If I found myself caught short out-of-hours I expected nothing less than a willingness to help out. I’ve been lucky that the two subsequent females in question, both of whom found themselves being whisked away on night-time call-outs, gamely took up my instruction to “grab the foot end, then”.
In fact, the latter female proved of enormous help when a coroner’s removal came one Saturday evening. Whilst I was pondering the directions the police had given me on the phone, she peered over my shoulder and said “Oh, I know where that is. I used to go horse-riding round there.”
Sure enough, driving up a hidden farm track my headlights picked out an unattended police car. Then following my companion’s directions, I looked across the fields to where a solitary officer in a fluorescent jacket was standing guard over the body of a dog walker who’d collapsed on a bridle path.
My companion then demonstrated another very endearing trait: being able to handle bolshie policemen. “Well, I’m glad you lot have turned up at last. I’ve been stuck out here for the last three quarters of an hour,” PC Plodswell muttered ungratefully. Before I could reply, my companion shot back: “Yeah, well, I’m having to miss Strictly for this so we’ve both lost out haven’t we?” Charming girl…
Perhaps the greatest test for both those newly-recruited candidates was when my work intruded into that most delicate of moments. It was the middle of the night when my mobile rang:
“Oh, ‘ello. It’s Maria, duty manager at Ellencroft Nursing Home.”
“You ok? You sound out of breath.”
“Hmm. I must be getting old. How depressing.”
“Well, cheer up, we got a body for you.”
“Already got one here thanks.”
“Never mind. The moment’s passed anyway. What’s the person’s details?”
Unfortunately that particular rite of passage happened with the same female whose rather squeamish neighbours took violent exception to having my private ambulance parked on the driveway next to theirs on the nights I was on-call.
“What’s in there?” The neighbour demanded suspiciously.
“Just a couple of empty stretchers,” I said.
“And your girlfriend doesn’t mind having that thing parked outside her house?” The neighbour’s wife asked indignantly.
Well, ‘noblesse oblige’ as the French say. So, noticing what the neighbour’s husband - a plumber, had on the back of his van, I stuck a note on mine saying “No bodies kept in this vehicle overnight.”
* It was purely accidental timing when my wife asked for a divorce on that evening of all evenings. However I’m pleased to say we’re still on very amicable terms!
James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.