The End of the London Mile

This ambulance looked very lost to me, and made me think about what could be going on inside, between the drivers. –

An ambulance comes down the road, sirens on and blaring, going approximately 12 mph. It’s in the back-roads of a cheap, but nice part of East London. Lots of one-way roads come off a main one, fringed by pedestrian crossings and cycle lanes.

One of the ambulance drivers is a middle-aged, very lined woman whose lips turn down at the sides. The other, the driver, is a slightly younger man, balding and sweating the underarms of his uniform dark green. He is very red in the face. The man’s eyes dart around every street and pavement whereas the woman’s stay straight ahead.

The woman says, “you always do this.”

His pupils and irises trail up into his eyelids for a moment. She keeps going.

“Every time I say ‘check the directions’, ‘look at the map’, ‘double-check where they said’. And every, single time we end up doing this. Going on a snail-paced exploration of London’s backstreets while some poor soul lies wondering where the fuck we are.”

“It’s any one of these streets,” he says, “that’s what the sat-nav says.”

“You haven’t got headquarters to update the maps since 2012.”

“Don’t exaggerate. There’s not space to add anything big in London anyway.”

“Guess all the builders are out of work then.”

He sucks in a long, rattled breath and fixes his eyes on the road ahead, “it’s the next street, we turned off too quickly, that’s all.”

They come to a narrow ‘L’ in the road, dead-ending in houses except a narrow one-way lane with ‘no vehicular entry’ signs each side.

Turn left appears on the sat-nav screen as they come to the one-way street.

“What?” the man frowns, braking. The woman massages her temples. “The map doesn’t say anything about the street being one-way.”

“That’s because they’ve probably added it since 2012.”

“This is your problem too.”

“There’s no one around,” she glances around, “just go through.”

“I can’t break the law in an ambulance.”

She purses her lips.

“Ok, ok,” he says, seeing her mouth, “we’ll go through.”

He turns the ambulance into the narrow street. He watches the wing mirrors nervously as they are inches from the brick walls each side of the lane.

“Oh no,” the woman moans.

A black cab appears in the exit to the lane, driving at them with no sign of slowing down or backing up. The driver, a large bald man, sees them and starts shouting illegible things at them. The fist-shaking tells them enough, followed by a…

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.

“Shit,” the ambulance driver jumps and grabs the gearstick, “shit, shit, shit.”

“Wow, calm down, mate,” the woman gapes at the gestures the man is making.

“I can’t see a flaming thing,” the ambulance driver looks in the wing mirror helplessly, “you need to get out and direct me.”

“Where?” the woman looks at the solid brick wall inches away from her door window.

“This was your idea. I need you to direct me!”

“I’m wider than two inches! Can this guy chill out?” She clutches her head as more BEEPs scream in-between the NEEs and NAWs.

The ambulance begins to crawl backwards, towards the entrance to the lane. The taxi swerves to and fro as it approaches, as if hoping to squeeze through the tiny gaps.

“I could give this guy good need for an ambulance,” the man grits his teeth as they finally break out of the alleyway and veer around to give the taxi room.

The taxi races past, with one final, angry BEEP.

“There’s more,” the ambulance driver looks into the alleyway, where more cars are coming, “fuck this.”

He succeeds in turning the ambulance around and starts them back the way they came.

“Sheesh,” the woman shakes her head and dives down toward her foot space, “I need a cig.”

“No,” the man’s head snaps around, “you are not smoking in my ambulance again.”

The woman pops back up, a slightly squashed cigarette in her yellow lips, “It’s your fault. You always stress me out.”

“Put that away now. I don’t know how the last patient isn’t dead from passive smoking.” The man jabs a finger at a ‘New Ambulance Smell’ air freshener that dangles from the rear-view mirror. “Do you know how many packs of these and Febreeze it took to get your stench out of this car?”

“You told…”

“Three. Three containers of Febreeze.”

“I paid you back.”

“That doesn’t give me back the weeks of spraying and wiping and…”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry. Are we near arriving at this place?”

“I told you, it’s down the next street.”

‘Maps out of date.’ flashes up on the Sat-Nav screen. The woman massages her temples, and the man’s nostrils flare.

Please connect to PC.

Without a word, he stops the ambulance at the corner of the road and shoves it into reverse. The woman looks at him incredulously as he swings the entire ambulance up onto the kerb, to the right and then flings it back into first gear. They make their way back up the road towards the narrow ‘L’ at 20 mph.

“What do you think you are doing?” the woman sits forward in her seat, staring at him as he drives.

He doesn’t answer, just speeds up even further and his eyes get wider.

“Seriously, what are you…”

“I don’t care if the bloody royal carriage is coming through that road; we have a patient to get to. We’re the fucking emergency services.”

“You’re just going to push through?” She shakes her head, but her eyes are still wide and slightly less unhappy.

“I don’t like the chances of those little cars against this beast,” he pats the dashboard.

They turn the corner. Up ahead is the same dead-end, same signs and the same one-way street.

“Here we go,” the man speeds up to 30 mph. The speed limit.

“Go for it!” The woman throws her arms up as they swerve into the tiny gap.

***

The Ambulance is parked up on a kerb on a completely new street, siren still blaring. The male ambulance driver is sitting with his arms folded, glaring at the Turn around where possible message on the sat-nav. The female ambulance driver is standing on the pavement the other side of the street, a half-smoked cigarette between her fingers.

“Will you,” she draws a slow, frazzled breath, “turn that bloody racket off?”

The man leans out of the window, shouting over the siren, “you know that’s against protocol.”

–Ms Always Write —

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