Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Future Imperfect

To the casual observer the messroom of the Clapham Ambulance Station probably resembles the lounge of a seedy seaside guest house from the nineteen forties. There are half a dozen shabby armchairs scattered about, a scarred but sturdy table in the centre, a scrap of old carpet curling at the edges, and against one wall a wooden cabinet of dubious provenance supports a huge and ancient bakelite wireless. And yet this room possesses an uncanny air of homely comfort. For all its apparent scruffiness, a closer inspection reveals it to be spotlessly clean and there are personal items abandoned here and there, seemingly without fear of theft: a tobacco pouch and brass lighter; a pair of tortoiseshell-framed spectacles; a hardback edition of Marx's The German Ideology; an antique clock disassembled on the table; a violin resting in an open case. One begins to form the impression not so much of a mere room but of a territory, a domain, and the perceptive visitor senses very strongly that behaviour within this place is governed by a strict set of rules, certainly unwritten, probably unspoken, and doubtless evolved over many years, and yet somehow more inviolable than any law of the land.

One of those rules is that managers do not presume to take a seat before having been extended the courtesy of an invitation.

We were slightly put out then when Jason Bandages waltzed in and plonked himself down in Bert Klaxon's favourite armchair, his management college grin welded to his face.

"Cheer up, lads,” he beamed, his boundless enthusiasm disheartening us in an instant. “I've got the most fantastic news for you." This could only spell disaster. "I've arranged a training course for each and every one of you. Four weeks, full time, at the Royal Academy of Ambulance Studies."

The what?

"Beginning of May. The station's being shut for refurbishment and you'll all return in June with your clinical skills and accident management procedures fully up to speed, to a brand new state-of-the-art operational complex with all the latest diagnostic tools at your disposal. New vehicles, new uniforms, a new management structure, a brand new package of terms and conditions. "

"Jason, what are you on about?" Stan Tablets articulated the question in everyone's mind.

"It's the dawn of a new era . . . er . . . Stan, isn’t it?" Stan's brow furrowed imperceptibly and a small vein throbbed at his temple. "The Clapham Ambulance is being brought up to date, into the modern world, the twenty-first century, we're . . . "