When Geoffrey laughs – and he laughs a lot - he hangs it on the air in front of him like the cartoon of a man providing his own speech bubbles. If he were a cartoon, it would be something grimly ironic, an urban fairy tale about a ruined Santa retired from the trade through years of overwork and ill health, off his legs in a riser chair, his feathery beard plucked back to the stubbly butt of his chin, a cave of verminous yellow teeth, man boobs and a scurfy paunch spread above a giant nappy.
‘My father had no luck either. He used to hide his money in a little tin box he’d stick up inside the chimney. One day he came back unexpected and caught my mum with her hand up there. They had a fight and she pushed him backwards out the window. Three floors and that was that. Yur-hur-hur-hur.’
Geoffrey’s carer, as clipped and contained as his patient is exposed, puts some things together in a bag.
‘Now what else do you think you’ll need, Geoffrey?’
‘That clock,’ he says, pointing to an unfeasibly large alarm clock on the breakfast table. ‘ I want to take my clock with me. I want to know when my time’s up, yur-hur-hur-hur.’
‘Well you can’t very well take the clock, Geoffrey. There’ll be plenty of people around you can ask for the time. And I wouldn’t take your sticks, either. They’ll walk.’
‘I don’t mind,’ he says, contentedly draping his arms across his belly and linking his fingers in the middle like a gigantic buckle. ‘They can have it all as far as I’m concerned. I don’t need much.’
We managed to fit the trolley in the lift. I clear a space in the flat and Frank wheels it in from the corridor. He parks it alongside Geoffrey’s chair.
‘Whoa!’ he says. ‘Bloody ‘ell! Who ordered that?’
‘Your carriage awaits,’ I say, putting the back up and lowering the side.
‘You want me in that thing? You’ll be lucky, yur-hur-hur-hur.’
We fuss around him like elves.
‘Mind your language,’ says the carer. ‘And don’t forget, not everybody wants to hear your dreadful confessions.’
‘No? I haven’t even got started. Take my cousin, for instance...’
‘Please, spare us,’ says the carer.
‘...my cousin did twenty years. His wife came home unexpectedly and found the next door neighbour roped to the bed and my cousin on top of him. Yur-hur-hur-hur.’
‘That’s one punch line I think I missed,’ says Frank, negotiating the head of the trolley through the doorway. ‘Thankfully. Think thin, mate,’ he says.
‘But I come from good stock,’ says Geoffrey happily. ‘Especially with regard to legs. I used to cycle everywhere, you know.’
‘How do you mean? Getting to work?’ I say, grunting with the effort of moving the trolley.
Geoffrey smiles at me.
‘France, Germany, Russia...’
‘...Belgium, Holland – and what’s that place just near Gibraltar?’
‘I don’t know. Spain?’
‘North Africa!’ he says. I used to love getting about on the old bike, yur-hur-hur-hur.’