Monday, November 16, 2009


“The 13th has never been unlucky for me. Never. I’ve never had a bad experience with the number 13. Not once. Not ever. I’m immune to it.”

Even as I typed those words last Friday I was reminded of a poem by Roger McGough (can’t remember which one, sorry) where he talks about being afraid to tempt fate in case fate, tempted, one day weakens... but I shrugged it off anyway with a cavalier laugh and got on with cocking my snook at the universe. You can’t touch me, I thought to myself. I’m immune. Y’hear me? Immune! You can’t touch me with your so-called Friday 13th bad vibe!

Somewhere in the very centre of the universe an omniscient mind heard me and had an inclination...

And by the end of the day Friday 13th was going all out to prove just how unlucky it could be.

All was fine until it came time to head home. Of course this is the moment where you desperately want things to run smoothly. You can practically smell your evening meal being cooked. You can almost feel the warm cosy embrace of your sofa wrapping itself around you and calling you to submit to end-of-week TV-soothed slumber.

You just want to get out of the office and escape while the going is good.

Last Friday, the 13th, the going was decidedly not good. As I was literally on my way to the exit doors I was called to the men’s public toilets. A cubicle was occupied and the patron was refusing to respond to all calls to vacate the premises. I had no choice but to force the door. Inside I found a young male slumped over, completely unconscious, his trousers around his ankles and his head face down on his knobbly knees. He absolutely could not be roused by anything we did. It didn’t look good. One of my colleagues recommended we try smelling salts until I pointed out that, given the ever present stench of the urinals, if he wasn’t compos mentis now with the ambient bio-fall-out irradiating his nasal hairs a tiny little smell in a bottle was hardly going to kick-start his cerebral cortex.

So we called an ambulance. And therein the farce truly began. The operator took all the details and then asked some bizarre questions along the line of did the injured party have a history of heart trouble, etc. Now bearing in mind I had already explained that the injured party was an unknown member of the public I found this question rather ridiculous. I think the operator picked this up from the mocking pause that I dropped into our conversation. “I still have to ask, sir” he told me smartly.

Did he? Did he really still have to ask when he already knew I had never met the person in the toilets before in my entire life? I realize that most telephone operators work from a script these days but surely there is room for commonsense? Room for people to think independently and realize that sometimes portions of the script can just be dispensed with?

Plainly not.

Anyway. Despite all this guff the ambulance was apparently on its way.

Great, I thought. Blue and twos flashing it’ll be here in 5 minutes and I can get away home.

Not so. 20 minutes later me and my loyal colleagues were still waiting. 25 minutes later we saw a paramedic’s car parked on the other side of the road. Just sitting there. Waiting. What the hell was he doing? Mr Knobbly Knees in the toilet could be choking on his own sputum by now! Why wasn’t he attending to the 999 call I had made? We approached and asked, amazingly politely, if he had indeed come to answer our summons for help. Yes he had, he said, but he couldn’t do anything until his “back-up” had arrived.

Oh. Back-up. A SWAT team was on its way then. Or possibly armed specialist forces. Great.

We had no choice but to back to the building and continue our wait growing more and more sour with each passing minute. We appreciated, loudly, that in today’s world dealing with possible drunks or drug users can be extremely hazardous and a bit of support is probably a necessity but even so... this poor guy could be voiding his entire colon down the bog for all anyone was doing to help him.

And so the wait went on. And on. Made worse by a drunken gang of teens who suddenly appeared and decided to hang around outside the front of the building and empty their bladders over our railings. Charming. The evening was getting better and better.

Finally, 50 minutes after my initial 999 call an ambulance at last sirened into view. Hoo-bloody-ray. At last. Now with two green jacketed body guards flanking him the paramedic boldly stepped into the breach. As I opened the door to let them in one of the teens mumbled something along the lines of: “oh, hey mate, we think one of our friends might be in your toilets...” Cue Beavis and Butthead laughter.

Oh how typical. I managed to marshal my sarcasm (i.e. utilize it) and told him that yes, that was why we had called an ambulance as his so called mate was out stone cold.

“Oh,” said the dazed teen, “is it OK if I come in and watch?”

Come in and watch. Not, how is he? Not, is he OK? Just: can I come in and watch.

I shut the door on him and locked him outside.

15 minutes later the paramedics had got Mr Knobbly Knees up and mobile. He looked as dazed as his erstwhile mates outside. Confused and a little embarrassed too. But I daresay by Saturday he was rather proud of his exploits and was boasting of his advanced state of inebriation to all those of his friends who were not too inebriated themselves to tell him to shut up and go and flush his stupid head down the toilet.

Their job done the ambulance crew melted away into the night, reholstering their standard SWAT team issue revolvers. Don’t thank us; it’s just what we do. Yippee-ki-yay.

Whatever. My colleagues and I headed outside too and wiped the dust from our shoes and headed our separate ways.

I finally arrived home over an hour late, tired, soaked with rain and in a foul mood.

Friday 13th? I shall never mock you again. And that’s a bona fide promise. I have seen the power of the Universe and it scares me.

Postscript: Somewhere at the centre of the universe an omniscient mind wonders perhaps if it has gone too far and decides to offer a little consolation... a small token of recompense.

On my way out to get some milk on Sunday morning I noticed that among the assorted chip wrapping and drinks cartons that the wind constantly deposits on our front lawn a slightly damp but otherwise perfectly intact £5 note.

For moi?

Why, thank you Universe. Apology gratefully accepted.


Suburbia said...

Really? £5? Wow how great!!

Can't believe the ambulance farce.

(Bum, forgot to watch Dr. Who, how could I?!)

Nota Bene said...

Back up? Jeez, what would have happened if he'd been having a heart attack.....

Steve said...

Suburbia: weirdly, I found a £20 note up the street about a year ago. Now you could argue I'm getting diminishing returns but £25 courtesy of the wind is pretty good going in anybody's book!

(And you missed a treat with Dr Who! - Watch it on Catch Up if you can!)

Nota Bene: I dread to think. Any of a hundred complications could have occurred and then they'd've been carrying him out in a body bag. Emergency response? You'd be quicker calling someone a taxi or sending them via DHL.

justmeagain said...

I find this particularly worrying, given that I did First Aid training a couple of weeks ago, and was assured that ambulance response time was a twenty minutes, so if I had to do CPR, I would 'only' have to keep it up for 20 minutes. Frankly, doing it for 5 minutes was totally exhausting! Maybe just as well not to bother then.
I think you deserved more than £5 from the universe fot that kind of day, but I guess its better than nothing!

Steve said...

Justmeagain: it's deeply worrying. I guess 9 times out of 10 a young guy unconscious in the toilets has got that way through drink or drugs and therefore can be unpredictable but making someone wait 50 minutes in response to a 999 call was shocking. That's an entire episode of Merlin with 5 minutes of trailers tacked on top...!

The bike shed said...

Not sure if I think this is funny or concerning - a bit of both I suspect. Particularly liked the bit about the guy asking you irrelevant questions.

Steve said...

Mark: Heaven forbid you ever have to dial 999 but if you ever do they'll be very quick to ask the same questions of you too!

Paul Spooner said...

There was a similar story on Radio4 last month. Except in the radio a man took pity on an addled teenager, inviting him home to sleep it off on his, (and his girlfreind's) couch.

Hay-presto, he woke in the morning to find he had been relieved of his walet, his car and his phone.

The moral? Becoming involved in the drama of others, particularly drunk young people, always has consequences!

Steve said...

Paul: Hmm. Maybe waiting for back-up isn't such an insane idea after all? But inviting an addled teenage stranger into your own home definitely is. Thank God I'm a misanthrope. It keeps me safe.

Clippy Mat said...

you got that fiver then?
mission accomplished.
you're welcome.

Owen said...

Perhaps next time, having learned your lesson now (and having been tipped generously for it) you'll have the good sense to just drag the poor sod by the ankles out of the building, hopefully down a flight of stairs or two doing the head-bounce, and just leave him outside. An anonymous call to 999 can then be made with instructions on where to find the drunken lout, errr, the poor inebriated helpless victim of social woes, and you in the meanwhile can hurry off home, your conscience clear. And if left outside the premises, his mates might have spirited him off before the ambulance crew got there... best for all concerned.

On second thought, maybe you should have boxed him up, (leaving a few airholes of course) and put the trunk on the next ship leaving for Somalia ?

Friday the 13th indeed...

Savannah said...

That's an appallingly long time to wait for an ambulance. Does anyone at your work have first aid training because the guy could very well have had an obstructed airway from his own vomit given the state he was in. Just imagine how much more pissed off you would have been if you'd had to clear his airways. Actually we were taught to use the victims own fingers to clear anything that's preventing them from breathing.

Now that I've impressed you with my first aid knowledge I will just say how much I laughed at the doufus on the phone asking inane questions. Sheesh....that is just wasting what could have amounted to life saving time.

Steve said...

Clippy Matt: is £5 all I'm worth? What about inflation?!

Owen: I think I'd earn more money from Somalian pirates by promising not to stow him away on one of their ships... not that they'd have any qualms about disposing of him themselves... fresh chum for the waters and all that, good for fishing I believe...

Gypsy: I've only had rudimentary first aid training and at that time of night most of the building's staff had already gone home taking all their first aid experience with them. Mr Knobbly Knees was perhaps far luckier than he appreciates.

The Joined up Cook said...

Fascinating account Steve.

We seem to be getting so embroiled with caveats in our society that one day the whole thing will just seize up.

You can't do this or that until some condition is met. It sets up a whole chain of 'must dos' that cause so much wasted time.

Fear. That's what rules us. Fear of making a mistake and being held accountable for it and fear of any kind of risk.

Still, at least nature brought you a reward without any strings.

French Fancy... said...

50 minutes! That would make a journalist happy but I guess you are too professional to pass it someone's way - plus there might be repercussions for you.

It would have served the little git right if he had been locked in for the night. A Brit on holiday in France recently was locked in the Hotel de Ville all night. She'd gone in there thinking it was indeed a hotel - had rushed to the loo before 'checking in' and coincided her time with the very abrupt early Friday departure of the staff.

Good news about the fiver - at least it had been laundered by the morning moisture.

Steve said...

AWB: you're right. The scourge of the modern age is responsibility paralysis. Nobody wants to take the rap if it all goes wrong so nobody does anything at all. It's so endemic that is seems to create a cocoon of indifference all around it. Nobody can be bothered to stick their neck out anymore to change things.

FF: I was appalled by the slow response time of the emergency services but would be reluctant to drop them in it. Only last week there was a report of a fire crew somewhere in the UK unable to get to an injured toddler because local youths kept attacking them. You can see why some operatives would refuse to attend an emergency without effective back-up... the trouble is though, that creates delays itself and then it's the innocent who end up suffering. Not that the drunken oaf in our toilets was in anyway innocent, mind you.

Gina said...

Oh dear! I don't know what to think about the ambulance response - I guess in the end it was appropriate, given that he was not really in danger but whether they could possibly have known that is another question. But not good that you were stuck there and certainly a real cop-out that the paramedic was not prepared/allowed to assist. Crazy. But yes, let's not go all Daily Mail about it! All's well that end's well as they say, particularly given your windfall.

Steve said...

Gina: I think I would have been less with annoyed with the first paramedic who arrived if he'd actually got out of his car and assessed the situation for himself. Instead he just sat behind his wheel, didn't ask any questions and seemed content to leave us stuck with a prone body. If a lone paramedic can't act there seems little point in sending one out in the first place!

The Crow said...

The priest of a friend of mine told him, when a minor 'miracle' had ocurred, that he could expect that sort of thing, being a man of faith.

Once you were a believer in the powers of Friday the 13th, as a faithful man, you can now expect things like the fiver to appear from out of the blue.

I'm sure of it. Trust me.


Steve said...

The Crow: next Friday 13th I'm buying a lottery ticket!

Inchy said...

As is my way, I was intending to compose a witty, if slightly sarcastic response, but the pork-belly flu has robbed me of the creative juices required. Instead I'll just say that if you are someone who gravitates towards a career in the emergency services, then the last thing on earth you should be doing is "waiting on your backup".
I'd like to see that bloke's face if that's the answer he gets when his chip pan goes up in flames.

ArtSparker said...

The teenager in question may drown in a toilet - may be just as well if he doesn't go swimming in the gene pool.

Steve said...

Inchy: I'd say all your creative juices were present and correct. Next time my boss tells me to do something I don't like I might try the "waiting on back-up" line on him and see where it gets me... I suspect not very far.

ArtSparker: welcome. The thought of that particular teenager's genes entering the global pool fills me with despair.

The Sagittarian said...

Thats a long time to wait for an ambo, and I agree the paramedic could have at least assessed the situation for himself. No points there for initiative.
Glad you got a fiver out of it anyway. Sometime ago I was weeding out the front of our house and a random dude rode past on his bike, and yelled at me "Oi, ya fat arsed bitch"....I was rather surprised he could tell I was a bitch, anyway...later on I found $20 in the weeds. So I think the universe sometimes shouldn't be messed with...

Steve said...

Amanda: I hope the random dude met the wrong end of a fast braking bus... if you're listening, Universe, any time you're ready...

Inchy said...

Well if it's Karma we're on about, I should be due some payback after the week I've had to endure, so if The Universe is indeed listening, I'll have Julianne Moore, Eddie Wearing, some spicy Nik Naks and a birthing pool please, delivered on Saturday morning if that's not too much trouble.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I don't know - a benevolent universe decides to give you your very own toilet angel (albeit unconscious!) and all you can do is criticise!

Seriously, I hope he lived and was ok.

Luckily after remembering in the morning I quickly forgot which date it was and that I was meant to be worried about it. Absolutely nothing of moment happened.

MommyHeadache said...

you're too caring by half - why didn't you just pour some cold water over him t'would have sorted him out no? or some cold lager? or maybe you could secretly buy a tazer gun to get the drunks who are fast asleep on the bog moving along - can get on the interweb i believe.

Selina Kingston said...

"Can I come in and watch" ??? That has made me laugh so much although clearly the situation was not at all funny....!!
By the way, you know you have to hand that fiver into the police. That's the right thing to do. The friday 13th gods are testing you and watching. Be warned!

Steve said...

Inchy: a birthing pool? I didn't know you were expecting - or is there a type of foreplay that I no nothing about (highly likely, my wife says).

Laura: toilet angel? No wonder the church is on it's uppers!

Emma: I wish you were my employer's procurement officer...!

Selina: Hmm, I'm sure the police have received enough donations for their Christmas party without snaffling my hard earned fiver...!