Rae takes us to the scene – a cafe down on the front. The staff have sprinkled water over the paving slabs to freshen the place up for the breakfast crowd, but the day is already so warm it’s burned off most of it. A couple of chairs and a table have been moved aside at one point, leaving room for our patient, her husband and a community responder.
Carol is sitting on the pavement leaning back against the railings, her hands resting in her lap, staring down at her union jack flip-flops. Carol is a heavy woman in her fifties, her body a sinus wave of flesh formed by the pinch-points of skirt, t-shirt, blouse, jewellery. There is a streak of red in her bobbed blonde hair, and her blue mascara has run. Her husband Barry is patiently waiting on the periphery of it all behind a pair of seventies-style, Reactolite sunglasses.
‘I can’t believe this,’ she says as we introduce ourselves. ‘I’m so embarrassed.’
‘What’s happened then?’
‘Well, look around. There’s nothing, is there? No sign, nothing. How stupid can you get? Spraying water everywhere and not telling anyone about it. They should have a sign up. Get a photo with your phone, Barry. I’m going to sue them for everything they’ve got.’
‘So you fell over?’
‘Yes, I fell over. And I cracked the side of my head on this concrete ledge as I went down. It don’t half hurt.’
I check her over. Apart from a small abrasion on the side of her head, there’s nothing to suggest Carol has suffered anything other than a minor head injury.
‘Let’s get you up and do the rest of our checks on the ambulance,’ I say. ‘Shall we help you up?’
‘No – thank you. I don’t mean to be rude, but I know how I need to do this.’
She struggles, but every time we step in to offer a hand she refuses.
When she’s finally upright she bats her skirt clean and says: ‘You can see where I fell, can’t you? Honestly, those Serbo-Croats. They’re absolutely useless. Have you made a note of all this, Barry? We’re definitely going to sue.’
I offer Carol my arm but she refuses that, too. We make our way slowly across the promenade and up the steps to the ambulance.
After a thorough examination the only thing I can find wrong is a minor abrasion.
‘I don’t think you need to go to hospital, Carol,’ I tell her. ‘What I suggest is you go back to the hotel with Barry, take some paracetamol and rest up. You’ll be fine.’
She dabs at her eyes with some tissue, and sniffs.
‘What about Natasha Richardson?’ she says.
‘Oh. Well. Yep. That was a surprising case.’
‘Natasha Richardson went over and banged her head when she was skiing. On the nursery slopes. They all said she’d be fine. She didn’t go to hospital – and look what happened. Dead in a few hours.’
‘I know. That was pretty shocking.’
‘How do you know that won’t happen to me?’
‘I can’t guarantee it. I don’t know enough about Natasha Richardson, but in your case, you don’t have any of the predisposing signs of a serious head injury. You didn’t bang your head with a lot of force, you weren’t knocked out...’
‘She weren’t knocked out.’
‘Was she wearing a helmet, do you know?’
‘No – and neither was I.’
‘No. But you don’t have any of what they call neurological deficit – numbness, blurred vision, dizziness and whatnot.’
‘Neither did she.’
She sniffs again and dabs at her nose with the tissue. Then she crumples it up and looks across at Barry.
‘What do you think I should do, pet?’
He shrugs, but says nothing.
‘Did you get the pictures?’
He waves his phone in the air.
Back in the cab outside the hospital, I throw the clipboard onto the dash and lean back in the chair.
‘Jesus! It makes you wonder how the human race ever made it out of the swamp. How do people survive when every little thing’s a hazard?’
‘It’s insurance, Spence. Where there’s a blame and all that...’
‘And because everyone’s terrified of being sued, they have to put signs up for everything. Pretty soon there’ll be signs all over the place. Every tree, pond, and hill. And then they’ll put up a massive fence along the coast, with signs to warn you about the sea, and signs to warn you about the fence, probably. It’ll be one vast world of signs, and even then it won’t be enough. In the end they’ll have to clear everything away. There’ll be nothing left, completely flat – like Cambridgeshire, only without the dykes - with maybe a scattering of cushions, big enough so you can’t choke on them, but not so big you can’t accidentally smother yourself.’
‘Yeah,’ says Rae, stretching. ‘Great. Then I can sue for emotional cruelty.’