One afternoon during my first ever week at Midori House, the building began to tremble and trees in the neighbouring park began to sway. Rather than dive under desks during this highly atypical mini earthquake-cum-hurricane in our leafy pocket of the UK, the office was instead drawn to the windows. Here we stood and gawped in wonder as London’s air ambulance helicopter gracefully descended into the park; blades swiping branches as it came though the trees. It’s the kind of magnificently random distraction that can only unite fellow co-workers. I would soon learn that the park’s mystical lure – be it the sight of a strange man shouting at nobody or an impressively matching platoon of dayglo joggers – can stop the office dead at a moment’s notice.
But that specifically triumphant sight of London’s airborne civic pride is currently unavailable to casualties in need (and distracted office personnel) because it turns out that for the next three weeks the London Air Ambulance is taking a break. I’m not sure whether a break in service for a resource that assists 160 people per month in literally life-or-death situations is discussed at future-planning meetings in the same way as, say, a break for lunch. But it turns out that the air ambulance, like any workhorse vehicle, needs maintenance and somehow, in a major world city of more than 10 million people, there isn’t a spare.
Besides the very obvious problems that this kind of setback might cause Londoners, there is another wider, more confusing point as to how the city’s sole chopper has managed to be overlooked. Though no true monetary value can be placed on saving lives, it turns out the actual cost of doing it by air is around £5m (€6.4m) a year – not small change. But in a city where just this week someone has reportedly put down £45m (€57m) for a flat, it’s a slightly depressing thought that perhaps a second aircraft could’ve been in the sky for roughly the same amount as a fifth guest bedroom in one of the neighbourhoods it serves.
These are puzzling questions about what kind of price tags are acceptable – or sustainable – in a modern city. The general public often rallies around stories such as these with hastily organised fundraising events, as they recently have done. But a city becoming of the super rich probably shouldn’t be bankrolling its infrastructure with pancake races. That one really doesn't fly.
Of course, London's air ambulance will be back above us soon, no big emergency, apparently, but I think it’d be nice to know that there’s another one flying up there just in case. I will keep an eye on the sky – and the park – until it does.
Tom Hall is a sub editor and writer for Monocle.