Sitting down with friends, talking about dreams. We've just come out of the cinema, having seen Inception. Princess RRD isn't sure, not totally, what had been going on. Mrs RRD isn't sure, not totally, whether she liked the film or not. Break Dancer wants to know what her dream about chasing a labrador around the garden in her nightie means. Break Dancer's husband is checking it out on www.whatsmydreammean.com. And I am just sitting there, enjoying the company of true friends.
Buzz!! Buzz!! I glance at my pager, set on silent during the movie. I must remember to bring my reading glasses out with me. Squinting, and holding the pager at arms length, I can just make out the characters: 29D02, local motorway junction. My pager is linked to the Ambulance Service coding computer. AMPDS, for those who care, is the way in which the computer translates the information the call taker gets from the caller into coded information for the crews, including the priority of the job. 29 is the code for an RTC (road traffic collision - don't call it an accident, oh no!) and D02 is high speed. Well, it is a motorway, after all. I sigh, theatrically. My family and friends know the score - I might be off. A lot of these are simple shunts, and don't amount to anything. I generally wait for at least 2 calls before calling in my availability. And anyway, I still haven't heard about the labrador and the nightie!! The sound of rain on the conservatory roof is a comforting backdrop to our conversation.
Buzz!! Buzz!! I sigh theatrically again, and squint at the characters: 29D05. Suddenly, all thoughts of dogs, dreams and gardens are swept away. D05 - all services required. I call it in, and hear that there has been a 3-car pileup, with one man unconscious.
As I enter the motorway, the rain starts in earnest. I can barely see out of the windscreen; my wipers are ineffectual in this weather. And it just gets worse. Cars are stopping on the hard shoulder, but I grimly carry on, my speed dropping lower and lower, my hands gripping the steering wheel knuckle-white. I am leaning so far forward that my nose feels as if it is pressed against the window; like I used to in my old house, watching the rain from my bedroom.
I can see blue lights ahead, but know that my journey is not yet over - they are on the other carriageway, and I have to go up to the next exit and back down again.
My eyes flick across to the scene as I am about to pass it, then flick back ahead again.
What the ....!!!! Twisted metal appears in my windscreen through the driving rain. A lamppost is down, and the lantern arm is across my lane. I swerve to the left (we're in the UK, remember) and slide past it with inches to spare. Fortunately, my 4x4 is able to cope with the maneouvre, and I regain control of my beating heart.
A few minutes later I am jumping out the car and running through the rain towards the waiting casualities; I know that getting there is only the beginning.