‘If you’d all just stop bleedin’ going on at me for a minute and Aunt Nell! This is my latty and I say what goes. I don’t need all this bastard palaver about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I don’t want nishta, mate. So just shut it and give me a hand back up on me lallies. If I don’t get to the carsey soon, well - I give you warning.’
We’re back inside our favourite bungalow, a decrepit sideshow booth that ought to have a banner draped above the doorway: Come and See the Enormous Bearded Lady (and Pick Her Up). Old Dolly Deakins is a frequent flyer, except of course it’s not so much flying as subsidence. Dolly is on the floor regularly, and when you come to help she chews your ear regularly, too, using slang that sounds like a curious hybrid of Cockney, Yiddish and who knows what else. Some of it I recognise from words my Dad’s family would use, some of it from Harold who ran the market stall I helped out on when I was a teenager. The rest I have to guess from the context.
Dolly is huge. If it’s glandular, she certainly isn’t helping the cause by packing away family size bars of chocolate, and chain-munching crisps. She has a dreadfully mottled, over-pumped look. The bandages around her legs, the buttons on her cardigan, the watch disappearing into her wrist – everything is stretched and straining and ready to rip.
We set to work with the inflatable mattress.
‘You’re a bit of a liability with your smoking,’ I tell her as she gently rises into the air, with Rae and her carer posted on either side to keep her in place.
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Your cardigan is covered in burn marks, Dolly. Fag holes. One of these days you’ll go up in flames.’
She stares at me, then pats Rae on the arm.
‘Ere. He’d be a nice little charver if he’d only keep his screech zipped.’
With the mattress fully inflated, Dolly wobbles up towards an approximation of the vertical whilst we fuss around her, blue-gloved drones around a massive Queen.
‘Wait a minute. Wait a minute,’ she says, making minutely painful adjustments by leaning from side to side on either hip. ‘Wait a minute.’
The carer brings her walking frame from out of the bathroom, turning it this way and that to negotiate all the obstacles in the hallway. Finally she plants it down in front of Dolly.
‘Not that one, you schlemiel!’
The carer, a blockish woman in her forties, a hairdo as tight as her smile, swings it back into the air with markedly less care than she took in placing it there.
‘Thank you, darling. She’s got a heart of gold, that one. I don’t deserve her.’
We keep a hold on Dolly until the carer comes back with another frame, which to me looks exactly the same as the original. Dolly seems happy.
‘Thassit!’ she says. ‘Ooh. Here we go, boys.’
And she starts shuffling off in the direction of the bathroom.
‘Off she goes, Queen of the Wallop.’
She stops and turns her head slightly to the side.
‘Whilst I’m gone, all you old steamers can help yourself to a bit of carnish.’
I look at the carer. She shrugs.