Thursday, May 05, 2005


Each morning at eight o'clock we assemble at the bandstand and then process down the hill and across the river, twenty men in uniform on bicycles. There's no particular order, but common courtesy dictates that the slower riders are allowed to set the pace, which usually means that Arthur Blanket and George Scoop lead us sedately across the bridge at about eight fifteen. Already, it seems, we have become something of a tourist attraction and this morning a large crowd lined the pavement by the park to watch us go by. Small children squealed with excitement and young women threw flowers beneath our wheels. The older and more sensible among the crowd confined themselves to enthusiastic cheering and briskly waving Union flags on little wooden sticks. Everything happened slightly too quickly and in black and white; altogether a most peculiar sensation to experience before breakfast. Not unpleasant, though.

Later, in the classroom, we were addressed on the subject of diversity by a tutor from Hong Kong whose name, I'm ashamed to confess, I didn't catch. Diversity, apparently, is about integration and ending discrimination; about accepting all people equally and without prejudice, regardless of their age, sex, race, colour, religion or sexual orientation, whatever that means, and striving to employ a workforce whose diversity reflects that of the community it serves.

Throughout its two hundred year history, we explained to the Chinaman, the Clapham Ambulance has never tolerated any form of discrimination whatsoever. Providing you and your parents were born in Clapham, and as long as your father is happy for his son to follow in his footsteps, you will be accepted, subject to a height restriction, a driving test and an informal interview with Ron and Nobby over a few drinks down at the Lodge. And what could be fairer than that?

He thought we were kidding and suggested that maybe in this day and age we should have some women in the service. At this, Stan's brow furrowed almost perceptibly and the small vein at his temple began to throb, Albert started to choke and Bert nearly swallowed his pipe, while the rest of us, like children at the circus, dissolved into helpless laughter, the tears flowing down our cheeks.

Dear, oh, dear. What will they think of next?