In 2003, under the pseudonym of Tom Reynolds, Brian Kellett began writing blog entries about his day-to-day life as an ambulance technician in London. By 2011, this small personal blog had resulted in two books and a TV show, but perhaps most remarkably did not cost Kellett his job, despite the fact that he frequently and fervently referred to patients and bystanders as idiots, thieves and time-wasters.
Sadly, Sirens — a scripted drama that was very, very loosely based on Reynolds’ two collections of blog posts, Blood, Sweat and Tea and More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea — was cancelled after its first season, even though The Daily Pletteau counts it among his all-time favorite shows. For what it’s worth, Mr. Pletteau also has Firefly on that list, and started watching both shows after they were cancelled, so I think he just enjoys the torture.
In any event, I began reading Kellett’s books* since the original blog, Random Acts of Humanity, has fallen into a web host-less abyss. They’re well worth the four or five dollars that Amazon’s currently charging for them as eBooks, though you can probably find a hard copy for slightly cheaper, as is increasingly (and frustratingly) the way with eBooks of late.
But on to the review. Let’s start by discussing what these books aren’t: they aren’t intended as a straight-forward narrative. The characters of Ashley and Rashid are complete inventions — especially as Kellett seems to work mostly with female technicians in the field. Kellett isn’t nearly as a cynical or self-important as the fictional Stewart Bayldon (Rhys Thomas). Maxine, her partner, her hunky fireman boyfriend and just about any other peripheral character on the show aren’t even hinted at by Kellett, who is very careful to avoid providing descriptions of just about anyone he comes into contact with, unless he clearly states that he has their express permission (though they usually request that he paints them in the most flattering light possible).
Instead, Kellett focuses on the joys and the frustrations of his job. He loves feeling that he makes a difference, saves lives and works in a genuinely needy part of the city. He likes “proper jobs” where someone is in some real and immediate sort of danger, rather than the bull-shittier types of calls like taking women who think they’re in labor (but aren’t) to the hospital or rushing to what he thinks is a child who’s stopped breathing only to realize that it’s just a kid with a small cough. He dislikes the politics surrounding his job, the meaningless numbers he’s required to hit, the shady or ineffectual ways that his company seeks to meet them and the overcrowded, underfunded state of the average London Accidents and Emergencies Room.
What’s interesting in comparing the show to the book is the way the show was able to capitalize on a fleeting paragraph from Kellett and expand it into an entire storyline. At one point, Kellett argues that the ICE contact (In Case of Emergency) should be a staple in everyone’s cell phone, so the show gave us a whole episode devoted to the awkward and intimate decision process regarding who a single, grown man with no siblings or parents would put as his emergency contact. Meanwhile, an offhand comment about Kellett’s absentee father becomes an entire emotional arc for Stewart. The troubles of finding love in a job like this are mentioned briefly, and usually jokingly, in the text and yet the show presents all of the lead characters struggling with their love lives while juggling their stressful (yet rewarding) lines of work.
Allegedly there are still rumblings that Dennis Leery’s version of Sirens — which will be set in Chicago and have no relation to the show but rather will again be borrowing from Kellett’s books — is still in the works, but a recent Twitter conversation between myself, Pletteau and Kellett reveal that he’s not holding his breath.
In the meantime, I do genuinely recommend picking up Blood, Sweat and Tea and its sequel. Kellett’s style is at times perfectly casual and witty, and at others appropriately angry or somber. Rarely do you feel you’re getting such an unfiltered and honest look at a job or field so riddled with red tape and government regulation. Or at least one so funny.
*First, by the way — The Daily Pletteau is just quicker about getting his posts up than I am.