Back to School
The boy standing in front of us introduced himself as Alan Littlecock and informed us that he was to be our Course Leader for the duration of this refresher course. From behind me I heard the sound of Albert Harness's distinctive musical yawning which spread like a contagion around the classroom and soon we were all covering our mouths.
"Am I keeping you awake, gentlemen? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha." Littlecock's nervous laughter was tinged with hysteria.
"On the contrary, son," said Albert. "I think you could say we find the sound of your voice positively soporific." Littlecock reddened as a wave of laughter flowed across the room.
"Anyway, first of all I am obliged to inform you of the f-fire procedure." As Littlecock stuttered these words, struggling to regain his composure, familiar sounds and smells began to invade my senses — the unmistakable rasp of a Swan Vesta being scraped across the side of its box; the small roaring sound as it flared into fiery life; its sulphurous odour flavouring the room; the pup-pup-pupping of Bert Klaxon stoking up his pipe. And then the delicious aroma of Dunhill Royal Yacht engulfed us and everybody seemed to relax. Everybody, that is, except Littlecock, who appeared to have been struck speechless and whose face was swiftly turning the colour of an apoplectic beetroot. On the ceiling a little white box started its insistent beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep . . .
I glanced up at the clock — twenty minutes to nine. The day stretched ahead of us, impossibly long, unbearably tedious, ineffably pointless. Staring ahead, my eyes unfocused, I let my mind wander to the hypnotic soundtrack of the smoke alarm and I found myself recalling my original training course when I first joined the Clapham Ambulance all those years ago. How different the world had been back then.