There’s plenty to be said for night lone working, only there’s just no one to listen. While the rest of London slumbers, it’s foxes, men with enormous spanners disappearing into tube stations and social workers on the roads. As I tend to approach DIY with the ability of a sponge doubling as hammer, and am not a fox, I am the latter.
Night working is solidarity. Water-cooler moments are a rare thing, which is for the best when the only gossip involves tripping over while getting out of pyjamas in a hurry after getting caught up in handsfree phone cables. Of course nighttime can be a sad, lonely time, but various crisis lines and the Samaritans are available, which also I believe are available for the clients, if they can get through.
It’s hard enough lacking the magic wand during the day as a social worker, but at night you are apparently responsible for crises in an entire borough, ranging from sectioning a patient who believes the FBI are watching his Sutton bedsit, to someone who’s pen has rolled out of reach under their sofa.
I started working on-call nights about 3 years ago, and I still can’t get used to it. It’s like sleeping with a grenade under your pillow, which might be hyperbolic for people who have actually slept beside a Mills bomb, but they’re probably not reading this in fear that moving might set it off. The main skill set involves answering the phone without saying; ‘Now what?’
There are several things I’ve learnt. That madness never sleeps, but Doctors do, with the tension of a 3am mental health act assessment occasionally broken by the snores of the accompanying Dr. It’s nothing that an elbow to the ribs can’t address. It’s also important to admit to the number of times I’ve been mistaken for the Dr on the basis of carrying a Gladstone bag. If you want to pass as a Dr then forget 6 years at medical school and just get yourself an old leather bag.
A tip for budding out of hours social workers would be to not work in a borough with a river running through it, or has a university. Students are currently smoking cannabis of a strength that can take you to places that haven’t been invented yet. Meanwhile, Saturday night police custody suites are treated like chill out rooms. Invariably, there will be a bedraggled girl in a vomit soaked dress holding a shoe, while her friend strokes her back and hums Venga Boys to keep spirits up. Meanwhile, the police sit around drinking coffee and gossiping about how overworked they are, before looking up like you’ve just arrived, despite having clearly been there for 10 mins.
The best thing at night is the empty roads; distances of 15 miles that take 3 hours during the day are covered in the sort of time the Stig might write to his Mother about. It’s like going back in time. It might mean dispensing with the canapés, but anyone wishing to save money on a Goodwood track day are advised to enjoy the South Circular at 3am. Of course there’s always a Micra going at 18mph, but they are easily dealt with.
There might be some glamour in A&E, but unless it’s measured in people apparently having survived on nothing buy PopTarts for the previous month, it’s unlikely. The mood of the nursing staff ranges from the bonhomie of a lollypop lady, to a kind of attitude better suited to Eastern Bloc border guards. Most visitors to A&E appear to be on first name terms with staff, and are treated with a raise of the eyebrows that don’t entirely lack caring but are preprared to hear well established tales.
All people working at night do so with one foot still in bed. And once you return home, the car collapsed smoking in the street, you climb into bed prepared for the first drone of incoming aircraft and chink of a milk floats, as you force your head down to sleep, as the world outside rises theirs. Until the phone rings again.