It seemed so inconceivable that something high in the sky should be sending a message down to us, like an alien spaceship indicating that it was coming in to land. Or maybe I’m alone in finding this surprising, the way seeing a lone plane in the dark sky with headlights lighting its way makes me smile, as though it needs to see where the road curves and avoid badgers and oncoming traffic.
So it took me and apparently the many others in the Square a few moments to twig that the helicopter was actually planning to land there, in Trafalgar Square, which was full of people, never mind the fountains, statues and the ginormous pointy thing that is Nelson’s Column. I’ve seen the Air Ambulance land in a road junction by my home in Greater London, but I’ve never heard of it landing in Trafalgar Square (though there’s no requirement to notify me). But when you think of it, if they needed to get an A&E doctor to a patient immediately in Central London, where else might they land? Nearby squares have trees, benches, statues and probably closer power lines.
Indeed, having sounded the warning alarm, the helicopter started descending toward us, and faced with the prospect of 3 tonnes of metal attached to a spinning chopping blade being lowered onto our heads, we had the sense to move. There were no single stupid people who you sometimes see lingering in such situations thinking it might be funny to be non-conformist, and we left plenty of room.
In fact, that was my primary thought—that it was awful that someone must be seriously hurt nearby. One of the Heritage Advisors trying to tie tape to us said there was an incident at Leicester Square, possibly in the Tube, which made me think the medics had disappeared so quickly because they were taken there by a London Ambulance vehicle or motorcycle, as that would otherwise be a fair run with all their heavy gear when they’d need to be fresh enough to save someone’s life on arrival (although I know they often do exactly that).
I know about the Air Ambulance because I recall watching a BBC3 series some years ago called Trauma, where a camera crew followed the team to emergencies in the helicopter during the day and in the rapid response cars at night or when the helicopter was being repaired. It was gripping stuff. I watched the doctors anesthetise a patient and slice open his throat at a London road junction as police officers held a make-shift curtain around them to shield them from the gawping crowd, and perform roadside thoracotomies (open chest surgery) usually performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon in an operating theatre. Can you imagine the pressure on the lone HEMS doctor out on the road? Ably assisted by a remarkable paramedic, of course, but it’s not the same as a full medical team of specialists in a safe and sterilised environment.
I was accustomed, thanks to the television series, to seeing the remarkable work of these medics, and here
was an example of the tremendous skill of the pilots, too. The service will apparently be featured in another television show in June called Real Rescue, presented by former BBC Breakfast sports presenter and Strictly Come Dancing winner Chris Hollins. Make sure you watch it, as if this show is even a patch on Trauma, we viewers will be lucky. I feel the programme did a lot to promote the incredible emergency services as well as the Royal London and A&E departments generally (as Helicopter Heroes also now promotes other air ambulance services). Another fly-on-the-wall programme featuring the London Air Ambulance called Medic One can still be seen on YouTube, and it’s worth having a look. And if you can, perhaps donate even a small something to this amazing service that saves lives daily.
Stranger Cyclist asked if I’d seen the RA’s Johan Zoffany exhibit, which I haven’t, but which was recommended by a friend who, like Stranger Cyclist, had recently retired. Stranger Cyclist (which I accidentally just typed as ‘’Strangler Cyclist” but he seemed safe) described to me The Tribuna of the Uffizi , which amazingly includes a reproduction of over a dozen works at the Uffizi museum in Florence, which I feel I’ve seen—perhaps at Windsor? (It took me years to learn there is a breath-taking collection of works by all the greats at Windsor Castle.)
Stranger Cyclist also referred to a self-portrait in the exhibition that showed some condoms hanging in the background as Zoffany prepared for a fancy dress ball. (I note that the Times Literary Supplement classics editor, Mary Beard, as a result of seeing this painting posed the question “How many condoms did Zoffany paint?” Who would have thought the controversy now was about quantity?)
I later mentioned in an email to my newly retired friend that the exhibition had also been recommended by another person who had seemed to be a sensible intellectual type, despite being a stranger I’d met in Trafalgar Square who mentioned condoms. Said friend made me laugh when he replied that he was “relieved to hear that at last you are talking to strange men in Trafalgar Square about condoms. You really should have done this earlier.”
I only do so on occasions when bright red helicopters land at my feet in famous London landmarks. And then, always. Until next time….