Monday, May 29, 2006
I knock at number forty-two. After a couple of minutes an image of Mrs Dillon comes slowly together behind a frosted glass door. 'Just a minute, love' she says - and then dissolves again without explanation. I'm already late, and spend the time looking from my watch to the ambulance to my watch - and then to the flowers in her tatty front garden, trying to relax. After a long five minutes her image re-assembles and the door slowly opens.
'Ambulance,' I say, unnecessarily.
Mrs Dillon stands frowning at me. She is dressed like an amateur actor, having overdone the character details with a cliché headscarf, thick-lensed glasses, overcoat and a filter cigarette which she snaps away into the privet. 'You're late. I phoned to see what had happened. I didn't know whether it had been cancelled or what.'
'Sorry. I'm a bit behind.'
'I suppose it can't be helped.' She slams the door shut. 'Let's go, then' she adds, as if I might want to do anything else.
This is an area I don't know well, so when I've picked up the second patient - a politely flirty woman with a leg that won't bend, and helped her to her seat, I ask them both if they could direct me back to the main road without going via the busy High Street, to save time.
'Of course' says Mrs Dillon 'I've lived here twenty three years. I could do it blindfold. Straight over the bridge and then left at the mini-roundabout. We'll go through the forest, that's probably the best way.'
'Don't forget that I don't know this area at all. So I'm relying on you to tell me where to go.'
'Just carry straight on. I'll set you right.'
Twenty minutes later we're driving through the Forest, over the speed limit to make up time, but there's only so much you can do with the roads so twisty and obscured, and the threat of deer.
'Keep on through here, then you go left and right.'
Eventually we come to a main road. There are no directions from the back, so I'm forced to ask: 'Where now? Left or right?'
'I don't know' she says 'I've not come this way before. Why don't you look at your map book?'
There's a long queue of traffic behind me.
'I thought you knew the way.'
'Well, I do - but not from this direction.'
Horrified, I turn right, and then pull over as soon as I can. The map book shows me that we're heading completely the wrong way, so I work out what to do and make the correction. I can hear Mrs Dillon telling the other patient how the hospital car drivers never get it wrong - they always know where they're going.
On the return journey, she swears at me when I refuse to drop her in town to do her shopping.
'I didn't want an ambulance in the first place,' she says.