Sunday, 16 November 2008

Emergency Services Night

In early 2007 I must have looked like a dodgy bastard. Not in terms of physical appearance; but there was something inexplicable about me that just attracted trouble, no matter how much I tried to avoid it.

A classic example: I’d been out with Colin on Oldham’s Yorkshire Street, apparently the third most violent street in Britain according to government statistics and the local newspaper. 

Driving, I spent the night sober. Not driving, and dare I mention it- banned, Colin was not sober- far from it. Hence I took on the role of Chauffeur Supreme, and kept a watchful eye on my company- who openly described himself as “one hell of a beer hound”.

Normally Colin was the one looking after me: his football hooligan days set him in good stead for the risks of a night in Oldham. That night he’d hammered the drink quite quickly but seemingly knew when to stop and ask me for a lift, necking the dregs of his pint and thumbing to the door with practiced skill.

I’d given him a lift once before, and tonight I’d definitely started driving in the right direction. I need to do a route three times before I know it. But Colin’s instructions had stopped, and I was on a strange road.

“We still going the right way, Col?”

No answer.

“Col. Colin.”

With one hand on the wheel and both eyes locked on the unfamiliar road, I shook Colin’s shoulder. His upper body slouched left and his head lightly knocked on the door window, tongue lolled to one side.

Oh, fuck, I thought. He’s out cold. What has he taken? Okay. Calm down. Let’s imagine that I was a responsible adult. What would I do?

The car lights illuminated a sign for Rochdale centre. Oldham has a St. John’s ambulance normally. Rochdale must have too, given its similarly dangerous reputation.

Please don’t throw up in my mum’s car, I thought. Don’t OD either… Col’s done enough looking-after for me, I thought. I’m not letting him down.

I spotted the waiting ambulance in the centre of town and slammed the car as close as I could get to it- in a nearby taxi rank. Locking Colin inside, I strode over to the technicians with a minor gut feeling that I could have a serious situation on my hands. I’d never dealt with an unconscious person before. I’d also never had a chance to learn any first aid. I had no idea how serious this was.

I explained the scenario to the ambulance workers. The woman followed me while the man stood guard of the van.

“What’s your friend’s name?” she asked, snapping on some medical gloves.


Inevitably, a taxi had pulled in behind me and the Asian driver was unimpressed that a random Nissan Micra had taken his place in the queue.

“Here y’are mate, how are we supposed to work when”-

Before I’d even thought of politely explaining, the ambulance man had jumped in.

“We’ve got an emergency situation with this car here. So get back in your taxi and wait. Okay?”

The taxi driver sat back, browbeaten.

I let the woman in and she basically did what I did, minus driving. She shook his shoulder and shouted at him.

“Colin. Colin. Wake up.”

Col’s mental transgression from confusion to minor panic, then surprise, was priceless.

“Your mate’s trying to take you home. Do you know where you live?”

Col stammered out his address.

I thought ahead. “Do you know how to get there from here?”

“Where are we?” he asked, bemused.


Col blinked. “Er, yeah.”

I thanked the lady, who then ordered the three disgruntled taxi drivers in front of me to leave the rank so I could get out.

“Oh… Newby…” Colin was gradually realising where he was and why. “I’m so sorry. I’m SO sorry.”

When I finally got to Colin’s, his housemates were still awake. I retold the night’s story with such vigour and enthusiasm that I got the inevitable, “My god, he is Jim Carrey” treatment. And I try so hard to be like Andy Garcia…

So with Colin home safe there was only myself to take care of.

I’d got about two thirds of the way home, through Oldham centre (for an obligatory cruise to check out the women queuing for taxis) and out to the suburbs before the lights flashed in my mirror.

Fuck, I thought. What have I done now?

I pulled over, tailed by the blue-and-yellow Vectra. It was a fairly non-descript night out, we’d not done anything dishonourable (other than to go to Oldham in the first place). But casting my mind back, there was nothing the police could seemingly book me for. Parking in a taxi rank? Yeah, right. Checking out women? Well, it’s not as if I was slowly driving past bars and making strange animalistic noises whenever a short skirt was near.

Not this weekend, anyway.

I checked my mirror. The officer got out of his car and walked cautiously towards me, chin down, talking to the radio on his shoulder.

It’s Saturday night, and it’s 1AM. I’m a young man in a red Nissan Micra, traditionally a woman’s car. If I was a policeman, I thought, I’d pull me over too. I wound my window down.

“I pulled you over,” the officer said, hands on knees, “because we’ve had reports of a car matching your description being driven erratically in the area.”

There’s a pause.

“Right,” I say, but it comes out like a question.

“Have you had anything to drink tonight, sir?”

“No, only soft drinks.”

“Is this your car, sir?”

“No, it’s my mum’s. I’m insured on it.”

I just want to go home. I’ve had enough absurdity for one day. Let’s get a move on, I thought.

“You can see my licence if you want.”

“No, no. That won’t be necessary. I’m satisfied that you’re safe to drive this car. Take care, sir.”

Well, I thought, as Officer Zealot got back in his car. Whoever is drink- driving in Oldham, this guy’s going to catch them. Especially if he’s pulling over any random car he can find. That’s what we pay tax for.

I knew where the cameras are in my area, but I still kept under the speed limit until I got home. It’s strange. The emergency services crews are usually there in places where they are most needed. They have hard jobs that they perform well in. But sometimes those there to protect us- whether it be our mates, ambulance ops or police- seem to be the most likely to give us a heart attack.