Friday, July 29, 2005

The Boat

News of an unpopular manager's downfall will always be most welcome in the messroom of the Clapham Ambulance Station, so it was with much merciless laughter and uncharitable rejoicing that we learnt today of Jason Bandages' disgrace and exile. He escaped the ultimate sanction of dismissal due only to his having friends in high places, which also must account for his otherwise bewildering initial appointment; I believe his father was at school with Sir Leslie Pitt-Tinny MP, OBE, who magnanimously spared him the ultimate humiliation of queueing at the Labour Exchange, instead banishing him to the Siberian salt mines of ambulance work, the River Neckinger Rescue Boat, a posting so conducive to madness that its last crew were driven quite berserk by the combined effects of noxious gases, insomnia and home-made alcohol and hanged their captain beneath Southwark bridge before diving headlong overboard to drown in the stinking green mud that characterizes that vile tributary.

And all this because young Jason couldn't control his wandering hands in the (admittedly tantalizing) presence of winsome student nurse Katie Cubicle, the proximity of whose firm young rump proved just too much of a temptation for him to resist, and whose great misfortune it was to have these unwarranted and shameful fumblings witnessed by none other than pipe-smoking Senior Matron Myra Mann-Hayter, a woman renowned for neither the benevolence of her bedside manner nor her tolerance of any male shenanigans involving one of her girls. Within an hour of the consummation of this heinous transgression, copies of her report were speeding by special courier to the heads of St. Bernard's Hospital, the Clapham Ambulance, the Ministry of Public Health and the Bandages household. Thus was Jason's fate sealed, while Matron Myra spent the rest of the afternoon locked in her office consoling and comforting her beautiful young student.

A tour of duty on the River Neckinger Rescue Boat has long been used by the Clapham Ambulance as a punishment posting for its most intractable and incorrigible offenders. In days gone by a minor violation of the dress code, a crooked tie for instance, would have been enough to earn a chap a spell on the boat, but in these more liberal and allegedly enlightened times it would require an infraction of far greater magnitude; persistent violations of patients' human rights, say, or an indiscretion at the Christmas party with Ron Stretcher's missus.

Most of the work of the rescue boat is conducted beneath street level in the network of tunnels and pipes that form the London sewer system and the threat of drowning due to a sudden downpour of rain and the subsequent flooding of these subterranean conduits is ever present. It's a different world down there: dark and dripping, rat-infested and foul-smelling, the bloated corpses of dogs and discarded babies floating with human faeces upon the black, greasy water; the evil and deadly slime can suck you under in seconds, filling your mouth and your lungs, silencing your screams as, panicked and terrified, you suffocate slowly, never to surface again.

And then there are the ambulance boatmen themselves: shifty and sullen, profoundly untrustworthy, disdainful of authority, their wary eyes constantly upon you, waiting silently for your mind to snap as they sharpen their knives endlessly on oiled stones, scraping the glinting blades back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, their unfeeling eyes never leaving you, daring you, willing you, to fall asleep for just a few seconds.

'Honest Ted' Canvas has opened a book and already betting has been brisk on the new captain suffering a similar fate to that of his predecessor within a month of taking command. Alas, it would seem that soft-handed, pen-pushing college boy Jason Bandages has received what is tantamount to a sentence of death and we're having a few drinks tonight in the Princess Margaret if anyone would care to join us.