Five-minute memoir: Louise Doughty recalls a drunken night out that ended with a 999 call

'He stood swaying and swearing, before head-butting the door'

My 11-year-old is going through a fearful phase. She doesn't like me or her big sister going out in the evening. She wants to know what to do if a burglar breaks into the house during the night – she also worries about a plane falling out of the sky. Recently, she asked me to describe, in specific details, the circumstances under which it was appropriate to call 999, and asked me if I had ever had to do it. It reminded me of an incident that I haven't thought about for years.

It was the 1980s. I was a student at university in Leeds when it was a very different town from now. It was the height of Thatcherism and the social divisions of that time; the miners' strike, "Loadsamoney", the north-south divide. Leeds felt like quite a tough town if you didn't have any money – or perhaps any urban centre would have felt like a tough town to an impoverished student in those days, especially one like me who had had a relatively sheltered upbringing in a rural area of the East Midlands.

In many ways, Leeds was a student-friendly city – there was certainly a huge transient population, although the corollary of that was a lot of tension with local people. When we would go out to pubs and nightclubs, fights were common; my boyfriend had been punched in a pub in front of me just for having a Brummie accent. We generally stuck together in large groups.

One such night, about eight of us had been in a pub and there had been various tensions, partly from a heaving pub full of drunken young people of all sorts, but heightened by something that was nothing to do with outsiders. One couple in the group had been bickering all night, the kind of vicious, out-of-control sniping that happens when you put alcohol on top of a relationship that is already melting in acrimony.

Eventually, the rest of us prised the couple away from each other and outside, and we all walked back to the combative boyfriend's rented house through streets that teemed with voluble youngsters on the edge of good times about to go sour; the mugginess of a hot summer night, the occasional shriek or shout, the smash of glass.

On the doorstep of the young man's home, he was so drunk he was unable to get the key into the lock. He stood swaying and swearing for a minute before, in one swift movement, head-butting a glass panel in the door, then shoving his hand through the broken pane and undoing the lock. (He later told me he had got the idea from the scene in East of Eden where James Dean head-butts a train window.)

Suddenly, we were all inside the house. The young man and the other men in our group had run upstairs and there was commotion. His girlfriend was wailing in distress. In the dim light of a darkened hallway, I could see a vast splat of blood sprayed up the wall, more blood on the stairs. One of my housemates yelled down the stairs, "Louise, call an ambulance."

"What, 999?" I asked, stupidly. It seemed an extreme thing to do.

"Yes, now!" he yelled back.

There was an old-fashioned grey payphone screwed to the communal hallway wall. As I made the call, I stared at the blood on the wall. There seemed quite a lot of it. "Has he been fighting, love?" asked the operator, no doubt wondering if she should send a squad car while she was at it.

"No," I said, "it was an accident," although I knew it had been anything but.

The ambulance came; the young man was carted away, covered in blood and with a serious head injury, still drunk and still snarling at his sobbing girlfriend, who insisted on getting into the ambulance with him. He needed a quantity of stitches. I can't remember what the rest of us did but I imagine that, shocked and sobered, we probably made tea. I don't think any of us bothered to clear up the blood; who knows what the young man's unfortunate housemates thought when they got home.

What stays with me from the incident are not the facts of the act itself but the feeling of the hard plastic telephone receiver in my hand, my sudden sobriety and calmness as I repeated what little I knew, my sense that it felt no more than the culmination of a very bad night out undertaken in a city in crisis in a country that felt dangerously at odds with itself. I did what I tell my daughter to do: stay calm, keep everyone safe, call for help. I do not mention that what remains with you after such incidents is the pictures: the dim hallway, the grey telephone, the blood on the wall.

Louise Doughty's latest novel, 'Apple Tree Yard', is published by Faber

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker