Book Review: Sirens by Tom Reynolds

A while back, fed up of work and daydreaming, I began to consider other jobs I could do, starting off with the intensely outlandish (hired gun, Welsh rugby international, masseur to the stars) to the more realistic. One job that fell somewhere between the two was an EMT (emergency medical technician) or Ambulance crewman.

I considered it for various reasons, which I won’t go into here, but ultimately it was rejected, mainly because I can’t drive.

Anwyay, it was just after considering this job that I picked up a copy of this book. Its a collection of blog posts written by an ambulance worker, Brian Kellett under a pseudonym. The version I have is a compilation of two earlier books (Blood, Sweat & Tea and More Blood, More Sweat & Another Cup of Tea) and a new printing to coincide with the TV show it inspired.

The cover makes it seem a lot more farcical than it is.

The TV show was kind of fun, but revels in a kind of laddish, offensive humour that is absent in Reynolds’ writing.

Reynolds writes cleverly, with real wit and comes across as an engaging, decent sort of bloke. There were several times during the book when I laughed out loud at some of his turns of phrase, and incidents in the book which have stuck with me and given me things to think about. Its one of those books where you find yourself reading bits out to people around you, keen to share it with them.

It gives a real insight into a world and a job I didn’t know much about, other than what I assume happens and what I saw years ago on episodes of Casualty. The job seems extremely tough, both physically and mentally. Long stretches of inactivity and boredom, punctuated by moments of drama, frustration and stress.

There are violent assaults, abusive drunks, timewasters, minor accidents and everyday tragedies encountered along the way. Reynolds and his colleagues are guests in a myriad of stories, and his isolated role in taking people to hospital and leaving them means that several stories have no conclusion, satisfying or not. This is a frustration that Reynolds himself voices on several occasions.

What rescues the book from grimness is the writer’s fantastic sense of humour, whether its relating some of the more amusing anecdotes or pouring scorn on some of the idiots he encounters in his job. Even when he’s complaining or ranting about things he does so with wit, his anger is engaging, almost charming and you find yourself rooting for him.

He perfectly captures just how tough the job must be on a mental and emotional level. There’s anger at the public, who are rude, abusive and selfish when confronted by a service there to aid them. There’s frustration at the problems with the ambulance service and the NHS in general, the guidelines set down by people who don’t seem to know what they’re talking about or the shortfall in care that he stumbles across.

And there’s the air of despair, cynicism and a general feeling of being fed up. Of working hard for little reward, struggling with difficult patients and being called out to trivial incidents which may deprive those truly in need of help. Bad jobs that stay with Reynolds, and the fact that he says that several of the places he passes link to old memories, usually sad, hinting that while he may only carry the patients for a few minutes in the ambulance he carries their stories and the memories for much longer.

Its a truly amazing book, written well and with countless interesting anecdotes and facts about life as an ambulance crew. I came away with an even greater respect for the men and women who respond to emergency calls. Reynolds is a truly gifted writer and seems to be a nice, if cynical, fella.

Verdict: 8/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO

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