Monday, May 28, 2012


Mrs Wilson is sitting on a Windsor chair in her kitchen, thoroughly and generously settled in a voluminous rose patterned skirt and a hand-knitted lime-green cardigan. Her arthritic hands rest on the handle of a bamboo walking stick she has planted defensively between her legs, the knees of which are as lumpen and bent out of shape as two great plaited loaves.
‘Oh here they are, the Seventh Cavalry,’ she says, rapping the stick twice on the floor, counting us in. ‘I said it was you and I wasn’t wrong was I, Cheryl? I said it’d be the ambulance. My goodness you were quick, though. I haven’t had time to get a thing ready. Not that there’s much to get ready. Is there, Cheryl? Cheryl’s very good, you know. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Well, I know exactly what I’d do without her. The answer is – Not Very Much. Look. She’s packing my bag. I make it a point never to go anywhere without a good book and some glasses to read them with. You can improvise the rest. What time is it? I seem to have been sitting here for approximately one thousand years.’
Cheryl smiles quietly, drifting around the margins of the room like a breed of domestic ghost. The objects she picks up seem to float in mid-air as she approaches, before silently disappearing into a cat-motif shopping bag.
‘Both pairs please, Cheryl,’ says Mrs Wilson. ‘One for reading, one for looking out on the world.’
Mrs Wilson’s silver hair gleams in the fall of light from a standard lamp. It’s like the hairdresser’s equivalent of a sampler – twists, braids, half a bun and a French plait, all in hair so fine it could be raw silk.
‘I like to talk so put your ear plugs in. And then of course when I’m anxious I talk even more. Cheryl will tell you. It’s this wretched knee, you see. Gave out on me when I got back from the club. I went down like the Titanic and was still crawling in to the kitchen to get to the blaming phone when Cheryl came by for her regular visit and came to my rescue. I’ve had enough, I really have. Just take me out and shoot me. I don’t mind. I’m a horse whose race has run.’
Cheryl appears at her shoulder and gives her a reassuring pat. Mrs Wilson lays her hand on top of Cheryl’s, and the moment passes.
‘Like I say, I love to chat. It’s just my nature. I was fifty years on the stage you know. Local Am Dram. They used to cast me as the maid or the woman in the shop, the comedy headmistress, that kind of thing. I absolutely loved it. Gave me a chance to show off a bit. Do you know what my favourite role was? Madame Arcati. Have you heard of her? Blythe Spirit? The Margaret Rutherford role? Absolutely loved it. Thirty years I was with that company. I’d be there now if it wasn’t for these blessed knees. I had a lovely job as a secretary in a solicitor’s office. So if you ever need your will doing, just give me a call. The thing was, though, they moved to these premises more in the centre of town, a lovely old building, but on the first floor, and really, getting up those stairs was like climbing the Matterhorn, and in the end I just couldn’t manage. So they let me go. It was a damned shame, because I loved that job – the shorthand, the typing, you know. Answering the phone. Chatting to people.’
Cheryl puts the cat bag by Mrs Wilson’s feet, and waits. 


jacksofbuxton said...

Mrs Wilson seems a quiet sort....

I wonder how many murderous plans for her Cheryl has made?

Spence said...

It was def like being on the set of an old Ealing black comedy. I can imagine Cheryl creeping up from behind, smiling sweetly whilst she wrapped a pearl necklace round her hands...

MetalDog said...

Give her a job on your call desk, she could take all the frequent flyer calls and talk their legs off instead of sending you lot around =)

Spence said...

That's an inspired idea, MD. Everyone wins - the Frequent Flyers get attention, Mrs Wilson gets an audience, and the crews get a break ;0)

Lisa said...

Hi Spence (sorry that's very casual, I feel like I know you!)

I've just spent the last few weeks reading your blog all the way back to the start, and I must say, it's absolutely brilliant.

I'm about to start training as an Ambulance Technician up here in Scotland and I can't wait to get stuck right in. Your blog gives a real sense of the situations you get into and a lovely insight into your patients.

I can only hope I can take some of the wisdom with me and apply it as I'm learning.

Lisa :)

Spence said...

Hi Lisa

So I think I must owe you approx 3 weeks time in lieu for that.

The very best of luck with your training - and welcome aboard the ambulance! For all the moans and gripes it's a great thing to do. There aren't many jobs where you turn up to work knowing you're there to offer solid, practical help to people in all manner of difficulties. Even if it's just a simple put back to bed, you're making a really significant contribution to someone's life, and that's a good feeling. Plus the inherent drama and interest of the work.

Even nights have their up-sides (can't think what for the moment - something about the moon, maybe?)

Thanks for reading, and the comment


Lisa said...

Haha don't worry! I thoroughly enjoyed the reading material :)

Thank you! I'm really looking forward to it and can't wait to finish up with my current job. I think one of the many things I wanted from a job was something that was different every day, and that challenged me. I love working with people and just think it's a good fit for me. I don't think I'm squeamish at all, but I may be proven wrong...I'm sure I will get used to it!

Really relate to what you say about making a contribution, I just really want to do something that makes a difference! The monotony of my current job was really getting to me!


Spence said...

One of the things that strikes you about the ambulance service is the variety of jobs people had when they came to it. It's one of those cliche questions you try to avoid asking when you first work with someone (but find it impossible to resist...) 'So what did you do before the ambulance?'. We've got Cabin Crew, Photographers, Plumbers, Gardeners, Teachers, Managers, Divers ... a motley bunch ;)

Best of luck, Lisa. You'll be fine.

Lisa said...

Haha sounds like a good mix! I'm currently working with Scottish Television, so about as far removed from the ambulance service as you can get! It's not as exciting as it sounds though, I have one of the more boring jobs!

I think it's good to have a mix though, and I like that you don't have to have a medical background...I don't think that would neccessarily make you better at it anyway, I think one of the most important qualities would be that you like working with people, and that you're friendly and personable. Judging by your posts a large part of the job is managing people's emotions so I think that's important!

Thanks again, who knows I may even have a blog of my own one day :) (ahem, I need to get through my training first though!)

Spence said...

Scottish TV does sound pretty glamorous, but then so does the ambulance, to a lot of people! The reality is somewhat different, of course - but still good, though.

Def true that a large part of it is people skills. It's a very practical job, and one that builds with experience. Like I say, good luck with the training. I look forward to reading all about it some day. :)

VM Sehy Photography said...

I think I'd like working for Mrs. Wilson. I love to listen to people tell stories, and I'm terrible at holding up my end of the conversation. I imagine it might get frustrating to get a word in edgewise. Seems like she appreciates Cheryl, though. Where it gets tough is working for someone who doesn't appreciate all you do for them or may even be mean. I couldn't handle that.

I do love her two pairs of glasses. I've got the same thing going on. I call them my pair I read with and my pair I can see with. However, I think I'll change the later to my pair I look out onto the world with. Has a more noble sound to it.

Spence said...

Hi VMSP (and sorry for the delay in posting your comment - only just got back from a trip).
Glasses-wise, I've been doing this weird thing where I only have one contact lens in (saves having to use reading glasses if I have both in). It's funny how you get used to it! *crash*