One of the best things I’ve done recently is to recommend Kit Wharton to the Marlborough LitFest. He’s written one of the funniest books that it’s been my pleasure to read in quite a while. Emergency Admissions (Fourth Estate: £9.99) comes out of his extra-ordinary background.
How many Architectural Correspondents of The Sunday Telegraph have you met who have become paramedics in Brighton – a place Keith Waterhouse described as ‘a town that always looks as if it is helping police with their enquiries’? Me? Well, I just know one – Kit.
Although the book is very funny, with its tales of extreme call-outs juxtaposed with accounts of Kit’s own dysfunctional upbringing, it represents a huge tribute to the resilience and compassion of our paramedics.
To me, they’re the most admirable and vital aspect of the NHS: the ones who’ll turn out at a moment’s notice. Unlike other operatives in that vast system, you don’t have to make an appointment for three weeks time to see them.
The book reveals the sort of call-outs that are all in a day’s work for Kit and his team – a machete-wielding drunk with a long history of mental illness, a dead man locked in a car with a hungry bull terrier, a teenage girl with suspicious abdominal pains and a man who’s fainted – frightened he was allergic to his cheese and onion sandwich.
The S&M party gone wrong might be particularly redolent of Keith Waterhouse’s Brighton, but it could, I suppose, have happened anywhere.
All this is set against the backdrop of Kit’s upbringing with his chaotic but talented and lovable parents. I knew them both when they were living here in the Marlborough area. Suffice it to say that I’m sure he would agree that the domestic setting in which he grew up was admirable preparation for the rigours of paramedical life.
This book is funny in the Shakespearean sense – where the finest humour is tinged with heartbreak. Beneath Kit’s light approach, there lies a panorama of anguish, pain, absurdity, solidarity and self-sacrifice. Given the continuing stress of the job at the cutting edge, humour is a necessary therapy.
I wouldn’t quite agree with his view that ‘the ambulance service is like everything else’. You’ve only got to read this book to realise that the life of a paramedic ain’t exactly nine till five. It is inherent in Kit’s book that humour goes a long way towards survival on the job.
Kit quotes George Orwell as saying that ‘to be truly funny, you’ve got to be serious’. He was right. In the service you deal with death and tragedy, injury and illness, misery and loss. ‘And if you can’t laugh at that lot, what the hell can you laugh about?’
Kit Wharton will be in conversation with Nick Fogg during the Marlborough LitFest at St. Mary’s Church Hall on Saturday, September 30th at 3pm.
You can book online – by phone 01249 701628 – or in person at the White Horse Bookshop (cash & cheques only)