I’m not sure if you saw the 24 tweetathon by Greater Manchester Police the other week, where the force aimed to tweet every 999 call they received. It was a fascinating insight into the work of the police, and while some of the highlights were amusing, the main themes that came out the day’s experiment were the dedication of the police and the fact that some people are mindless idiots. The police not only have to deal with terrible crime but pointless timewaters too.
It reminded me a lot of a book I read while in my recent spell in hospital, called Nee Naw. A blog-turned-book, Nee Naw is a real-life diary of Suzi Brent, an ambulance dispatcher in London, who provides a description of life in the service that is at once revealing, poignant, sad, hilarious and compelling. Describing the time-wasters, the violence and the social decay that the London Ambulance Service encounters, it helps the reader understand why the service exists, how to use it best, and how it is grossly misused by others. But the main impact lies in the picture it paints of many parts of London, not least the social breakdown that leads to the crime, violence and ignorance that causes all the 999 calls the service has to respond to.
Quite inspiring stuff, and while a very different book, similar thoughts are provoked by Even The Dogs, the latest book from the excellent Jon McGregor (who also wrote the beautiful If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things). Even The Dogs was another book I read while in hospital. Documenting the circumstances and individuals surrounding the death of a drug addict and alcoholic, the book is written in a haunting tone, anonymous second-person-plural narrators taking us through the lives of those the key character lived among. It’s dark, curious and at times difficult, but the characters created with uncompromising detail. Like much of McGregor’s writing, it’s about the underclass, the forgotten, those off the radar.
These two books, Perhaps ironic reading material for a hospital bed, but the two books are highly commendable. They plus the coverage of the Greater Manchester Police Twitter experiment, serve as a timely reminder in an age of spending cuts and fears of society – big or otherwise – cracking under the strain of overstretched public services: that is, there are are many left behind and forgotten in terms of wealth. Such people cannot be forgotten – both on compassionate grounds and for the integrity of society as a whole.