Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Life of Riley

He turned the key and dabbed the throttle and a litre and a half of turbo-injected Vauxhall diesel coughed, spluttered and rattled into life. He pressed the sole of a steel-toed Magnum on the brake pedal and slid the transmission lever from park to drive, released the handbrake and accelerated away. He flicked a switch on the dash and the blue lights flashed, he tapped the horn and the siren wailed, and when it reached its peak he tapped it once again and the weeow weeow weeow hit him like a needle in a vein.

He checked himself in the rearview mirror - the hair cut short, gelled into tiny spikes, the thin sculpted line of beard, the immaculate sideburns. He adjusted the Oakleys which had cost him three days' pay and smiled with satisfaction. Image was all and Riley was a work of art, and he had one of the coolest jobs in town, piloting a rapid response car for the ambulance service. He flexed his tanned and tattooed, gym-pumped arms as he gripped the wheel, checking out the shop windows for brief glimpses of his reflected beauty as he sped by, chewing imaginary gum and repeatedly sniffing, his head buzzing with cocaine.

There was about an hour of the shift remaining and this was his first call of the day, to an elderly female on a bus with a hand injury and breathing difficulties. (Actually, she had a slight graze to one finger and was breathing perfectly adequately but her condition had been deemed by the computerised triage system to be immediately life-threatening, a ‘Cat A’, so Riley was despatched in the fast car, his sole purpose to arrive on scene and press a button within the statutory eight minutes in order to justify the salaries of the bean counters and box tickers.) He checked the clock on the screen — just four minutes left to get there. He sniffed hard, inhaling a few stubborn grains of the ORCON powder, and floored the accelerator, reaching sixty miles an hour along the busy High Street, on his way to a patient he would never see.

The day so far, he reflected, had been comfortingly typical. Clock on at seven, shoot the shit with the guys in the messroom, cruise down to Sid's for some eggs on toast and a mug of tea; park up behind Tesco for an hour or two and read the paper, maybe have a doze; nip over to Greco's for a cappuccino and a bit of a flirt with the girls from St. Margaret's; whizz round to see Gaz, grab a gram, hoover a line; pop into St. Bernard's to chat up the HRT babes on reception; a little light shopping, then to the park to find a nice spot out of the way, make a few phone calls, watch the world go by; another line of the white, a cool can of Coke. Sweet.

The low autumn sun reflecting off the wet tarmac shone directly into his eyes as he steered the Astra blindly through the heavy afternoon traffic. Stand on the brakes, hard left into Tyler Road, push it up to fifty, overtake the bus, watch out for the cyclist, oncoming car pulling over, foot down, right into Makepeace Terrace, slide the back round, hit the gas, straighten her up and floor it, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five, a right-hander, overcooked it slighly, no problem, step on the gas, sixty-five, seventy, two minutes to go.

As he took the long sweeping right hand bend on the one-way system, he had to swerve left to get round an old codger in a clapped-out Rover doing about two miles an hour in the outside lane. He corrected the steering to get back on course, was blinded suddenly by the sunshine and clipped the back corner of a bus which sent his car sliding over to the left. Both wheels struck the kerb together and collapsed, causing the car to flip over sideways, rolling on to its roof, spinning over and over before it crashed through the window of Hamilton's Department Store, taking with it a young woman and her small daughter who'd been standing there gazing at the display of Christmas toys behind the glass. Neither survived.

Too cool to wear a seat belt, Riley was flung helplessly around inside the car. His head smashed against the door pillar and split open behind his left ear, spurting bright red blood all over the interior, and as the car continued to roll and smashed into the toys, a radio controlled Noddy car (only £14.99) came through the open window and Big Ears’ red pointy hat plunged into Riley's neck, puncturing his carotid artery. He watched in horror, trapped upside down, fully conscious, as his precious lifeblood pump-pump-pumped out of him, and as his vision began to fade and his life slipped away, he could hear in the distance the most beautiful sound of a celestial choir singing his favourite song — weeow weeow weeow weeow weeow weeow weeow weeow . . .

When Albert and I arrived at the scene of the terrible tragedy, we found that the bus driver had already put a small sticking plaster on the woman's finger and the pair of them were laughing about something they'd seen on the telly the previous evening. We joined in the jocular banter for a while and as we were off duty in about fifty minutes, we gallantly offered to run the old duck home.

“Ooh, I don’t know what we’d do without you,” said dear old Mrs. Liversausage, fussing over us and filling our cups from the pot, passing round the chocolate biscuits as we settled back on the sofa to sit out the rest of the shift in comfort.

You know, when you stop and think about it, if you keep your head down and don't rush about taking it too seriously, it's a pretty cushy life in the ambulance game.