Emergency calls in Britain

What constitutes a crisis in Britain? Not much, if you ask some people, so periodically the ambulance/police/fire/coast guard emergency number publicizes a handful of the weirder calls they get in a—doomed, I’m sure—effort to make people get serious about this. They’re being tweeted at #ThinkBeforeYouDial!

So here we go: a quick visit to what the emergency number—999—deals with.

Someone wanted to borrow a charger for their phone’s battery.

Someone complained that the groomer had shaved their dog instead of trimming it.

Someone asked when the betting shops close.

Irrelevant photo: wild gladiolus–also called whistling jacks in the Scilly Isles.

Someone complained that McDonald’s didn’t give him a Monopoly sticker with his drink.

Someone asked, “Will I get arrested if I move my housemate’s banana?”

Yes, almost surely.

Someone said, “My TV is broken and Eastenders in about to start.”

Someone wanted the number for British Gas.

Someone’s hamster was sick.

One thoughtful soul wanted the non-emergency police number, presumably so they wouldn’t have to bother 999.

Someone wanted a takeaway place prosecuted because his food was 45 minutes late.

One tweet was from what seems to be a German police force and I don’t know any German, so when I was offered a translation of course I took it. It says, according to the translation program, “Yesterday #NoNotruf, today #DaFürDich. Tomorrow then there is also a.”

That strikes me as a genuine emergency. Of course, I worked as in publishing before I retired, not in emergency services. My definition of an emergency may not be much use in the real world.


This may or may not be related, but the World Health Organization reports that Britons drink almost twice the global average. People in Britain who are over fifteen drank 12.3 liters of pure alcohol—or its equivalent, since I doubt anyone’s chugging pure alcohol. I think that’s per year but for all I know it’s per hour. The worldwide average is 6.4 liters. I’d give you a link, but everything I find online is from earlier years and the article was in the Western Morning News, which has pretty much disappeared from the web lately.

Of course any worldwide average includes Muslim-majority countries, where I wouldn’t expect to find a huge number of drinkers. That would lower the global average. On the other hand, I’m hopeless with numbers. Maybe even after you allow for a significant number of nondrinkers in the sample, being over the average means you’re drunk on your ass.

I can testify that people around here drink pretty heavily. And after they drink, a lot of them sing. Some of them fight. A few of them dial 999.

82 thoughts on “Emergency calls in Britain

  1. I used to work in the emergency services and we used to get all sorts of odd calls. I’ll never forget someone calling in because they were hungry. Sadly, mental health issues and loneliness play a part in the more unusual calls.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My guide dog, Trigger has been known, on more occasions than I care to remember, to steal my colleague’s lunches (sandwitches etc). Should they be calling the emergency services I wonder to report a brindle lab/retriever on the loose …! Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A good post mind you I have gone orf Gladioli now… i can’t abide whistlers and the Scilly Isles well just too silly.
    On a serious note Emergency no’s should only be used in an emergency and I don’t have patience with time wasters. But I think some of the problem is that everyone knows the 999 number but nobody knows a police help desk no. If like 999 every force had the same number say 246 for instance, then you were put through to a desk that was local maybe this wouldn’t happen. Mental health, scared individuals can feel it is an emergency for them but not an ’emergency’ as we know it. Prankers time wasting fools should be held up as an example made to stand on a central roundabout in the area he/she prank called in with a sandwich board saying I STOPPED THE EMERGENCY SERVICES BY WASTING THEIR TIME. Or shamed on flyers, in local newspapers etc… sorry it makes me mad!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem (as I was reminded when I used a mobile phone to call about a power outage) is that only with a landline will an automated system know where you are. And even if there was a central switchboard, with mobile phones people don’t necessarily know where they are.

      I’m sure yo’re right about there being people who genuinely do think they’re in an emergency when the rest of us think, What??

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think the crucial info is how people behave when they are drunk. Do they unleash inner demons, fears, inadequacies, do they harass, do they whine, do they protest, slam into things, vandalise, steal? Do they wander around on their own, contemplating life? Jump into rivers? Drive? Discriminate – now that they dare? Hit those closest to them? Weep over sports? Hug their mates and cry their hearts out? Want to discuss the most private issues? Want to know about yours? Declare love? Apologise? Throw up and drink some more?

    Or simply go to bed?

    Can you tell I’ve got lots of observational experience? Not Slovenian for nothing…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My friend worked 911 dispatch in the 90s. Oh the stories she would tell! Someone stole a Big Mac from a car, someone wouldn’t give another 10% off the MSRP — it was madness. So nice she has a quiet, solitary job now.
    I read an article about how the average white upper-middle-class suburban family in America drinks the most, while also reporting they drink the least. There was a survey, and then a garbage exam. Quite WASP-y, hm? So long as they don’t lie to themselves, no harm done, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t help but wonder if it might not work if they instituted a ‘lesser’ number (998 perhaps?) for the lonely heart calls, where folks could issue their complaints and not bother the real emergency number. Probably not likely, but could be worth a try? Then again that might create some totally bizarre calls by pranksters or the terminally bored.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting possibility. There’s a non-emergency medical number, which we’ve used. Unfortunately, in an effort to save money, the government dumbed it down, getting rid of the skilled people and replacing it with people who had to rely on a computer-generated set of questions. (“I’m having trouble breathing.” “Right. Are you bleeding?”) It’s ended up with more people being referred to more expensive emergency care. Chalk up another victory for austerity.

      Sorry. It doesn’t take much to get me going on that topic. There’s also a lesser-known police number–the one that one caller called to ask for. And that, I guess, is the problem: Will it be as well known? Are the people who call convinced that they do have an emergency? How long could you work handling those calls before you started calling suicide hotlines yourself?


      • Trust me, I share your frustration at these so-called austerity measures. I could easily launch into a rant, but given our current political mess I’m pretty well ranted out. There comes a point where I’m almost ready to call 911 myself reporting a madman who has taken over the White House.

        The goofy calls to 999 or 911 can be a problem I suppose, but it seems that there’s always that % of folks who will misuse any system. I do have a friend who worked the 911 phone lines in Phoenix and he spoke of some heart wrenching calls. You have me thinking of asking just how much of a problem the prank or goofy calls were.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I expect that when things are slow, they’re light entertainment, but when there’s a genuine crisis, they’re really, really infuriating. There a whole roomful of people would be, trying to sort out a major traffic accident or bridge collapse or who knows what and some jerk calls in about a cell phone.

          Calling about a madman who’s taken over the White House, though? That sounds legitimate.

          Liked by 1 person

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