Mr Stanchion is sitting on a kitchen chair, a washing up bowl balanced on his lap, vomit stains on his shirt sleeve. Mrs Stanchion scurries around in the background, stuffing essentials into a bag – wash kit, dressing gown, book of great naval battles.
‘Good gracious,’ he says. ‘It’s a while since I was sick like that.’
The two of them had been for lunch at their usual spot, The Endeavour, a pub with a rotten bay window but a view nonetheless. Mr Stanchion had plumped for the curry, Mrs Stanchion a cheese salad.
‘I think it was the curry,’ he says, then retches some more.
After we check him over we help tidy him up, freshen the bowl, make him comfortable on the sofa. We drape a fleece round his shoulders and he sits there looking like a ruined earl, pale and bilious. He doesn’t want to go to hospital, but we have no immediate concerns. Despite his eighty four years, he only takes an aspirin a day, and the whole thing looks pretty straightforward.
‘You can always call us back if you get worried,’ we say to Mrs Stanchion.
‘Lovely,’ she says, taking her coat off and settling down with The Puzzler.
‘My word,’ says Mr Stanchion. ‘Fifty years at sea and never been sick.’
‘I was five hours at sea and I was begging for someone to shoot me,’ I tell him as Frank finishes the paperwork. ‘We went five miles out to do some fishing and it wasn’t too bad, motoring out, even though it was quite rough. But when we pitched the anchor the boat started rocking like this, side to side to side, and that was it.’
‘Yes. Jolly unfortunate,’ he says, dabbing at his mouth with a kitchen towel, then taking a sip of water. ‘Luckily I was never affected. But I knew people who were. I remember we had this little Chinese cabin boy. Excellent chap, always there when you needed him. But at the start of every voyage, he only had to hear the bosun shout to cast off the dock and he was up in the fo’c’sle, heaving over the side.’
‘Didn’t Nelson used to get sick like that?’
‘A little before my time but yes, I think he did. Mind you, those days – the ships were made of wood and one shudders to think how they must have pitched about. Do excuse me. I must, erm…’
I help him to his feet, and he hobbles off to the toilet.
‘I had the salad,’ says Mrs Stanchion.