Katy Guest: Slip on a tight jumper and you can save a life

We must learn first aid, St John Ambulance says. I did

Goodness, things have changed since I was a teenage St John Ambulance cadet. Back then, we joined up largely to give us something to do on in suburban Plymouth when we were still too young to get our hands on scrumpy. My abiding memories are of tight, scratchy jumpers and the impossibility of considering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when we hadn't even had a proper snog yet. But a glossy new series of adverts, such as the one on page 14, suggests all that has changed.

(Apart from the tight, scratchy jumpers, which are good training for life, believe me. If you can effectively practise cardio-pulmonary resuscitation with your arms pinned to your sides by a tightly applied bandage of ribbed, black polyester, you can pretty much do anything.)

Far from my fond memories of dusty church halls and dodgy hats, the SJA ads reveal it to be a savvy campaigning organisation with a very powerful message. Every year, it points out, 150,000 people die in situations where simple first aid could have saved their lives.

The website takes it further: it tells the story of Jacqueline, who would have bled to death without the action of her 12-year-old son; Alister, who saved his four-year-old daughter from choking; and Katryn, who was resuscitated by a St John Ambulance crew when she collapsed after a half marathon. I dare you to read them without welling up just a little bit. I dare you to read them without signing on for a first aid course immediately.

Very fortunately, I have never had to use my first aid training except for prescribing myself a Mars Bar when I am feeling a bit faint, and knowing what to do when someone has a nose bleed (tilt the head forward, not back, and don't pick your nose so hard in future). The most excitement I ever had was at a local blood donors' session when a minor fracas broke out over the last pink wafer biscuit. Unlike my mum, I have never had to do extreme CPR on the packed top deck of a moving bus; but nor, unlike one school friend, will I ever have to stand aside and dumbly watch as a man dies of a heart attack in front of me.

Trends in first aid training have changed since I was a teenager (though trends in many other things have sadly reverted to that Eighties nadir). We were taught to count chest compressions at a rate of 90-100 beats per minute. Now, first aiders pummel their unconscious victim to the tune of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive". We practised CPR on Ambu Man, who was missing his legs but had a sort of Resusci sat nav sticking out of his tummy. Now, he and his consort, Resusci Anne, have been joined by Resusci Baby Basic and Little Junior Ethnic Skin, who comes with two junior faces, two junior airways, a Virkon rapid pack and a dark skin option (for those who aren't keen on the grey version who looks like the bastard offspring of Resusci Anne and the Plymouth Civic Centre).

Back in 1991, I was an opinionated little madam (would you have guessed?) and had a particular gripe about sitting through the nonsense of PSME (Personal, Social and Moral Education) classes when instead we could have been learning how to save lives. PSME is now called something else. The St John Ambulance is now a swish outfit with a cracking ad operation. But I'd still campaign to combine the two and teach children something they can really use in their weekly PHSCE (Personal, Health, Social and Citizenship Education) classes.

Whatever. Who knows – they might use their schooling to save a life, one day. And those tight scratchy jumpers are probably right back in fashion.