Saturday, January 08, 2011


The housing estate feels so desolate it may as well be swept by searchlights. What light there is – from the hundreds of tiny halogen dots marking out the landings and aerial walkways; the rows upon rows of dimly lit windows or darker, curtainless rooms flickering grey and blue by the TV; the emergency lighting globes guarding the stairwells, and the hard spikes of orange light thrown down from the street lamps – all these things join together, point through point, like a pattern of lines on a star chart: sink estate, in the Constellation of Despair.
‘Over there.’
Frank pulls the ambulance to the side. Over on a patch of grass between two buildings, a figure sprawled, another standing over him, on the phone. We hurry up the steep bank towards them.
‘What’s happened?’
‘What d’you think? He’s had the shit kicked out of him. I didn’t see nothing.’
The man on the floor is unconscious, breathing with the stertorous rattle of the deeply unconscious. The side of his face is grossly misshapen, both eyes swollen shut; his right arm is bent mid-humerus, and his legs splayed. Despite the freezing night, he is only wearing a t-shirt and jeans, his trainers torn off and thrown against the wall. His body is profoundly cold to the touch.
‘We’ll need back-up, Frank. Can you get that running, and bring up the spinal board and stuff?’
Frank strides back down the bank, talking into his radio.
‘What’s your friend’s name?’
‘He ain’t no friend.’
‘Do you know what his name is?’
‘And what’s your name?’
The man smiles.
‘Er – let’s say Bill. Yeah. Bill.’
‘Bill – Thanks for calling us. We’re going to need your help.’
‘Sure. Whatever. I don’t care what I do. Not like those cunts up there,’ he says, thumbing the air behind him. ‘They couldn’t give a shit. Leave him, they said.’
‘Bill – You did the right thing. I don’t care what you have or haven’t done tonight. How you help us now is all that matters.’
He points the phone at the figure on the ground. It looks as if he’s about to take a picture.
‘Bill – you can put your phone away now. Frank’s coming up with the stuff and we’re going to need you to help us get Stu packaged up double quick. Is that okay?’
‘Yeah, man. Hey - this is good.’
Frank drops the gear next to us.
‘They haven’t got anyone to back us up. We’re on our own.’
‘Police should be here any minute.’
Bill straightens up.
‘Whoa! What d’you mean, the police?’
‘It’s an assault, Bill. They have to come.’
He hesitates, looks back up to one of the flats, then out along the road. For a second I think he’s winding himself up to run, but he relaxes again and squats down beside Stu.
‘Whatever,’ he says.


BB said...

Unbelievable. Everybody is just looking out for themselves. Hopefully Stu was ok after this.

samrad said...

good for him - did he stay?

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

great tale, keep ‘em comin’.

R said...

Good lad, Bill.

Hope your patient was OK in the end - can you enlist coppers to help if you need to, and avoid calling out or waiting for a second crew?

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

I don't like to speculate on what that guy is involved in, but good for him for sticking around and doing the right thing.

Alexia said...

I am always hugely impressed by the way you talk to the people you're dealing with, Spence, whether patients or bystanders. I know you must have training etc, but your underlying humanity just shines through.

Did he survive, I wonder?

Spence Kennedy said...

BB - It was a cold situation in more ways than one. The only spark of warmth was the fact that 'Bill' decided to call 999 and stay with the guy. But he'd been down an hour or so. Still poorly, I'm afraid.

samrad - Not with us. He ended up being interviewed by the police.

LHO - Yep! It's like keeping a diary :)

becca - We always use police if they're around. But Stu was so dangerously ill, and back-up would've been way too long, we just had to go with whatever and whoever we had. Luckily the hospital wasn't far away.

HKT - Me too! He was def a dodgy geezer - and who knows exactly what his involvement was - but at least he had enough of a conscience to help in the end.

alexia - I def think in the ambulance you need to be able to do at least 3 things : talk, listen and drive! (Not sure about the order, though. Prob drive first).


Thanks v much for all your comments :)

Jane Brideson said...

Your description "sink estate, in the Constellation of Despair' is brilliant - I could see it all through your eyes so clearly.
I hope Stu makes a full recovery and as you say Bill at least had the humanity to stick round.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Jane.
Even though I found the whole scene quite shocking in its brutality, there was some hope in the fact that 'Bill' came down to help, despite all the pressure there must have been on him to do nothing.

jacksofbuxton said...

At least he stayed and helped a little.

Half way out of the darkness?

Beautiful piece as ever Spence.

"breathing with the stertorous rattle of the deeply unconscious"

Very Thomas Hardy.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks JoB. Yeah - maybe he's emerging!
Thom Hardy does Casualty. I wonder what he'd have made of it today - huge delays at handover, queues of people - as chaotic as a livestock market... :/

Unknown said...

Well written and very brave of you. I would have spent quite a bit of my time looking over my shoulder until the police arrived.

Very scary.

Tiffany Jewelry said...

So, whatever your misfortunes, you should endeavour to stay busy and bear in mind that everyone gets another opportunity or two if they keep trying.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Nari.
I suppose it's like a lot of these things - scarier in retrospect. At the time, you're so focused on moving the job along that you have to make a decision about the threat level and go with that.

TJ - I suppose so. No-one can say you've failed until you've actually given up. There's always room for improvement (and redemption).

The Real Housewife of Greensboro said...

It makes me wonder if he was robbed and they stole his clothes and that's why he was so underdressed. It may explain why they just wanted to leave him there. Also I noticed in a comment that you said he dialed 999. It that the emergency # over there because it's 911 here?

Spence Kennedy said...

RHG - Could be. I'm sure the police will be following that up.
Yeah - 999 is the no. we call here. In some parts of the UK they're trialling a non-emergency 111 number, but it's not nationwide yet.