Monday, 18 January 2010
Blue Lights and Long Nights - Les Pringle
First of all, I absolutely love the cover photo, which is from the author's personal collection and really sets the mood. As the blurb on the front of the book says, Blue Lights and Long Nights is "the heart-warming true story of life as an ambulance driver in 1970s Britain". Through a serious of touching and often light-hearted anecdotes, the author shares with us his memories of his time as an ambulanceman. As you can imagine, there is often an element of tragedy or suffering in the tales he tells, but - as is often the case with people dealing with death and medical emergencies on a daily basis - the ambulance station is rife with childish pranks, gallows humour and lighthearted but often antagonistic banter. The silly antics provide a pressure valve for the ambulancemen dealing with often horrific scenes and make very entertaining reading.
Certain aspects closely tether the narrative to its 1970s setting - for example, the victims of car accidents who didn't yet have the legal requirement of wearing seatbelts and the very low-tech ancestors of the current electronic defibrilators and other basic medical equipment that the ambulances were equipped with. But most of the stories could be equally believable in a modern day setting and it's interesting to see how little has really changed.
Les wistfully recalls some of his sadder moments, such as when he questions whether the ambulancemen really helped those they set out to assist, but the sadness never lasts long. And with Spot the Reindeer (don't ask !!) popping up at inopportune moments, even when the Grim Reaper calls, spirits never stay low for long.
We are used to seeing ambulancemen on TV, notably in TV dramas like Casualty, and the scrapes they often get into, but it was fascinating to get a real-life perspective on these kinds of stories through reading Les's memoirs. Coming straight from the horse's mouth, we know it's true to life - if the TV script-writers had invented it, we'd say they had gone to far and it wasn't believable ! Truth is stranger than fiction, as the saying goes !
My lasting impression was one of tenderness and respect for the ambulancemen of the 1970s, who - like their modern day counterparts - had to face up to harsh conditions and horrific accidents, often with little training and rudimentary equipment. The anecdotes frequently show the best and the worst of human nature, as well as offering a view of the whole spectrum of living conditions, from the slums and squats inhabited by alcoholic druggies to the impressive abodes of highly-respected judges. It's a fascinating and enlightening book that really shows what the everyday heroes of the ambulance service put up with (and make their colleagues put up with !) on a day-to-day basis.
star rating : 5/5
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Bantam Press (13 Feb 2009)