Drinking At Christmas

There is an excellent little article over at the Guardian here.
Sandra Laville

Monday December 20, 2004

The Guardian

As an icy wind blew in a flurry of snow, broken and discarded umbrellas rolled down St Mary Street like tumbleweed. In a doorway of the Walkabout bar, six Santas, four angels and an Elvis Presley huddled together to shelter from the cold.

From inside his Mercedes van, Mike Loveless watched as a man stumbled towards him, his white shirt soaked in blood, dripping from his smashed up nose.

A few metres away another young man, his shirt sleeves also stained blood red, slumped against a parked car and punched uselessly at the keyboard of his mobile phone.

All around others staggered; dazed and confused, some crying and bloodied, like survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. But there had been no bomb, no train crash or motorway pile up. This was the fallout from the last Saturday night before Christmas when hundreds of young men and women, their flimsy tops no barrier to the freezing temperatures, swarmed from bar to club to bar in search of pleasure.

Parked on a strip of Cardiff city centre known as “animal farm”, Mr Loveless, a paramedic with 18 years experience, had the unenviable task of picking up the pieces.

In a pilot scheme running in south Wales, Mr Loveless spends his 10pm to 4am shift at the heart of the Christmas revelry answering 999 calls to leave the main fleet of ambulances free to answer serious incidents elsewhere.

He assesses the patients at the scene, carries out treatment and, if necessary, sends them to hospital in a non-emergency back-up ambulance.

As part of the Christmas crackdown on anti-social behaviour, Mr Loveless works with police officers who roam the streets of the city centre. They call on his medical skills when needed, and in turn go to his aid if the crowd becomes hostile.

“I am linked into the police radio for security,” said Mr Loveless. “There are a lot more people carrying weapons these days. A lot feeling they have nothing to lose, all drink and drugs fuelled.

“I've had my arm broken and I've been given a black eye in this job, so I am in constant touch with the officers.”

The night is still in its infancy when the radio crackles to life with a 999 call to the Old Borough pub, where a young woman has fallen head first down some steps. A group of young women, fuelled by the festive offer of any three bottles for £5, chants: “Get your kit off for the girls.”

It takes half an hour to check the young woman over, lay her on a spinal board and lift her up the stairs and into a waiting ambulance to be ferried to hospital.

Moments later a call for assistance at Edwards bar comes in from the police – “male assault victim hyperventilating”.

At the scene, two girls dressed as Christmas tree angels weep and hover over a young man, lying flat on his back on a bench, his face a mess of blood. As the casualty is put into the back-up ambulance for treatment, a teenage boy runs across the street screaming and sobbing to the paramedic: “Pentwyn, pentwyn, pentwyn, I need to get to Pentwyn, please I only got a £1, please.”

“Listen mate, I'm not a taxi service okay. Go away or I'll call the police,” Mr Loveless responds. “You have to be a bit assertive with them sometimes,” he says. “Because otherwise it is like the lunatics running the asylum.”

Throughout the night the rapid response van races up and down the street and its offshoots, where every second building is a late night bar, dealing with everything from intoxicated, weeping girls who have fallen off their high-heeled shoes to testosterone-fuelled men with bloody faces, suspected heart attacks and broken legs, and female victims of assault, like Sophie.

Her Christmas celebrations came to an end when a man in The Yard bar punched her in the face, splitting her cheek and plumping her eye out in a black, blue and red mess.

“I've never in my life had a mark on my face, oh my God, look at me, my mum is going to kill me,” weeps the 20-year-old, before being ferried away to the University College hospital, Wales.

As night becomes early morning the response team flies from one call to another.

As Mr Loveless treats his patients, around him more police pour into the street, blue sirens flash the length of the road, a fire engine adds its wail to the mayhem and the ambulance control sends a message over the radio to all crews: “A lot of fighting going on in the city centre, it's very dangerous, be careful.”

“Merry Christmas to you all,” shouts a reveller as the response van pulls up to a ruck outside the Chip Shop.

A well dressed businessman, out with his wife, slips and spills curry sauce over the T-shirt of another man. “He just went for him.

“He went ballistic, and headbutted him,” said the businessman's wife.

Then there is the 20-year-old subject of three 999 calls; one over a broken leg which turns out to be a grazed knee, another for an assault and the third when she collapses shivering and drunk in the street.

“I've had enough of this,” said the paramedic, sending her to hospital.

Heading back to police HQ at 4am – after answering 21 calls and treating nearly double the number of patients – he adds: “Roll on New Year's Eve.”

I'm working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day 18:00-01:00 on overtime and 07:00-19:00 on New Years Eve and New Years Day. Nothing to do with the extra money at all…

10 thoughts on “Drinking At Christmas”

  1. Merry Christmas Tom, I will take this opportunity to wish you and everyone who is working over christmas all the best. Me I'm in over christmas week, I'm here in spirit but not in mind.

  2. Things got so bad in New Zealand over the holidays that since the eighties a lot of places have brought in no-drink zones. These have been extended and extended. Now they publish lists in the paper of the times and places of bans – they cover virtually all town and city centres. Rather sad that we can't be adults and drink responsibly isn't it? We have to have rules imposed on us by Government and councils because we're so incapable of excercising our own self control. Expect to see lists like this in the UK soon!http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/dominionpost/0,2106,3135687a6479,00.html

  3. I used to live in Cardiff, and can attest to the mess that exists there. The problem was not so great in the early nineties, but has definitely worsened – after a while I just quit going into the city centre even on a weekday evening.Now I live outside the UK, and despite my current locale having it's own problems, this kind of incident just doesn't happen; alcohol is marketed responsibly, and people drink (fairly) responsibly; in the three years I have been here, I never saw an ambulance crew dealing with a drunk.

    Perhaps all breweries / distillers should be paying some levy to the NHS to deal with the fall out they help generate.

    I hope your shifts pass without facing any trouble from overly merry drinkers.

  4. I don't know if this helps at all, but I would like to say thanks for doing this job at all. And my biggest apologies to all my fellow members of the public who are such idiots at this time of the year (and any other time). I'd never dream of calling an ambulance unless it was a really big emergency. Coming from a country (not the UK) where binge drinking is part of the culture, I spent a lot of my younger years taking people from parties to the hospital with alcoholic poisoning (I'm pretty good at recognising the symptoms now). It would never have occured to any of us to call an ambulance for something so self inflicted unless it was an extremely dire case (ie not breathing). I remember going to one new years party once, and three young lads arrived just after we did, carrying one of their party between them. He'd been out for a while and they'd just continued on, carrying him from party to party. By now it was 7pm and apparantly they'd been drinking since 7am that morning. No idea who he was, we just threw him in the car and took him to the hospital. Couldn't even give the doctors his name (we'd forgotten to ask). Left him getting his stomach pumped (not a pleasant experience – maybe if they showed videos of that in pubs at this time of year it would stop people getting so wasted?). Put me off binge drinking I can tell you.I don't think things were this bad when I first arrived in the UK fifteen years ago. What has changed in the culture of Britain for this to happen now?

  5. Tom!long time no see.

    I just found your blog on a guardian article and was so pleased for you i wanted to come round so to speak and say well done.

    Hope your christmas isnt too hectic.

    stay safe.

    Miss Fluffy (formerly of Brain Spasm, Bilge-flaps and now Flangymorph.blogspot.com)

  6. I have lived in Milan for three years working with young adults and have constantly been asked to supply answers as to why, for so many of them, the overriding image of British (heterosexual) youth is binge drinking, violence, hooliganism and loutishness. It's a constant source of embarrassment for me because, apart from this, I love and am very proud of my culture and my country. Like the person above, I have NEVER seen an ambulance dealing with a drunk, have NEVER seen a fight, drink induced or otherwise, and see Italians, young and old, self regulating their drinking and viewing the levels of drunkness the British make a habit of as undignified and thoroughly 'uncool'. And they're right. It's pathetic. Although I do also sometimes have to counter their puritanism and explain that being a little drunk occasionally doesn't have to lead to violence, can be a bloody good laugh and doesn't necessarily have to do you or other people harm.

  7. Heh. Love the linking over to my site from a post titled “Drinking at Xmas.” I am impressed how somebody an ocean away can keep current with my holiday trends like that!Madpercolator.

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