The battered sign over The Tally Ho! still illustrates the name in the old style: a pack of dogs leaping over a hedge onto a fox. But if the name and sign have lasted, the old boozer has not. Half of the chairs have been ripped out and a laminate floor put down for dancing, the bar is backlit in ice-blue, the backroom has a security pad, and if you asked one of the men clustered round the door what the pub name meant, they’d probably say it was some kind of gamey rent boy.
On any weekend night the interior of The Tally Ho! is a sweated box of foxes, but we never seem to get that far, thank goodness. For whatever reason, if any of the punters collapse in The Tally Ho!, somehow they always end up outside on the pavement before the ambulance gets there. Tonight there are two of them, a brace of middle-aged men dressed and pressed in leather jackets and jeans, stretched out nose to tail, face down and motionless on the pavement, their trainers glowing in the headlights of the ambulance. A spill of similarly dressed men clutch their drinks and offer conflicting advice from the doorway; as we kneel down to inspect the patients, the pub windows move in and out above us like speaker membranes.
‘Breathing, but GCS three,’ says Frank.
‘We’ll need another truck.’
‘Did anyone see them fall?’
A skinhead with boots up to his groin and a clip-on moustache takes a half step forwards and nervously gestures with his Beck’s bottle.
‘They slid off the chairs in there. I don’t think they hurt themselves, officer.’
His friend digs him in the ribs and he sways coquettishly.
With another ambulance just round the corner, airways secure and oxygen running, we put them in the recovery position and try to find out what they’ve taken. An extravagantly proportioned man as easy as the Jolly Green Giant made-over in GAP chinos and a white V-neck saunters across and peers down at my patient.
‘Do you know this guy?’ I ask him.
‘I know of him.’
‘What’s his name?’
‘I don’t know him that well.’
‘What’s he taken tonight?’
The man looks round, and as the second ambulance blues up the street towards us, he hands me down an Evian bottle with a little clear liquid in the bottom.
‘They’ve been drinking this,’ he says.
‘What is it? GHB?’
‘I wouldn’t know, mate. I found it on the floor. It’s definitely not spring water, though. Are they gonna be all right? That’s the second lot this week.’
‘We need to get them away as quickly as possible. Would you and your mates be all right to help us lift this one onto the trolley?’
‘I’m with you one hundred per cent.’
He immediately leans in and grabs the patient under the arms. The others round the door cheer.
‘Whoa! Whoa! Let’s get the trolley alongside first. I’ll say when.’
He backs off.
‘Right you are.’
The second crew come over.
‘What have we got here, then?’ says the attendant.
‘Special deal tonight,’ says Frank. ‘Buy one get one free.’
‘You guys,’ says the giant, hugging himself and swaying slightly in the spinning blue lights. ‘I just love all this shit.’