Mr Samuels is as lean and wiry as any of the three Maine Coon cats that stand about the kitchen ignoring us. Great curls of wild silver hair spring out from his eyebrows, his tufted ears, and from a beard that even Blackbeard, the fiercest and least kempt of all the pirate kings, would have taken the fireworks out of and combed a little. But amongst all this exuberant display, Mr Samuels peeps out with a glittering blue warmth that makes light of his difficulties and the obvious pain he is in.
‘Great stupid that I am – I was taking the decorations down, standing up there on the table to reach the holly on the conservatory ceiling, when I lost my footing and fell off onto the concrete floor. I landed on my right shoulder and by Christ it doesn’t half hurt now. Anyway – what am I thinking? Come on in! Don’t mind the cats.’
They certainly don’t mind us. Three of them, artfully arranged around the old country kitchen, waiting to be introduced formally.
‘This is Thomas Snifferson. He’s the oldest. Rules the roost. Too cool for school. This is Theodore Snoozevelt. Smart enough to write a book. Walked in from God knows where. And last but not least, Rinsey Adams – don’t ask! Three of the most gently intelligent beasts ever to menace a chicken run. Talking of which – who's going to feed my chickens when you haul me off to the Bone Doctor?’
‘Can’t you get a neighbour to come in?’
Mr Samuels studies me for a beat.
‘Unfortunately, I am that neighbour that comes in,’ he says. Then gives a laugh as vigorous as his beard.
Rinsey Adams sits.