Tennyson Court. But surely even the Lady of Shallot, distracted as she is, wouldn’t mistake the dark, shuttered Bingo hall off in the distance for Camelot. And if, cursed as she is, she felt driven to jump in a boat and cast off, I reckon she’d only get about halfway through her death song before she ran aground somewhere between the probation offices and the off licence.
I park by some bins. The board with all the numbers on has been ripped up, so it’s a guess this is the right place. The blocks rise around us square and squat, more like military emplacements than domestic accommodation. The planners have been bold, lopping off the top of the hill and putting in its place a stack of housing units, a health centre and what looks like a multi-coloured assault course. Tennyson Court guards the approach, and a single rack of concrete steps leads up to its entrance like a mounting block for the scaffold.
The sun comes out.
A psychiatric social worker meets us at the door. He’s leaning on a stick, but by the look of him I guess it belongs to the patient.
‘Thanks for coming,’ he says, and leads us inside, pausing in the echoing corridor to give us a briefing.
‘Jack isn’t doing so well. He was discharged from Southview a couple of months ago, but he’s really gone down hill in the last couple of weeks. Not coping, very low, not compliant with his meds, general self-neglect, not eating and so on. He’s got a UTI and a bit of a chest infection going on at the moment, to add to his woes. That’s about it. Flat’s a state, as you can imagine. Says he won’t go in, but I think we can persuade him and frankly he’s got no choice. Okay?’
With his battered brown leather jacket and scrubby ginger beard, he has the demeanour of a charismatic young Captain describing a mission. I expect him to tap a map on the wall with the stick. We’re here, the other chaps there.
But instead he turns round smartly and uses it to prod open the door to the flat.
‘Jack?’ he says. ‘Jack, the ambulance people are here.’
The lino floor that tacks hold of our feet as we walk inside, the junked-up furniture, the curtains, cornicing – even that cuckoo clock – everything seems coated in a soft brown sludge. It’s like walking into a neglected fish tank; even the air has a honey-sick, unfiltered heaviness to it.
There’s a framed poster on the facing wall: Muhammad Ali standing over the body of Sonny Liston. First round, first minute, it says.
On the next wall, there’s a spread of family photographs, leached of colour, curling at the corners, all of them taped together into a patchwork of smudged faces, ghostly poses.
The cuckoo clock suddenly tries to mark the hour, giving out a jarring, wheezy kind of clunk. The bird door remains closed though, and the leaping deer at the bottom that presumably makes a circuit, gives a little jerk of the head and stays where it is.
‘Time to get up, Jack.’
The CPN pulls back a curtain that looks to be woven out of old tobacco strands, to reveal a darkly shadowed alcove and the etiolated figure of a man lying on top of a foetid divan.
‘Time to go,’ he says.