Thursday, October 30, 2014

the stone angel

Working nights. Everyone knows it’s bad for you.
Bad for your digestion. Bad for your heart. Bad for your soul.
Especially around three or four in the morning. Anything still awake around four better have a damned good reason.
Low tide for the spirit someone said. When you’re either dreaming, dying or being born.
Maybe I dreamed that, I don’t know. At four in the morning anything’s possible.

The job came through as an Female. Overdose / poisoning, the location, an old cemetery out back of the mortuary. No-one gets buried there anymore. They’ve let it grow wild, so now it’s a kind of city nature reserve. A popular spot for foxes, badgers, drinkers, drama students. Bats, probably. I’ve not been there at night, so this much was new, at least.
‘Great’ said Rae, swinging the ambulance out of the station. She patted her shirt front. ‘Shit! I’m not wearing my crucifix.’
‘Don’t worry. You still smell of garlic from that sandwich.’

Control assured us the police were attending, too, but as we pulled up outside the cemetery gates there was no sign of them. Just a guy, pacing about like he didn’t want to be there. When he saw us he waved his phone in the air.
‘What’s going on?’ said Rae, winding her window down. ‘Did you call?’
The guy nodded, and then glanced over his shoulder.
‘I can’t tell you much’ he said. ‘I was walking past and this girl – she stopped me. She said she needed help. She said there was someone in the cemetery who’d taken an overdose.’
‘Where is she now?’
‘I don’t know. She disappeared back inside by the time I’d finished the call. Look – do you mind if I go now? I can’t tell you anything else. I can’t even tell you if it’s real or not. But I’m freezing cold and I just want my bed, d’you know what I mean?’
‘That’s fine. Thanks for your help.’
‘I’m sorry I didn’t go and look myself. I just…you know. It’s different on your own. And the girl freaked me out a bit.’
‘Don’t worry. That’s fine.’
He tried to smile, then with one last glance over his shoulder, he walked on.

‘What do you reckon?’ said Rae. She put on the scene light.
A pattern of barred shadows immediately thrown back onto the trees and stones nearest the gate, the rest of the cemetery massing darkly beyond.
 ‘I don’t know about this,’ I said, yawning. ‘Depends if you want an adventure or not.’
Not!’ said Rae, folding her arms.
Suddenly I noticed there was a young girl standing right by the window.
Rae took a breath, turned in her seat, and cautiously wound the window down.
‘All right?’ she said. ‘Are you the erm... are you the patient?’
I thought she was a student. In fancy dress. To be honest I didn’t think much of her costume. I guessed she was supposed to be a zombie chambermaid or something, the frills of her sleeves shirt torn and dirty, her bodice unlaced, her face inexpertly made-up with chalk-white powder, black kohl, her hair matted with gel.  
‘Good party, was it?’ said Rae, affecting an ease I knew she didn’t have.
The girl frowned.
Whether it was the late hour, alcohol, or the fact she was still trying to stay in character – whatever the reason, there was a strangely dislocated air about the girl, a little sad, like someone who’d been out so long they’d given up all hope of getting back.
‘I will take you,’ she said.
Police or no police, there was nothing else to be done.
Anyway, the girl was so frail I thought we’d be all right. And if there were other people waiting for us in the cemetery – well, we’d just have to run. Hopefully the police would be appearing at that point.
I grabbed a torch, Rae the response bag out of the back, and after locking the truck up, we followed the girl through the cemetery gate.

I remember that walk so clearly, even though it was years ago.
The girl just in front of me, Rae just behind, the three of us in a line, walking through the cemetery.
The clouds that had kept the night so dark had thinned, and even though the moon was still only half full, it suddenly seemed very low and sharp and bright, like a blazing sickle, casting a waxy gleam on the thickets of ivy that obscured the graves all around us. I was conscious of the noise of our boots on the gravel path; the sound of our breath, misting in the freezing air. It felt to me as if the entire graveyard was trembling beneath the hush, and our progress was being scrutinised in the darkness by a thousand tiny eyes and feelers. I kept the beam of my torch down – why, I’m not sure – illuminating only the path immediately in front of me, and the pleated hem of the strange girl’s skirt as it moved noiselessly in and out, in and out of the light.
‘What’s your relation to the patient?’ I asked the girl after a while, as much to break the silence as anything else.
She didn’t answer, but carried on walking as before, her arms folded across her chest.
‘We were told it’s an overdose. Do you know what she’s taken?’
The girl stopped suddenly. I almost ran into her. When I raised the torch, I found she was pointing off to the side.
‘Laudanum, I would think,’ she said.
I played the torch in the direction of her hand, illuminating the figure of a girl lying at the foot of a great stone angel, whose outstretched hand mirrored that of the girl who’d led us there.
Rae and I set to work, establishing that the girl was breathing and conscious. Rae found a few blister packs of medication along with an empty bottle of wine. Luckily it wasn’t a drug that was particularly dangerous, but still the girl was ice-cold to the touch, and we knew we had to act fast. I balanced my torch on a nearby gravestone, then together we sat her up. Rae draped a blanket over her shoulders whilst I unwrapped a silver foil blanket from the response bag and added that, too. The girl – who Rae established was called Jenny – stood up with us either side. I retrieved the torch from the gravestone, picked up the response bag, but when I turned round to thank the girl who’d led us there, I found we were alone.
‘Where’d she go?’ I asked Rae, playing the torch around us.
‘I don’t know. I had my back turned.’
‘Who was that girl?’ I said to Jenny as we started walking slowly back along the path.
W-w-hat g-g-irl?’ she said, then started shivering so much it was impossible to understand anything more.
It was a slow walk back to the ambulance. With every step I expected to see the girl who’d led us in. At one point we had to stop for a moment to reposition the blankets and take a better grip. It was then we heard a sudden, piercing shriek from back the way we’d come. I almost dropped the torch in my haste to shine it in that direction.
‘A vixen,’ said Rae. ‘Do you think? A vixen?’
‘Yeah. I think so. A vixen.’
We started walking again. More quickly.

Never have I been so pleased to see a streetlamp. It was so warm and orange and – I don’t know – so normal. It grew brighter as we came on, shining beyond the cemetery gates like a beacon of humanity on the edge of the habitable world. I felt better and stronger the nearer we got; I knew that Rae felt the same way, too.
When we unlocked the vehicle and helped Jenny on-board, I was shivering so much I thought I’d never be warm.
‘Put the heater on, can you?’ I asked Rae, as she went into the cab to turn the engine over. ‘And anything else you can think of.’


The police eventually showed up, just as we were finishing our observations in the back.
‘All right?’ said one of the officers, smiling in at the side door.
‘Good, thanks,’ I said to him, writing down the figures. ‘I’ll be even better come six thirty.’
The officer laughed.
‘I know what you mean,’ he said. ‘Nights, eh? I’m sure we’re being punished for something. Anyway. With any luck, this one’ll finish you off.’
And with that, he slammed the door shut, rapped twice on the side, and was gone.

* * *

H a p p y

H a l l o w e e n ! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

what the stuff

It was perfect. A dream house. The day we moved there were all these girls waving from the house opposite. Turns out they lived there! They came over and I cooked them breakfast. It was great.

God, what a house. One of the guys had a tattoo gun so we all lined up and he tattooed the name of it on our knees. I was at the end of the line and he ran out of ink, so that’s why it just says summe. But still.

It had a pool as well. I remember once it was so hot, we were all sitting round on these plastic loungers, the girls and us, and I said why don’t we put the chairs in the pool? So that’s what we did. Except it turns out the arms of the chairs were full of tiny spiders, and they all came floating out. I’m terrified of spiders, so I left them to it.

Have you ever been to Vegas? Oh man – you have to go! I think the trick is not winning or losing too much. Just enough to enjoy yourself. You make some, the resort makes some, everyone’s happy. Do you know what they say when you go in? ‘Have a lucky day’. Not ‘Have a nice day.’ Have a lucky day!’ That’s the difference, right there! And then the shows. You have to see them. There’s this pirate battle. It’s completely epic – but it happens every single hour. I got talking to one of the pirates in the bar after. I asked him if he ever got bored, and he just shrugged. I suppose if you weren’t cool about it you’d go insane.

Nothing’s what you think in Vegas. This one time I thought I was getting in a lift. Turns out, it’s a rollercoaster that goes round the outside of the building! How mad is that? The outside!

After a few days we went out to this ranch. Vegas is so crazy you forget you’re in the middle of a desert. So we go out to this ranch where they’ve got horses for hire, and we took a few out. I’ve not been on a horse before. It’s not as comfortable as it looks in the movies. I spent all my time rooting around in its hair for the off button. It was different, though. I had an all right time. But the next day, man alive! I’m not kidding, when I woke up in the hotel I couldn’t move a muscle. I had these shooting pains all up my legs and back, and I was like what the stuff? And I was all for ringing 911 ‘cos I thought I must’ve been bitten by a scorpion. But apparently that’s what you feel like when you ride horses. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


We pull up outside the fast food restaurant. I nod to the security guard and to the guy waiting with a plastic chair just the other side of the door. When we’ve hurriedly pulled all the bags we think we’ll need out of the side of the ambulance – this is a respiratory arrest, after all – I turn to speak to the security guard.
‘Through here?’ I say.
He laughs and tips his head behind me in the direction of the guy with the chair.
‘Are you the patient?’ I ask him.
‘Mate. Sorry. I didn’t know what to do, yeah? I felt so bad.’
‘Let’s get you on board then and we’ll have a chat.’
‘What do I do about this?’
He holds up a black plastic stacking chair.
‘It’s an antique’ he says. ‘I paid two hundred quid for that.’
‘Bring it on board. It’ll go walkies otherwise.’
‘Okay. Cheers.’
I hold the chair whilst he strides up the steps onto the ambulance, then pass it up to him. Rae has prepped the trolley; he stretches out, takes the cap off his head and clutches it with both hands in the centre of his chest.
In his collarless shirt, neckerchief, braces, boots and Burberry cap, he looks like he’s hurried off the set of a photo shoot for Country Living: special Autumn fashion pull-out – Channelling Your Inner Poacher.
‘How can we help?’
‘I took a hit about an hour ago.’
‘Smoked or injected?’
‘Injected. I’m normally fine, but this gear must’ve been bashed with something nasty ‘cos I had a bit of a reaction.’
‘What happened?’
‘My heart went mental. I felt all flushed, like I was going to explode. I felt itchy all over. It was terrible. I tried riding it out but in the end I had to call someone ‘cos I really thought I was gonna die. What d’you think? Am I allergic or summit?’
‘Could be. Who knows what they cut this stuff with.’
‘He’s my usual man. I’ve known him for years. He’s good as Sainsbury’s. He never sweetens the gear. Not by much, anyways. But this – this was definitely bashed.’
‘That’s always a risk you’re going to run, of course. You know that better than me. Even if your guy’s the King of Denmark, at the end of the day he’s just passing on what he’s picked up. He can’t test it all, can he? Who knows what they might’ve shoved in there to bulk it out.’
‘I know. I know. But you know what? I’m feeling a bit better now. How’m I looking on the machine?’
‘Your heart rate’s a bit up, nothing spectacular. ECG’s fine. You haven’t got a rash. It’s all pretty good.’
‘That’s a relief. ‘Cos I really thought that was it. Thanks for coming out. I think I’ll just get home and have a rest now. This has proper freaked me out.’
‘It might be worth speaking to your doctor or someone about the whole drug thing. You’re running all kinds of risks – the big one being unconsciousness and death, of course. But then there’s infection, the gear cut with evil stuff, the gear that’s unexpectedly pure, and then all the social stuff. I don’t suppose it’s easy, paying for it all.’
‘Tell me about it. I’m holding down three jobs as it is. I’ll die of overwork before overdose.’
He signs our paperwork, flamboyantly, like he’s giving an autograph, then buttons up his shirt, straightens his neckerchief and gets ready to leave the ambulance. I step down first with his chair.
‘Two hundred quid?’
‘Yeah! Do you know about chairs.’
‘No. Not really.’
‘Fair enough. Anyway, that’s an antique.’
He takes the chair and looks right and left along the street.
‘I don’t suppose you’re going north, are you?’ he says, putting the chair back down so he can pull on his cap.
‘No. Sorry. Once we clear up we’ll be off on another job.’
‘No worries.’
He picks up the chair again and heads off towards the bus stop.
The security guard is still standing outside the restaurant. I catch his eye and he smiles.
‘I thought that was one of your chairs’ I say to him.
He smiles and shakes his head.
‘No, my friend,’ he says. ‘Ours are all screwed to the floor.’

Monday, October 27, 2014

warm milk

Mrs Simms is framed in the lighted window, sitting in a straight-backed chair.
She gets up to open the front door.
‘Hello! Where are we, then?’ I say to her, looking past her shoulder into the house.
‘Where are we? Here!’
‘I mean – where’s the patient? Straight through?’
‘It’s me! I’m the patient. I do hope I’m not wasting your time.’
‘Oh! Okay. Well I’m glad you’re not as bad as they said. We got the job as a Category A difficulty in breathing.’
‘I do suffer with breathing problems. I have bronchiectasis.  Do you know what that is?’
‘I have a rough idea.’
‘Do you know how to spell it?’
‘I think so.’
‘Because I’ve got it written down on an envelope in the kitchen. If you’d like to see it. The drawer beneath the microwave on the right, just behind the..oh, on second thoughts, I’d better go and get it for you.’
She hurries off into the kitchen and returns with an envelope with the word bronchiectasis written in a shaky hand on the back.
‘I think you’ll find I’m pretty organised,’ she says, sitting back in her chair. ‘My husband always made a point of it so I’m following in his footsteps. It makes life so much easier.’
‘Absolutely. Now, Mrs Simms. How are you feeling?’
She puts her hand to her throat and gathers the edges of her collar together.
‘Not good,’ she says. ‘Not good at all.’
‘In what way, not good.
‘Shall I tell you the story from the beginning?’
Rae puts down the response bag, sits down on the sofa opposite and folds her arms.
‘Okay. What’s happened today?’
Mrs Simms smiles, an unnerving thing, as sudden and sharp as a paper cut.
Well. The family opposite were getting ready for their holiday this morning, very early, packing the car. I gave them a wave, but they had obviously a lot on their plate, so I wasn’t all that upset they didn’t wave back. We’re on good terms. Not friends, you understand. But we acknowledge each other’s existence once in a while.’
‘When I went to look again a little later they’d gone. Just a dry spot outside where the car was standing. Which made me feel sad. You see, I didn’t know exactly where they’d gone or when they’d be back. They hadn’t said anything. Not that I expected them to. As I say, they had a lot on their plate, what with the children and everything. So anyway. That was that. And then we come to the bins.’
‘The bins?’
‘Yes. The bins are collected once every two weeks, as is usual in this area. I live on my own, and hardly produce any rubbish at all. In fact, I produce so little, I keep it in supermarket carrier bags and place them in the bin when they’re full. I have a special dispensation with the council to do this. Three little carrier bags, every two weeks. The bin men don’t even need the bin placing out in the street. They lean over the wall and pick out the bags, and that’s that. Well today, there was a large black bin in there. And I know whose it was.’
‘The family over the road. It’s true, we did have an agreement. They produce a lot of rubbish; I produce very little. They asked me some time ago if they could use my bin as an overflow when their bin was full, and I said yes. So this bag appearing isn’t completely out of the blue. It’s just – I don’t know – they could’ve said something. As it was the bin men had to drag the bin over the wall, and I could see they were unhappy about that. And I had to wheel it back round at the end of the day, which I didn’t like to do. So all in all, the whole thing just set me off, and I’ve been feeling anxious and upset ever since.’
‘I’m sorry to hear it.’
‘You probably think it’s all nonsense.’
‘No. It’s obviously acted as a kind of trigger.’
‘Plus I haven’t been sleeping. Plus my breathing’s been bad again. The doctor said he couldn’t hear all that much and he simply gave me some more antibiotics, with some pill or other to help me sleep. But I was a so miserable and I didn’t know what to do so I called you. I hope I did the right thing.’
‘You should always call if something seems amiss. But I’m just wondering what we can do for you today, Mrs Simms. We’re an emergency ambulance, of course. We generally deal with heart attacks, falls down stairs, that kind of thing.’
‘Oh – you are cross with me! I don’t blame you one bit. I’m a stupid old woman who should know better.’
‘No, no. You’re a bit anxious about things, that’s all. I don’t think your breathing’s a problem today, though. Thank goodness.’
‘No, I don’t think it is.’
‘What does  your doctor think about your anxiety?’
‘Oh – he’s pretty useless. He prescribed something or other. What’s that thing everyone gets for depression these days?’
‘No. It’s something for depression.’
‘Citalopram’s an anti-depressant.’
‘No. It begins with an M.’
‘No. It begins with an M and it stops you being depressed.’
‘Oh – I don’t know then.’
‘My prescription is in the kitchen. You know where the envelope was? In the drawer under the microwave on the left? Well it’s just past there, on the little side table with the papers and the … oh, you know what? It’s probably safer if I go.’
She gets up again and hurries out of the room.
I catch Rae’s eye. We both sigh.
‘At least we’re not picking some drunk up.’
‘It’s warm. It’s comfortable. I’m not in pain.’
‘What was that?’ says Mrs Simms, coming back in with a blister pack.
‘We were just saying how lovely and warm your house is.’
‘It is, isn’t it? I like to think it has a welcoming atmosphere. My daughters want me to move. They want me to go into a warden controlled place. But why would I do that? I’m settled here. I know where everything is. And so I should – I’ve been here since nineteen sixty-three!’
I look through her meds.
‘When are you due to take your Mirtazapine?’ I ask her, waving the pack in the air.
‘Not yet. Not till I go to bed.’
‘What time do you normally go down?’
‘I expect you’ll think it’s ridiculously early, but I’m normally tucked up by nine. So in about half an hour.’
‘Well, here’s my suggestion. I don’t think you need to go to hospital, Mrs Simms. I think that would only make things worse. So what I suggest is you have your Mirtazapine a little early, treat yourself to a cup of warm milk, and get a good night’s rest…’
‘Warm milk? What on earth for?’
‘To help you sleep.’
‘Goodness me, no!’
‘Oh. Why’s that?’
‘Are you lactose intolerant?’ says Rae.
‘No! It’s just not the right thing to do at all. I’m going to bed, for goodness sake. Why would I have a hot drink?’
‘Okay. Well. Just follow your normal routine, then.’
‘Warm milk! Whatever next!’
‘Some people like it.’
‘Yes, but – just before bed?’
‘I just thought…’
‘Oh no, no.’
Rae sighs and shakes her head slowly.
‘Anyway, whatever you like, Mrs Simms,’ I say, batting on. ‘The point is, you could treat yourself to an early night. Take your Mirtazapine. And then speak to your doctor in the morning. I’m sure there’s lots to be done about how you’re feeling.’
‘Like what?’
‘Other medication. Talking therapies. They could even refer you to a day centre or something. There’s lots out there.’
‘I don’t know…’
‘Why don’t you phone one of your daughters and speak to her about it? It’d be good to see what they think about all this.’
‘Oh I know what they think,’ says Mrs Simms, picking some fluff from her skirt. ‘I know perfectly well what they think. That’s the trouble. They won’t shut up about it.’

Thursday, October 23, 2014

the good

Malcolm, Chieftain of Drunks, a ruined, powerful man, a man whose barrel chest and protruding eyes make him look like a boiler about to blow, a man on first name terms with every agency you can think of, ex-para, ex-con, ex-IVDU, a brutal and brutalised man with a curiously feminine haircut, is sitting on the concrete steps outside the block of flats with his hands cuffed behind his back, surrounded by police. It’s like an extemporary street party, with Malcolm the Master of Ceremonies, presiding over the whole thing with a booming tirade that no-one minds at all:

‘Ah’m not taking another step without a smoke of my fag. But how’m ah s’posed to smoke it all troosed up like a Christmas turkeh, yah feckin’ wally, yous? Come on. You’ll just hev to hold it to mah mooth so ah’s can take a wee puff. Don’ look so scared, man. It’s not like ah’m askin’ you to tug mah willy, s’at? Come on, now. There you go. Now maybe I’ll think about answering yah feckin’ schoolboy questions. (...) I’ve told yez all wha’ happen. Ah wus only wadin’ in like to help mah fren. Anybody would! Scept maybe this one, yah lunkin’ great shite. I cannae think of you doin much more than tha’ washin’ up. Yah! You know it! Look at him, laughin’ away up there. Aye! Laugh it up, big man. You’re the one who’s sittin’ up all night wi’ the paperwork, yah buzzy big shite, yous. Yah dizzy wee Columbo. (...) Anyways. Ah’ve told yous. You’ve got the wrong man, son. I don’ understand why yah restin’ me fer, when I was only doin’ wha’ you should’ve been doin’. I was the one stoppin’ a man fram gettin’ killed tonight why yous was all tucked up in bed playin’ wi’ yerseln. (...) I told you. They come out of nowhere. Out of the air fer all I know. They were all over me, man. Like feckin’ foxes or something. With their shiting little razors. They don’ fight fair, y’ah nae. Not at all. But they don’ know me, I can tell you that. They don’t know I fight army style. I get in there – bam! – wi’ a chop to the adam’s apple and a thumb in the eye. Don’ look so scared, matey, yah big wee fairy. Although I could still take you with my hands behind mah back.  I could kill yous with a fart. Come on, now. Jes’ glue my cuts, you useless cunts, and I’ll be on mah way. I did a bit of gluin’ myseln’, as you can see. Wha’ d’you think of mah handiwork? (...) All I want is to go back home and finish mah film. (...) Wha? (...) The good, the bad, the ugly. Why? Have you seen it? You’ll know wha’ ahm talkin’ about, then. That’s me, all right. The good. The good. Why? What’re tryin’ to say? I don’ like what your incineratin’, pal.’

Monday, October 20, 2014

the paris tapes

 A woman walking her chihuahua; a woman flapping a dishcloth from an upper window; a man in a suit hurrying to work with a take-away coffee; a jogger doing her warm-down stretches on the railings opposite; a woman standing out on the porch next door smoking a cigarette; two medics, RAE & SPENCE, standing on the pavement with MR GREEN, an elderly man, just in front of them, waving his arms and shouting.

MR GREEN: And you! Everyone can see you for what you are. This one’s screwing you up the arse. This one’s going to prison for stealing. Call yourself paramedics? You’re glorified taxi drivers. You can’t even do that properly. I’m a professor. I’ve got a PhD. Do you even know what that is? Of course you don’t. You’re too idle and stupid. Look at you, with your silly little bag and clipboard. I know Princess Diana. I have houses in Monte Carlo and San Tropez. Do you think I don’t know you’re stealing from me?

RAE: Could you please just go back inside the house now. The police will be here soon. They can sort it out.

MR GREEN: Good! I’m glad! They’ll arrest you both for assault. You’ll be thrown in jail and everyone will see what a fucking bad show you’ve made of your life.

RAE: You’re obnoxious and abusive and I need you to step away from me, sir. Just go back inside and leave us alone.

MR GREEN: Oh? So now you’re telling me to go back into my own home! Is that what it is? This is a free country. I’ll do what I jolly well like.

RAE: Fine. As I say, the police are on their way.

MR GREEN: Let them come.

The man suddenly hurries back inside, only pausing on the steps to swear one last time at the paramedics before slamming the door shut behind him. A police car pulls up on blue lights. Two police officers get out, tazer guns in evidence on their hips.

1ST OFFICER: All right?

RAE: Thanks for coming guys. We’ll fill you in.

The woman with the chihuahua hurries over to the other side of the street.


RAE & SPENCE standing at the door of a house that’s been converted into flats. RAE presses a buzzer on the intercom. Almost immediately an irritable voice crackles through the speaker, not so much in answer to the call as being interrupted in the middle of an on-going conversation.

MR GREEN: I simply don’t understand what you want from me. Why are you harassing me in this manner? Am I not safe in my own home? Why are you coming to me with all these problems when all I require is the carer to come when they said they would come...

RAE: Leaning in. Hello? It’s the ambulance service.

MR GREEN: Yes, yes. I know very well who you are. Do you think I’m stupid? Look – what are you going to do about all this? I’m sick to death of all your repeated failures to address the central issues here...

RAE: Sorry to interrupt, Mr Green. Shall we come up and talk to you face to face? Rather than through the intercom?


INT. DAY. A warm, well-kept hallway, bikes, strollers and neatly stacked mail. Mr Green’s flat is at the top of the stairs. RAE & SPENCE go up. RAE knocks on the door. MR GREEN throws it open and stands there, breathing heavily. A simian quality to him, active, wiry and ill-contained.

MR GREEN: (shouting) I have ataxia! Do you even know what that is?

RAE: A neurological disorder that affects motor function. Shall we come in?

MR GREEN stares at her a moment, both his eyebrows bobbing up and down in unison.

He doesn’t!’ (stabbing a finger at SPENCE). He turns on the spot and holds the door open.
You’d better sort this out!

RAE: Okay. First things first. Can I ask your name?

FX: phone rings. MR GREEN picks it up, shouts into the receiver, then slams the phone down again.

MR GREEN:  Look. What have you done about it? When are you actually going to do something instead of all this useless standing around? Hmm? I have ataxia! I’m dying! I’ll be dead soon and it’ll be your fault.

RAE: How about we calm down, have a seat and talk about what’s going on today?

MR GREEN: You’re telling me to have a seat in my own home? What right have you to say these things? Who the hell do you think you are?

RAE: Mr Green...

MR GREEN: Don’t Mr Green me. Do your job, that’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it? Or have you just come to bully your way into my house and take what isn’t yours?

RAE: Please just try to keep your temper, Mr Green. Do you need our help or not? All we’ve been told is that you’d rung to say your carer was late and then hung up...

MR GREEN: Yes! I cut them off like they cut me off! Those bastards! And what do you think you can do? With your stupid bag and haircut? And him! Look at him! Skulking in the background. Have you come to rob me sir? Have you come to do me in? I’ll talk to you but not to him. I want him out of my house! Get out! Get out!

MR GREEN suddenly runs at SPENCE with his arms flailing in the air. He tries to push SPENCE against the wall, who struggles to restrain him by catching hold of his wrists. RAE ends up standing inside the room whilst SPENCE grapples with MR GREEN by the door. MR GREEN tries to kick the door shut with the back of his foot; SPENCE blocks it; RAE helps turn MR GREEN away from the doorway to make enough room to struggle back out with their bags. When SPENCE lets go of the old man’s hands MR GREEN tries to jump on him again. SPENCE pushes him back with the flat of his hand in the middle of his chest.

MR GREEN: Help! They’re attacking me! Get out of my house! Get out!’

RAE: We’re trying to! Stay back there whilst we leave.


He hurries past the medics, down the stairs to the front door. He stands there with his arms and legs outstretched. RAE calls for urgent police back-up.

RAE: Please! Mr Green! (clipping her radio back on) This is silly.

MR GREEN: (shouting up the stairs) You’re not leaving! I’m not letting you get away with this!

RAE:  Fine. You stay down there; we’ll stay up here, and we’ll all wait for the police.

Suddenly MR GREEN pushes himself forwards again and marches back up the stairs. The medics retreat up the next set of stairs. MR GREEN goes into his flat but doesn’t shut the door. The medics hurry down into the hallway and leave the building.


Mr Green storms outside to confront the medics on the pavement.
(Woman with chihuahua, man with suit etc.)



RAE: You’re not going to arrest us for assault, then?

POLICE OFFICER #1: (laughing) Nah! Funnily enough, Mr Green was as nice as pie with us. Just went on and on about his PhD and his fancy foreign houses. He’s got some on-going beef with – well, just about everyone. He says he doesn’t want any medical help. I don’t know what you think? Apparently community mental health are aware, and we’ll certainly be talking to them. I’m surprised you haven’t got this address tagged already. We’ve certainly got something to say he’s a handful and single responders shouldn’t attend. Anyway, so long as you’re both okay. We’ll put in a vulnerable adult form and chase things up our end. But that’s about it.

POLICE OFFICER #2: (leaning over to slap SPENCE on the shoulder) I don’t want to worry you mate, but apparently he says he’s going to tell Princess Di all about you.

POLICE OFFICER #1: Yeah! And we didn’t think it was a great time to tell him about Paris.

feeding chips to the dead

Helen is sitting comfortably in her favourite chair, wired up to the Lifepack, her arm in a BP cuff, her finger in a SATS probe, pinching a tissue in her other hand to the pin-prick where we took a sample of blood. She seems quite content though, like a melancholy queen surrounded by disappointing courtiers. There are four of us in attendance: Rae, me, and Helen’s two neighbours, Martin and Sheila, a bright, elderly couple, striding from the kitchen to the sitting room with tea, toast and information.
‘I think Helen’s son Richard’s the nearest, but it’s still a fair stretch for him to come.’
‘Diane’s had more to do with everything.’
‘Yes, but she’s in Spain. I hardly think she’s going to fly back today.’
‘If I know Richard, he’ll be straight down in the car.’
‘They’re both so good.’
‘It’s just getting very difficult for them. For everyone.’
‘Do you want me to call Richard?’ says Martin, picking up the phone. ‘I’ve got his number right here.’
‘Let’s just figure out what we’re going to do next, then we’ll give him a call,’ says Rae.
‘Right you are.’
‘Oh, don’t bother Richard,’ says Helen. ‘He’s got enough on his plate.’
All her observations are fine. Any chest pain she may have had early that morning has resolved. There’s nothing on the ECG, and nothing of concern anywhere else. I start taking everything off.
‘Good,’ says Helen. ‘Now I can have my breakfast in peace.’
‘It’s a bit of a worry,’ says Sheila, standing in the doorway, drying a cup. ‘Helen did have more care organised, but cancelled it because it was costing too much.’
‘I think not taking the medication has been a factor,’ says Rae. ‘Stepping the care back up would be good. The GP should co-ordinate all that, but we’ll certainly do our bit to flag it up.’
‘Could you? That’d be great’ says Sheila, ducking back into the kitchen.
‘I fed chips to the dead once,’ says Helen, calmly taking another bite of toast.
‘Oh? Hello!’ says Martin. ‘Hallucinations! Tick that box.’
‘So what happened?’ says Rae, sitting back a little, her pen poised over the clipboard. ‘Where was this?’
‘Oh, years and years ago. I was with my friend Rose. We’d bought a bag of chips each and we were eating them outside the shop when I said why don’t we go and sit somewhere comfortable? So we went over the road into the churchyard. We sat down on this old tomb by the side of the church, and started eating our chips. All of a sudden, this big, booming voice come up from the ground and it said: Those chips smell nice. Give us a couple. Well of course Rose dropped her bag and ran off screaming. I wanted to see what happened though. So I said to the voice: “How’m I supposed to do that, then?” and the voice said: Just pass them down. And the next thing you know, these two hands come up through a grille at the bottom. So I passed them the chips Rose dropped, and they seemed quite happy with that. Well, when I finished my bag, I thought I’d look into it all. So I went round the front and I knocked on the church door. After a while the vicar came out and I said “I’ve just been feeding chips to the dead people in your graveyard” “Oh?” he said. “That’s interesting. And very kind of you, I might add.” So then what he did was he said: “I think I can shed some light on this strange occurrence. But only if you’re feeling brave. Are you feeling brave?” I said I was, so he said “Good. Follow me.” So he led me through the church, through some big old gates at the back, down some steps and in to the crypt underneath the church. We went along there a ways to another set of gates at the far end, and there were two workmen, sitting on a pile of bricks eating Rose’s chips.’

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the magician's hat

We take a call to a ‘generally unwell’ in-patient at a psychiatric hospital I haven’t been to before.
When we get there, Jake is lying flat on his bed with his legs crossed and both hands laced across his eyes. The psychiatric nurse standing next to him tells us the story: how Jake had been feeling unwell all day with a temperature and some dizziness; how he’d just started to complain of neck pain; how they’d tried to have him assessed in situ, but in the end had to arrange for an ambulance to take him to A&E.
‘So is this a query meningitis?’ I ask him.
He shrugs.
‘No!’ shouts Jake. ‘ I fell over. I was in the toilet and  I felt dizzy, yeah? Next thing I know I’m on the floor. So I crawl onto bed and I haven’t moved since.’
I feel his neck and he yelps when I apply a little pressure on the bone. When I pull my hand away there’s no trace of blood, no other sign of trauma. But still.
‘How was your neck before the fall?’ I ask him.
‘Do you have any funny feelings in your arms or legs? Any pins and needles?’
‘My left leg feels numb.’
I look at the nurse.
‘What’s your take on all this?’ I ask him.
He shrugs again. It’s difficult to tell whether he believes Jake’s story or not, but when I mention C-spine tenderness and immobilisation, he sighs a little. When I ask Jake to talk me through the course of events again his recollection is slightly different, all of which leads me to think he’s an unreliable witness, and this story of a fall lacks credibility. Nevertheless, he did flinch when I pressed in the middle of his neck.
‘It looks like we’ll have to treat you for traumatic neck pain’ I say, as much to the nurse as anyone else.
The nurse remains impassive.
‘So, Jake. That means full immobilisation. We’ll need to fit you with a cervical collar, get you onto our special vacuum mattress, and keep you nice and flat for the journey in. All precautionary. Okay?’
As I leave the room I ask the nurse if their lift will take a trolley.
He closes his eyes and nods, like an obliging maƮtre d.
‘Of course’ he says.

I use the stairs to walk out to the truck, get the trolley, load it up with a scoop stretcher, vac mat, pump, blocks, tape and blankets, and head back in to the hospital.
The nurse on the front desk shows me to the lift and punches in the security code. We chat about this and that as we wait for it to come.
The moment the doors open I can see that the lift is only half the size of the trolley.
‘Is there another, or…?’
The nurse shakes her head sadly.
‘This is it. This is the one.’
‘But the nurse upstairs said it would take a trolley.’
‘It will.’
I look inside the lift again. I’m tired, after all. Maybe it’s like a magician’s hat. You can pull a ladder out of it.
‘I don’t think so,’ I tell her, after I’ve stepped inside and rapped the panels to make sure.
‘Yes, yes! Go on. You will see. They all do it.’
‘The ambulance. They all get their trolleys in there. This is how we bring bodies out.’
‘Go on. Try it.’
Despite the obvious problem, I go ahead and push the trolley inside.
A third of it sticks out.
‘No, no’ says the nurse. ‘Sitting up. You have to sit them up.’
I shrink it down top and bottom. Still, the doors will not shut.
‘More,’ says the nurse. ‘It will go.’
‘Maybe I’m going crazy’ I tell her, immediately conscious of the fact this is a psychiatric facility, ‘but seriously, this is never going to work. Anyway, we shouldn’t even be thinking of sitting our patient up. We’re querying a neck injury. He needs to stay flat.’
‘He can sit up for a bit.’
‘Not really.’
‘Yes. Just for a minute. One minute won’t matter.’
I smile at the nurse.
‘Well, it’s immaterial. The fact is the trolley won’t go in the lift.’
I wheel it back out again.
‘We’ll use a wheelchair,’ I say, putting the brakes on. ‘And the only reason I’m agreeing to that and not carrying him down the stairs is because I don’t seriously think he has hurt his neck.’
‘We don’t carry people,’ she says.
‘No. But we do, unfortunately. You need to get yourself a better lift, though. One that’ll take a trolley.’
‘We have one.’
‘You have one?’
‘Another lift?’
‘Yes. On the other side of the building. But you can’t get there from here.’

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

witness for the prosecco

Gill has drunk too much Prosecco. There was a stack of it at the family get-together, and whether it was nerves at the big gathering, or a tendency to drink too much when she goes out, the fact is she sank the best part of two bottles and suddenly fell ill.
‘She was okay – ish – when we left the restaurant. And the fresh air seemed to help. But we only got as far as this bench and suddenly she said she couldn’t go on anymore and just crashed out.’
Gill’s a pitiful sight, slumped forwards with her arms on her knees, her long hair falling in front of her face, the whole woman and the surrounding pavement as liberally splattered as if a stormy stomach cloud had stopped just above her head and unleashed a monsoon of vomit.
‘The taxis didn’t want to know, as you can appreciate,’ says Ed.
‘I’m surprised they even stopped.’
‘I just don’t want her choking to death,’ he says.
‘Well – she’s not completely spark out, so that’s good. You do have to bear it in mind when you put her down, though.’
‘What do we do, then?’
‘Take her to hospital, I suppose..’
‘I don’t want to waste your time.’
‘It’s okay. So long as she’s safe, that’s the main thing.’
He stands back whilst we set to work, wrapping Gill in a couple of blankets, getting the stretcher up close, angling everything so that what little support she has in her legs is enough to help us stand her up, turn her round and lie her down on the stretcher. It’s difficult not to get any vomit on us – I’m caught out by a strand of hair, and land a generous smear on my shirt front. On the ambulance I get the worst of it off with a cleansing wipe, making a mental note to change my shirt at the earliest opportunity.
Ed rides with us to the hospital.
‘Is it far?’ he says ‘We’re not from round here. We came up for the party.’
Gill moans, heaves, spits.
‘Please don’t spit,’ I tell her, repositioning the bowl.
‘Come on, Gill. Don’t be disgusting,’ says Ed. She makes no sign she recognises him.
I try to gauge Ed’s mood through all this. He seems friendly enough, but there’s something else, some inner tension that I guess is part embarrassment and part unease at seeing his sister like this. I try to show him I don’t really mind, that’s it’s a normal part of our job, but he remains slightly aloof, like he’s holding on to the most aerodynamic emotional shape possible to make it through the night.
‘We’re here!’ I say, unwrapping the blood pressure cuff and making things ready as Rae backs the truck in.
‘If you’d like to get off first’ I say to Ed. He touches Gill on the one clean patch of flesh she has on her shoulder, then makes his way to the back.


Erica the triage nurse listens sympathetically whilst she gets the story.
‘It’s bad enough getting pissed in front of your mum and dad – but actually I think it’s worse when you do it in front of your brother,’ she says, winking at Ed. ‘I don’t know why. Actually, strike that. I do know why. They never let you forget. Ever. It’ll be something else they have over you. Like my brother...’ she laughs. ‘God love him. But that time I disgraced myself big time, he was more than happy to add it to his collection.’
‘Yeah, well. This is serious,’ says Ed. He looks uncomfortable, restlessly changing position on his plastic chair whilst we tend to his sister. She groans, kicks the blankets and splays her legs over the side of the trolley. I cover her up again.
‘Has she had any drugs tonight that you know of?’
‘No. We don’t do drugs. Though, yes... I know ... alcohol is a drug.’
‘I don’t care either way,’ says Erica. ‘It’s just so we don’t have to worry about that and the alcohol.’
‘So what was she drinking?’ asks Erica, taking Gill’s temperature.
‘Mostly Prosecco,’ he says.
‘Prosecco? Ooh, good girl. Fantastic! I love Prosecco,’ says Erica. ‘Mind you, who doesn’t?’
‘Goes down very easily,’ I say, wiping Gill’s mouth and swapping the full bowl for a clean one. ‘Yep. Maybe with a drop of cassis at Christmas. Lovely.’
‘In fact, d’you know what? I think I prefer it to champagne.’
‘Do you? Yeah. Well. Champagne’s pretty amazing. It feels more substantial.’
‘More expensive, don’t you mean?’
‘By a stretch.’
‘Guys, guys...’ says Ed, shaking his head. ‘Come on. I really don’t think this is appropriate.’
‘Oh? How d’you mean?’ says Erica, cooling imperceptibly.
‘Well – you know. Going on about Prosecco like this. When it’s the Prosecco made her sick.’
‘I think you’ll find it wasn’t the Prosecco made her sick,’ says Erica, brightly again, clicking off the screen. ‘It was not having the common sense to know when she’s had enough. But there. That’s a whole other conversation! Cubicle three!’

Monday, October 13, 2014

gift ideas

In the normal run of things you only become aware of frequent fliers over time. They gather momentum slowly, until they’ve acquired enough critical mass for everyone to know the address, the details, every last thing about them.
Yvonne is different. She’s emerged fully formed, Godzilla rising up from the sea. Whatever it took to make her, the nuclear waste and the earthquakes, happened somewhere else, far away. And now suddenly here she is, reeeeooooarrrrghing in the harbour, an ambulance in her claws, shaking the paramedics out.
You can tell I’m tired.
Frequent fliers know when you’re most stretched, least able to cope. They feel it, in supernatural ways.
Yvonne has had an ambulance eight times in the ten days she’s been at the drink & drug dependency hostel. Her MO is always the same: drinks and smokes all day, wakes up in the early hours feeling tight in the chest, rings 999 saying she can’t breathe. The duty manager is never aware the call has been made. She will be sitting on her bed in the smoke-filled room, talking fluently without any wheeze or effort, complaining that she’s unable to breathe and needs a nebuliser.
The first time I went to her I was at the beginning of my run of nights. I gave her a full examination, (blasted in the ears when she carried on talking when my steth was on her chest); found nothing particular, tried hard to understand just why it is she won’t go to see her GP, won’t go to hospital, won’t follow direction about any medication that might have miraculously landed in her hands from somewhere, or any lifestyle change that might improve her situation. For every suggestion a reaction: she can’t get to the GP because her legs don’t work properly, she’s agoraphobic, the doctor isn’t any good anyway; she can’t go to the hospital because she doesn’t want to wait around with all those people, and can’t get back from the hospital because she had no money for a taxi and she had a bad experience on a bus; she has to smoke because she’s living in a hostel full of junkies and how would I feel?; she has sleep apnoea; she has panic attacks; she only wants a nebuliser. Where can she get one for herself?
And like many of the crews who’ve been out to her, I gave her a neb, to shut her up as much as anything else. But then taking it off her was a problem – ‘I want the whole bottle’ she said. I turned it off, unplugged her, to huge protest. We didn’t leave so much as retreat, bullets ricocheting off her hide.
Tonight, again, Yvonne.
Prepared this time.
No, we won’t give her a neb.
She needs to see her GP.
She can’t go on calling an ambulance like this.
We have Rick, the duty manager just outside the door; we call him in to review the situation and to witness the abuse.
‘I’m going to die and it’ll be your fault’ she says.
‘Yvonne, that’s enough’ says Rick. ‘They’ve come to help you. Listen to their advice.’
‘They just tell me what to do. They don’t want to help. Fuck off and leave me alone.’
‘We’ll be talking about this in the morning, Yvonne. We can’t go on like this.’
 ‘You’re not doing your job. I’m going to report you.’
‘These kind people have come to help and you’re refusing to take  their advice.’
‘They’re not nice. They’re wankers. Especially him.’
‘This is going in your file, Yvonne. We’ll talk later.’
‘Why won’t anyone help me? I can’t breathe.’
We retreat to the office.


The rain is really coming down now. The thick, dark leaves of the rhododendron outside the office window rattle and shatter beneath the force of it all. Rick, the duty manager takes his office chair and swings gently from side to side, looking out the window. He doesn’t have an office light on; there’s plenty of illumination from the security light outside, and the effect as it shines through the torrent of water is of the whole building melting and sinking into the ground.
The office couldn’t feel emptier, even though it’s muddled-up with administrative clutter, the trays of files and piles of correspondence, unwashed coffee cups, yesterday’s paper, over-pinned notice boards, dry-wipe boards of essential numbers. Only one computer on, a screen saver image skating round a blank screen.
I’m finishing off the paperwork. A couple of times Yvonne comes to the office counter, planting her arms wide left and right on the counter and fixing us with a stare.
‘I want a neb’
‘I’m not giving you a neb, Yvonne. You know what I think. You should come with us to the hospital or speak to your GP in the morning.’
‘I can’t. I’ve told you. I can’t use my legs.’
‘How did you get to the counter, then?’
She pushes herself back, says she’s going to kill herself, thumps off back down the corridor.
‘Are you going to check on her?’ I ask Rick.
‘Nah,’ he says. ‘She’s been threatening to kill herself the whole time. We’ll have a meeting about it tomorrow. We’re keeping a record in the log.’
I go back to my form.
Yvonne appears one last time. We have the same conversation. She makes the same threat, makes the same stomping noises retreating back to her room.
Rick shakes his head.
‘This can’t go on’ he says.
We talk about the whole 999 thing, how the policy is for an ambulance to be sent regardless of the pattern.
I tell him I’m surprised that Yvonne has surfaced like this here; we normally only associate the hostel with overdoses, respiratory arrests, serious jobs.
He laughs.
‘I know. We’re normally much better value.’
After a minute when we’re all quiet and the sound of the rain is filling the place, Rick shifts heavily in the chair and says: ‘I’ve taken loads of different drugs, you know, but I’ve always shied clear of heroin. I suppose because it’s always seemed such a one way street. But it does have plenty going for it.’
‘I know what you mean. Life’s difficult. It’d be great to take a little something to make it all better. Who wouldn’t want that?’
‘It’s just getting the quantities right.’
‘And not knowing what it’s cut with. I went to a user the other day who freaked when he had a reaction to his hit. He went all flushed and itchy and felt he was going to explode. And that was from his regular dealer.’
I make a few idle strokes on the patient record with my pen.
‘I mean, this was a nice, hard-working guy. He had three jobs, for god’s sake. He had a Burberry cap.’
‘No wonder he took heroin.’
‘He had to pay for it somehow.’
There’s the sound of a door slamming somewhere deep in the hostel, maybe Yvonne, looking to see if we’re coming down the corridor.
‘Yeah. Just enough to smooth things out. So long as you don’t get hooked,’ says Rick.
‘Or infected. I’ve seen some pretty horrendous needle sites. You run out of veins and start shooting up in your groin. Or your feet.’
‘Still. Just a little now and again.’
‘Yeah. It’d be great.’
I put the finishing sentence on the form, sign and date, hand him a copy.
‘Anyway, Rick. At least now I know what to get you for Christmas.’