I was chatting to a friend on the phone the other day. He also happens to be an ex-colleague from my days as an EMT in the London Ambulance Service. We worked at the same base for many years, and he also later worked with me in a police control room, before I retired.
He told me a story about how he had recently returned to his home on the south coast, and had been told that his elderly aunt was ill. He went round to see her, and took her into hospital for a check up. They discharged her, and recommended that her family doctor attend, to carry out checks at her home. The doctor didn’t come as requested. Instead, he sent a Paramedic Practitioner, to call at the home of the old lady. This is something fairly new here. To save the time of general practice doctors, and also to save the cost of employing additional doctors to help, they use former ambulance paramedics who have attended an extended training course, to work in the community.
As the man was examining her, he turned to my friend, and said, “I know you, you used to work at North Kensington Ambulance Station, in London”. My friend was surprised that this man should have encountered him after all those years, but confessed that he didn’t recognise him at all. It turned out that he had spent some time as a shift relief on the West London rota, and had worked with my friend on more than one occasion. He continued by saying, “You had a bloke there, Pete Johnson, a real militant he was”.
He was talking about me.
As I left the ambulance service in 2001, it is always a surprise to me that anyone remembers me, unless they were close friends, or regular colleagues at the same base. This random man, now working over 80 miles away from where I might have met him, possibly worked with me once or twice, probably before 1990. I don’t remember him at all, but after almost 30 years, he certainly remembers me, and has strong opinions about what I was like too. I left a mark, undoubtedly, and half a lifetime later, my reputation continues, at least where this man is concerned.
That got me thinking. Yes, I was a militant. I was a union organiser, one of the first to go on strike in the 1989 National Dispute, and I voted for the Communist Party. I was around 36 years of age at the time, heavily involved in all aspects of the Trade Union, and politics outside of work too. But I never considered that I had a ‘reputation’, at least not in my day to day life as an EMT. I did the job to the best of my ability, and mostly played by the rules. I like to think that I got on well with 99% of my colleagues, and all the various medical departments and agencies we came into daily contact with. When I finally left to work for the Police, most people, outside of some senior managers, were sorry to see me go. At least I thought so.
Then 30 years later, a face from the past tells someone of my reputation. Not of my sense of humour, my kindness, or fairness. Nothing to do with my hard work, or the fight to get decent conditions for everyone in the Ambulance Service. Not a word about my years working on the committees to get better vehicles and equipment, or serviceable uniforms. No mention of 22 years serving the community of London in a low-paid, difficult, and often very stressful job. It all came down to one thing, a reputation based on perception.
“A real militant”.
On reflection, I don’t really mind that at all.