Margaret had sat down to lunch in the restaurant – special midday menu, low, low prices, eat as much as you like – having elbowed a space with her husband amongst the brutally enthusiastic, mostly geriatric herd of mid-week grazers, when she turned pale and slumped in the chair. When we arrive she was still there, pale but otherwise okay, the smiling centre of an epic painting entitled: The fallen woman.
‘I’m perfectly all right,’ she says. ‘I just had a turn.’
We help her outside.
‘It’s been a while since I had a man on my arm,’ she says. I smile apologetically at the husband, but he hasn’t heard.
‘Is this really necessary? I only went a bit woozy,’ she says.
‘Just a quick MOT, Margaret and then we’ll think about what to do.’
We help her into the truck.
Everything checks out, but to be absolutely certain it’s nothing to do with her heart we have to run a twelve-lead ECG.
‘How do you want me?’ she says, sitting up. Beneath her tweed combo there’s a formidable range of slips and tights, thermal body stockings and a vast, cantilevered bra, but she unbuttons, out-tucks and de-hooks herself to skin level with Olympic dexterity.
‘There! Don’t mind me. I know you have to be thorough.’
She lies back on the coach and receives our attention as if we were exceptionally attentive waiters. Her husband stands at the back of the trolley, surveying the scene with sixty watts of satisfaction.
‘I wasn’t always such an old croc,’ she says as I stick on the dots. ‘I used to be a champion runner. Can you believe that? Champion runner. Now it’s as much as I can do to stay upright with a plate of chicken.’
‘Almost done… one more…’
‘Good thing I could run, too. I had a stalker.’
‘I was eighteen, and I’d just come out of the pub where we’d been rehearsing this play – I can’t remember what it was, don’t ask. Anyway, I came out of the pub, and it was a full moon, bright and round, so I thought I’d walk home and save the fare. So I started walking, and there was no one around. Except for this man, who started to follow me on the other side of the road. Well, I knew what that was all about. So I started to run, and he did, too. So after a while I thought I’ll cut through the stadium and lose him there. And that’s what I did. He chased me through the stadium, but he had no chance. I skipped over the fence the other side and that was that.’
‘It sounds pretty terrifying.’
‘Ay – it was. But I was such a good runner in those days. He didn’t really have a chance. How’s my ticker looking?’
‘Fine. Absolutely fine.’
‘I could’ve told you that. Now – what’s next?’