Henry, ninety-one, had been watching the tennis. When Leyton Hewitt reached for a deep pass, Henry reached for the remote and fell out of the chair. We pick him off the floor an hour later and settle him back in bed. The carers on scene - two raucous women who clean him up, smear his genitals with cream and haul on a fresh pair of pyjama bottoms, all with the bonhomie of a pair of blousy witches – flop back onto the sofa and suck busily on the teats of their energy drinks.
All Henry’s obs are fine. Frank writes out the sheet. I sit by the bed, and fetch down a photo of Henry as a young man of twenty, glaring into the camera, striding across Piccadilly with a suitcase in one hand, fag in the other.
‘Where were you off to in this photo, then, Henry?’
‘I dunno mate. China, probably.’
‘How long were you in the navy?’
He chews for a moment, then turns his head in my direction.
‘We were up in the Arctic circle,’ he says. ‘Colder than hell. Colder than you can imagine. Everything iced-up and frozen. Equipment, men – everything. One night, I was on watch. And this fucking great shadow rolls by. German cruiser. Just like us – frozen solid. There was nothing anyone could do. You couldn’t work the guns. You couldn’t do nothing. Everything frozen solid. The only thing you could do was stand on the deck and salute. So that’s what we did. Stood to attention and saluted, as this German cruiser passes by in the night.’
He sucks his cheeks furiously for a moment.
‘Fucking hell it was cold’ he says.