Ambulance stories (21)

Coming clean

This is not a story about an ambulance call. It is time to come clean, and tell it how it was, for me at least, in those seemingly far-off days.

You may have noticed references, and comments, about what I was like in those days; how I was perceived, and how I presented myself to others. So, here is some background about how I dealt with it all, the type of person that I was, and more importantly, the type of person that I wanted others to believe that I was.

When I joined the London Ambulance Service, I was 28 years old. That was older than the average at the time, although there were older people in my class at Training School. I had been around long enough, to know to keep a little quiet at first, feel the atmosphere, get the lie of the land. It was important to stand up for yourself though, it was a tough job, and you could not be seen to be weak. Luckily for me, I had many factors in my favour. I came from a well-known working class area of London, which had a reputation for tough people. I had a strong London accent, easily roused to harshness, to the uninitiated ear. I was also far from pretty. Receding, close-cropped hair, stocky build, and weathered face, all said, ‘keep off’, to the wary. I would have probably survived quite well, in a maximum security prison.

I did not suffer fools gladly, but I was conscious of being a ‘rookie’, and ready to sit back, and learn the ropes from others, without comment, or criticism. By the time I had completed my probationary period, I was ready to take the gloves off, metaphorically speaking, and get on with it. I soon became involved with the Unions. Later on, this could better be described as ‘heavily involved’. I had the necessary Left-Wing leanings, and a traditional distrust, not to say dislike, of all management. I saw many people come and go. There were others who stayed the course, for very different reasons. Some couldn’t do anything else, some craved the excitement, or perceived status, and a few of us stuck it out, with a view to changing the system.

It would be nice to write that this is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, that would not be the truth. I made a place for myself, and those like me, and I clung to it tenaciouly. Working in the very small world of an ambulance station, it is hard if you are not with like-minded individuals. I was not, so I had to do my best, with what was available. I became the Union representative; challenging authority at every turn, working for better conditions, and not tolerating those who thought otherwise. I had my own ‘special chair’, as well as a list of acceptable behaviour, and treated the confines of the workplace as a second home, all combined with a fierce loyalty, both to my colleagues, and to the particular place where I worked. If there was an ‘Ambulance Mafia’, then I suppose that I must have personified it. The ‘Tony Soprano’ of the LAS, or similar, you get the idea.

Just so as not to blacken my good name completely, I should add, that during all this time, I always tried to do my best for the patients, whenever I could; and I think that I enjoyed a good reputation at the local hospitals, as well as with at least some of my fellow ambulance workers. But I cannot deny that I had other agendas. This was at a dark time for the UK, politically speaking. Mrs Thatcher was the new Prime minister, and together with her Right-Wing Government, she was intent on destroying all Union power in Britain, as well as destroying the NHS. I felt that I had to do my bit to protest about this, and I like to think that I did more than a bit.

None of it ended well. After a damaging (yet inspirational) strike, the staff were left no better off than before; much worse, to be exact. The new staff, arriving rapidly, considered themselves above the teachings and influence of the ‘old guard’, and went their own way, rejecting the Unions, and the existing, well-proven methods. Pretty soon, people like me were little more than museum pieces, laughable anachronisms from a former time, not worthy of respect, or attention. The name, soon adopted for us, was Dinosaur, with all the connotations of an undesirable species, long extinct.

All I can say, is that I did my best, and that I knew when it was time to go. History will judge the rest.