I was born into this world on the thirteenth day of March, 1770, may it please you, received into the sure and respectable arms of the Lambert family senior, in the county seat of Leicester. My father, John, in stature and in public life a substantial and hospitable man, keeper of the Bridewell jail, redoubtable servant of the county of Leicestershire, breeder of dogs and fighting cocks, held me to his heart a boy of grace and opportunity, heir designate to the modest fortunes he had so assiduously acquired. I grew strong like him, swimming in the Stour, hunting and fishing, taking all of life that I could with an appetite born of a naturally expansive mind and a temperament which demanded of all experience the simple necessity of sampling as much of it that I could. By virtue of this temperament, in the most part the result of an indulgent heritage, by which I mean a father who wished me all the things he was denied in his youth, and a mother for whom bread and game, pies, puddings and pitchers of ale marched on through the household as like the very blood of the body Lambert – by virtue of this temperament, as I say, the weighty proclivities I was born with, and the idiosyncrasies I can only claim for myself, I grew in circumference as much as in height. The love people bore for me, my family and friends, indeed the very prisoners who were given into my charge when I succeeded my father as president of the gaol, all the love that orbited me in my heavenly path through life, seemed to act on me in much the same way as food.
By the time I was pensioned from my job in 1804, I was of considerable girth, my clothes specially made, and the furniture in my house reinforced by craftsmen without whose skill and ingenuity my comfort would have been in jeopardy. I grew to be such the celebrity in my home town that I would be followed about by crowds of rowdy boys, riding in my wake like so many bottles bobbing about behind the progress of a ship. Without work to maintain me, and with a pension grown exhausted by the demands placed upon it, I thought about the ways in which I might earn an extra sixpence or two, and struck upon the idea of charging admission to look upon me, five shillings per person, with a reduction for large parties. Though it pained me to exhibit myself in this way, it allowed for the fitting of a special carriage, and sundry other life essentials.
On the twenty first of July, 1809, I had repaired to the races at Stamford, and taken up lodging at an Inn in that fair town. It was there that my heart and my life finally acceded to the strains placed upon them. I fell asleep, and did not open my eyes on this world again.
The inn keeper and his men looked at the situation all of the morning and some of the afternoon, scratching their heads and pacing the circumference of my bed, taking measurements, gauging material strengths, angles and probabilities. Finally it was decided that the only way to remove my mortal remains was to take out the window adjacent to the cot, partially demolish the attendant wall, apply planks of wood as a bridge to a waggoner’s cart judiciously parked in the courtyard, and slide me out by means of ropes.
At my funeral, twenty pall bearers bore my coffin into the ground, and there it was, dear reader, my life’s adventure found its end.
We hear an obstructed rattle from the front room as the son leads us in to his father.
'He was like this yesterday, maybe not quite so bad,’ he says, pushing open the door.
A glutinous landslip of a figure, Daniel is not so much sitting in the huge electric chair as spilling out of it, his massive legs planted either side of a belly so enormous it would take a team of tailors with ladders to clothe it; as it is, he seems to be wearing a shower curtain as a nightshirt. The cupid features of his face float on an indeterminate mass of mottled flesh, the lips tinged with blue. I take up the controls to the chair and adjust his position, tipping him back enough to open his airway and stop him snoring. The cyanotic mottling gradually fades, his level of consciousness rises, but there is a crackle from his lungs.
‘How long’s his chest been like this?’
‘A few weeks. He normally has problems with his breathing, but it’s getting worse.’
We put an oxygen mask on him, check him over. His sats come up to an acceptable level, but he seems to be running a temperature, and his breathing is obviously compromised by infection. There is no blood pressure cuff available outside of London Zoo that would fit around his arm, but at least he has a good radial pulse.
The son stands watching us, his hands hooked in the back pockets of his jeans. He seems nervous, scooped out by things. I wonder when he ate last.
‘Normally with a chest infection like this we’d simply take your dad to hospital,’ I tell him, putting the clipboard to one side.
‘I don’t want to go to no bleedin’ hospital. I hate them places,’ wheezes Daniel, pulling off our mask and putting on his own nasal cannula instead. ‘They’re full of sick people.’
‘He won’t go if he doesn’t want to. He’s a stubborn old git.’
‘The thing is, even if he did want to go, it wouldn’t be an easy thing, given his weight. What – about thirty two stone, would you say?’
‘Charming,’ Daniel says, adjusting the cannula.
There is a knock on the side of the open door and a bright young woman hellos her way into the room.
‘Hi Keith. Everything all right? I saw the ambulance.’
‘Yeah. Thanks Jean. Dad took a bit of a turn’s all. We’re just figuring out what to do with him.’
‘Send me to the knackers,’ says Daniel. ‘Make a bit of money.’
‘Oh you,’ says Jean. ‘Well – just thought I’d check in. If there’s anything you need…’ And she goes.
‘It’s just a logistical problem, that’s all,’ I say to Daniel. ‘We’d need at least a second crew here to help with the lift, but then you won’t fit on our trolley anyway. So we’d have to arrange for a special truck to come out, and I’m not sure how soon that could be. I think the best thing is for the doctor to come out and have a look at you here – which is what you probably want anyway. See if this chest infection can be handled at home. And if the doctor thinks a trip up the hospital is definitely needed, then at least we’ve got a bit more of a run up to organise things. I’ll call Control and give them a heads up. What do you think?’
Keith sits on a stool, fishes a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of his top pocket, then hands me across the phone.
‘They know us there,’ he says. ‘It’s on speed dial 3. Tell him I’ll be here all day to let him in.’