Filming started yesterday for next year's series of Doctor Who. Within hours the internet was awash with photos of Matt Smith in costume as the 11th Doctor, an intriguing young fogey look juxtaposing elbow patches, tweed and a thin bow-tie with bovver boots. The TARDIS prop has been given a retro makeover, with a St John's Ambulance sticker reappearing on the front door for the first time since 1966.
I've always had a fondness for that symbol, having been a St John's Ambulance cadet for a year or two while growing up in New Zealand. Mostly it involved learning first aid procedures and practising drills in a black and white uniform of serge so scratchy it felt like wearing hot Brillo pads. We went along to sports events, poised to intervene in case of accident or injury, slowly melting in our uniforms.
Not sure I ever got to treat anyone, but I do recall being on duty during stock car races at Waikaraka Speedway. Several members of my family are buried in the cemetary next door now, but that happened after my time as a Zambuck. Looking back, I'm not sure why I joined the cadets. I was never interested in the scouts, the boys' brigade or the air training corps - all of which were popular pursuits for Kiwi youths at the time.
I didn't last long in the cadets - puberty and a burgeoning interest in girls soon put paid to being a Zambuck. Melting in a scratchy uniform on the sidelines didn't do a lot of me, and I've always preferred to plough my own furrow. But it did feel good to help others, to be part of something larger than yourself. So it's nice to see the St John's Ambulance symbol restored to pride of place in the front door of the TARDIS again.
I never understood why the cadets were known as the Zambucks back then. Thanks to the internet, I've just looked up that old nickname. Seems it was an Antipodean thing. Zam-Buk was the trade name for an ointment in a black-and-white container. Black and white were also the St John's Ambulance uniform colours, so some wag at a sports event called the medical volunteers Zambucks - and the name stuck. How odd. Oh, well - onwards!