Ambulance memoir.

  • 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 may find offensive.


Early 1980’s

Driving back to station after depositing a patient with non-specific abdominal pain at the hospital, we were enjoying the sunshine. In those days the doors of the vehicle were of the sliding variety and we had a hook which would keep the doors wide open. This was also the time before seatbelts were compulsory, so like most people, we didn’t wear them.

Wide open doors and no seatbelt could be interesting as you hurtled down the road and around sharp bends. Fortunately there were grab handles and these were regularly put to use. More than once did I miss as I felt myself leaning over to the left a little bit more than I should have done, resulting in a lot of swearing and a few strange and panicky looks from pedestrians. It’s not an everyday occurrence to see an ambulanceman hanging out of the door and desperately trying to grab hold of something tangible to stop being thrown out at sixty miles an hour or so.

I was working with Jim, another old hand, and we were merrily chatting away. Jim liked to smoke a pipe and it was practically a permanent fixture. Jim was driving and puffing away like an express train while I was in the passenger seat with a roll-up clamped between my teeth; the smoke billowing out of the doors and being carried away on the wind.

Smoking wasn’t prohibited on the vehicles at that time. Standing Orders allowed it under certain circumstances, and like most crews we stretched the rules to the limit.

The radio crackled to life. ‘Message from the Chief Office,’ intoned control to all the vehicles in the county.

Our ears pricked up. Something was amiss. The Chief very rarely had anything to do with crews and if he wanted to say something it normally went down through the ranks for us crews to ignore.

‘Would the crew currently driving past Hemel Hempstead railway station kindly extinguish their cigarettes and close their doors.’

Jim and I looked at each other. We then looked out of the vehicle; we had just driven past the railway station and it took a few seconds to realise that we were the recipient of this message. I looked at the radio and then back at Jim.

‘Bollocks to him,’ said Jim. ‘Anyway, I’m smoking a pipe. He’s on about you Clive!’

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