piled into each other with one turned over. A group of us students were picked out to be the patients and scattered in and out of the cars in a random fashion. A lone crew was at first dispatched and had to “arrive at scene and report”. They had to triage and then sort the casualties out in order of priority. This was all done in real time, so once they had done their initial reporting they had to wait for back-up.

I had been ejected from a car and was suffering from a head injury. Pinned to my jacket were my signs and symptoms, as were all the “unconscious and deceased patients”. One of my colleagues was stuffed into the back of the upturned car, supposedly dead. Unfortunately, for him, he was a low priority and as things got into swing he was largely forgotten by the “crews” around, although a few of us close by kept up a bit of conversation. After a while it became apparent that Chris had gone very quiet - too quiet.
My sense of smell is not one of the best, but one of the other “casualties” had a pretty good sense of smell.

‘Do you smell petrol?’ she asked. ‘Only it seems quite strong now.’

We all sniffed.

‘Oh yes, that’s definitely petrol,’ said the broken leg to my left. ‘Where’s it coming from?’

‘Chris, can you smell it?’ I asked.

No reply.

We looked into the car and there was Chris laying on the roof in the back and not moving.

‘Oh fuck!’ cried the instructor, and ran towards the car.

The exercise has now taken on a new dimension as Chris was laying comatosed in the back of the upturned car. Petrol has leaked out and the fumes in the cramped and airless conditions had rendered him unconscious.

The door was wrenched open and all of us “casualties” leapt up to help, all of us instantly cured. Chris was dragged out of the car and an oxygen cylinder was rushed over, quickly the mask was strapped to his face and the cylinder turned on. We waited while a stretcher was brought over and a vehicle readied for the real emergency, the mock incident now all but forgotten. 

Chris began to stir. He was pale and his breathing was rapid. We made notes. Somebody leant forward to his jacket and took the bit of paper that said “deceased” written on it. A couple of minutes later the bit of paper was pinned back, it said “Was dead, but now just nearly dead”. The instructor wasn’t amused, especially when Chris regained consciousness and vomited.

A doctor gave Chris the all clear and normality resumed. He was left with a bit of a headache, but that didn’t matter as he gave us all a nice bit of entertainment. 

The ambulance service - a kind and caring profession!

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