There's one in every class in every school and in every department of every branch of every workplace throughout the kingdom of England. Even the Clapham Ambulance, for the first time in living memory, now has one of its own. I refer, of course, to the solitary deer limping at the back of the herd, which the knowing leopard skulking in the long grass has earmarked for lunch. Not that we see many herds of deer grazing these days on the open plain between the North Side and the South Side; and as for leopards, well, we won't mention what goes on in the long grass.
For the wildlife of the sweeping veldt existence is an unending battle for physical survival, a matter of life and death and the human equivalent is different only in its degree of subtlety. It's all part of the same process of disseminating the genes of the fittest, and where the modern welfare state has been instrumental in widening unnaturally the path of human evolution, it has inevitably produced as a by-product of its misbegotten charity a sub-species of vaguely homo sapien origin that is regrettably unable to survive without the oxygen of total assistance beginning several months before the instant of birth and ending some time beyond the point of death.
From the ranks of this anthropological mutation is drawn an ever increasing number of ambulance patients who are linked by the common traits of inadequacy and dependence and the resultant social and financial chaos that dominate their everyday lives, and without whom there would be little need for an ambulance service at all, comprising as they do around ninety-eight percent of our workload.
"What would we do without you?" I am often asked in the course of my work, to which I always reply quite truthfully and without hesitation, "You'd become extinct."
Our forefathers with their huge moustaches would probably rise in protest from their graves if they knew that we have recently taken on our own limping wildebeest, rumoured to be the result of the drunken union of Sir Leslie and a congenitally malformed servant girl of limited mental resource called Nellie Edgerton behind the Masonic Hall on Derby Day in 1986. The product of this sordid liaison was a creature named Hudson, more commonly known as Hud, who is employed mainly in a general floor-sweeping, tea-brewing, boot-polishing, sandwich-fetching type of capacity, but who will sometimes undertake with an endearing eagerness the work of an ambulanceman to cover periods of holiday or staff sickness.
I worked a few shifts with him last week while Stan was in Glasgow on a bare-knuckle break and I have to say it made a refreshing change only for a very short while, conversation being necessarily restricted by Hud's rather skimpy vocabulary and his less than adequate grasp of any concept not directly related to food, drink, brooms, mops or boot polish. But we muddled through and I don't think that more than a few of the patients suffered fatally as a result. Also, by painstakingly deciphering his various snorts and grunts, I was able to piece together some quite interesting information about Hud's circumstances and how he came to be employed by the Clapham Ambulance.
Apparently there were hundreds of applicants for the post, which by law had to be advertised, but every candidate who managed to complete and return an application form was rejected on the grounds that he was over qualified for the position on account of being able to do just that. As Hud Edgerton was the only completely illiterate candidate he was deemed the best man for the job and duly appointed by order of Sir Leslie himself, such blatant nepotism popularly confirming the speculation about his lineage.
Hud also told me about his girlfriend, Christine, and how they're about to move into a new house just as soon as the council has finished extending and refurbishing it, hopefully in time for the birth of their next child. Number five, he tells me.