Lloyd House, an architect’s scale model in clean white card, a meticulously detailed blank, rising up above a line of model trees with municipal functionality.
Lloyd House, a simple, well-disposed block set back from the road, ramps for access, balconies for fresh air and views, an accommodating lobby with twin lifts and a generous allocation of stairs.
Take fifty years. Pan slowly down towards the main entrance. For every centimetre you travel, watch the card acquire colour, texture, definition, a wash of reality rippling out into courses of brick, squares of dirty glass, a notice: no ball games. As you descend and become smaller the ramp roughens beneath your feet, the trees crack and spread up into life, dark green and grey and black, leaning over - real trees now, filling the air with a resinous tang.
You’re at the front door. A WKD bottle, a scrunched Coke can, a scattering of fag butts.
Look at your clipboard, read a number.
Punch it in and wait.
When we make it up to Miss Flite’s flat, the front door is on the latch. I knock and push it open in one movement.
A muted hello from somewhere inside. We walk in.
We find ourselves on a fetid black carpet, tacky beneath our boots. Corners of spotted wallpaper loll out from the walls; a fan heater whirrs somewhere, stirring up sweetly malodorous currents. The room has a sofa and an easy chair, a coffee table and a sideboard, but the surface of each of these - and everything else - is covered with a tumbling crust of old newspapers, grimy faced dolls, a plastic rose in a dusty bell jar, a desiccated sandwich, a family portrait in a cracked black frame, a fish tank whose stones can just be made out pressed up against the mouldy green glass, a dirty telephone with plate sized numbers, a bronze eagle, and a thousand other pieces of junk which have lain so long they would leave an outline if they were ever lifted. Clusters of tiny white feathers drift here and there across the scene, catching on corners and surfaces. They have come from three rusting bird cages, each containing a spindly yellow and green budgerigar. The birds chip and squawk as we move further into the room, gagging and pulling our gloves on.
Miss Flite is lying on her side between a chair and one of the bird cages. She is propping herself up on her left arm, struggling to get a better look at us.
‘I just need a hand back up,’ she says. ‘I’ve been rather stupid.’
Miss Flite is only seventy but she could pass for ninety, so deeply have the marks of physical and social neglect been etched into her face. She has a full goatee beard that with her square face and hooked nose makes her look like a mischievous old man in drag; her nails are yellowed and ingrained with dirt. She wears an emergency call button around her wrist on a padded cream strap.
‘Help us up, there’s a fellow,’ she says.
Miss Flite sits nicely upright in her favourite chair with a hand placed neatly either side on the armrests, frowning, looking slightly bemused, like a High Court Judge challenged to live a life of destitution for the day. Behind her through the window, the sky is a deep and resonant blue.
‘I must say you came very quickly,’ she says, her smile revealing a spread of waxy yellow teeth. ‘Very quickly indeed. Most impressive.’
‘Miss Flite, what we’ll do is refer you to our Falls Team. They’ll give you a ring to arrange a time when they can come and have a chat. I’m sure there’s lots that they can do to make things better for you here.’
‘Oh I don’t doubt it. I know I’ve let things go a little.’
‘And then maybe they could get some other help started. You really need your damp problem sorting out, for one. What have the council said about it?’
‘The council? My dear – they’re not the least bit interested in me.’
I finish writing up the paperwork, aware that Miss Flite is staring at me, her head tipped slightly to one side, like one of her birds.
‘Do you have children?’ she says quietly.
‘Two girls, four and eight.’
‘What a charming age. Just coming into their own.’
Then she looks at the cages, and the three birds all hop up onto their perches.
‘They think I’m going to let them out,’ she says, extending a claw to the nearest of the cages and rapping gently on the bars. ‘I do indulge them from time to time. Maybe when you’ve gone I’ll let them fly about a bit, poor things.’
Then she turns back to offer her thanks again, and waves to us, as we pick our way back out towards the door.