Nigel’s front door has not so much been kicked in as utterly destroyed. There is a great punched hole where the handle used to be, the letterbox has leapt out of its seating and hangs by a single bent screw, and the door itself, splintered and torn, lies at a precarious angle half in and half out of the frame.
‘That’s one angry postman,’ says Kyle, picking his way through the debris.
We’ve been called to transport Nigel on a Section Three to The Glades, a secure unit about forty miles out of town. A crew yesterday had told me they’d been sent there, as there were no psychiatric beds to be had anywhere in the county. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started diverting us to the Orkneys,’ he said, climbing wearily into the cab. ‘See you later – hopefully.’
A social worker meets us in the hallway, clutching a clear plastic wallet of section papers to his chest like cards he doesn’t want anyone peeking at.
‘Thanks for coming, guys,’ he says. ‘Nigel’s on a compulsory section, as you know. He needs to go out to The Glades for treatment. He’s not too happy about it, I’m afraid. Unfortunately he knew we were coming and barricaded himself in, so it’s all a bit of a mess. The police are in the bedroom with him now. He’s calm at the moment. He’s never been violent, but he does get worked up sometimes and shouts and carries on and so forth. Will you be okay with that? Or do you want the police to go with you?’
‘We’ll be fine,’ says Kyle.
‘Great. The other thing about Nigel is that he speaks in different accents or identities, so don’t let that throw you. Shall we go in and say hello?’
There’s not much room in the flat. One thing that strikes me is the number of fishing rods stacked up against the wall, along with a few fishing rod shaped parcels still to be unwrapped. On the facing wall there’s a framed photo of a grinning man holding a fish up to the camera. For a minute I think I’ve seen the photo before, in another house, but then I guess it’s just a generic thing. Next to the photo is a roughly blu-tacked A3 sized finger painting - an alien, jumping into the air, spiky hair and teeth, hundreds of arms waving about either side. Wow I think. He really is crazy. But then I see the dedication at the bottom, and realise it’s by his nephew.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lay on.
Except now instead of angels we have two enormous police officers, a social worker and Kyle, all trying to persuade Nigel to put his crocs on and follow us down the stairs to the ambulance.
‘You use evil farce on meh? I use evil farce on you. Let see who use the most farce.’
‘Come on, Nigel. Let’s get going.’
‘Get going? Where get going? I show you some farce...’
If I had to animate that voice I might start with a raucous, Rastafarian-styled parrot, but it’s startling to see the reality of the man himself. Nigel is white, middle-aged, paunchy, with a pair of huge steel-framed glasses slid half-way down his nose and a sparse combing of slick black hair across his head. He stares at us all through the smudged lenses of his glasses, and in the brief periods when he’s not chattering, his mouth is slack. He could pass for a clerk in an office with a social conscience, but here, lying half naked in a red-dragon-patterned, green silk kimono and surrounded by police, he seems like an actor leading a workshop on how to appear mad.
‘Let’s not talk about force anymore,’ says one of the police officers. His colleague checks his watch.
‘Farce you say? Farce? You use farce on meh door. What happen to door? Door broke ope and flew away. You use evil farce and I use evil farce and let see who win.’
The social worker says some bland, calming things to Nigel, then turns to the police officers.
‘They say they’re okay without an escort.’
Both police officers smile at us, very warmly indeed.
Luckily, I’m driving. The day is warm and bright. I have the window down and there is a beautiful rush of later summer sunshine into the cab. Behind me it’s reassuringly quiet. When we managed to coax Nigel out of his flat, Kyle had settled in to the chair against the bulkhead, and Nigel in a seat opposite. For all his hyper-energised protest, Nigel had come out meekly enough, his kimono fluttering open and displaying a pair of greying pants despite our efforts to keep him covered up. He took his seat and seemed to fall asleep almost immediately.
The police officers slapped the side of the ambulance appreciatively as I pulled away.
Once I find the hospital I follow the signs through to The Glades – like psychiatric units the world over, sited discreetly round the back. There’s a barrier across the road leading to the unit, and I get out of the cab to look for an intercom or buzzer but there’s only a card swipe. Nigel seems to have woken up. I can hear him laughing and chattering wildly with the reassuring bass notes of Kyle’s voice beneath it all. I don’t want to leave Kyle on his own with Nigel, so I call Control to ask them to phone the staff to let them know we’ve arrived and need access.
Whilst I’m waiting for a reply, someone drives out of the car park, and there’s just enough time to duck through before the barrier closes again.
I park the ambulance as close to the main entrance as I can, then climb out. There’s a woman sitting on a bench to the left of the building, a staff pass on a ribbon round her neck, eating a sandwich and studying me with bovine grace. I’m tempted to ask her whether she could go in and fetch a nurse or two out, but she makes no sign that she has any interest or duty to anything other than her food, so I leave it.
I open the side door and join Kyle and Nigel in the back. I leave the door open, but drape myself innocently across it, one foot up on an empty shelf to complete the man-blockade.
Kyle yawns and stretches.
‘So – ‘ I say to Nigel. ‘You like fishing?’
‘Fish? Wha’ fish? Hah ha ha. Put rod in water, fish in water, flick ‘em out, mate. Flick ‘em out. Hah ha ha. What fish? Hah ha ha. They come in water, fish in water….’
Kyle massages his face. The sunshine falls warmly on the ambulance and the cars and the trees and the absolute inactivity of the place.
Where are the staff?
A woman walks past, glances in, hurries on.
Kyle sighs and stands up.
‘Come on. Shall we walk you inside?’ he says.
‘Walk? Wha’ walk? Walk you say…’
I pick up the bags and section papers and back out first. Nigel ducks out after me, hesitating at the top of the steps to blink and glance around, pushing his specs back up his nose, his kimono blowing open like a cut-price porn star expecting photographers at the airport.
And then, the moment his brown crocs touch down, he runs off.
I make a grab for him but the bag gets in my way.
‘No farce. No farce,’ he calls back over his shoulder as he runs. ‘Hah ha ha.’
Kyle sprints after him.
I throw the bag and papers back into the ambulance, slam the door and jump in the cab. I glance at the sandwich woman on her bench.
‘You should’ve waited for staff to come out,’ she says, pointing at me with a crust.
I do a quick three-point turn and drive after my crew mate. I just catch a flash of green shirt doubling back right out of the top of the car park. I head that way, but I’ve lost them. After a minute or two my phone rings.
‘Got him,’ Kyle says, out of breath. I can hear Nigel squawking in the background. ‘Just follow the road you’re on down to the bottom and turn left. You’ll see us on the grass.’
Back outside The Glades, with Nigel firmly back on the ambulance and Kyle standing over him, I go into the building to fetch help. There is an airlock style door system that takes an age to get through, as if visitors have to decompress first. Across a bare and echoing foyer to a receptionist, slowly taking notes on a pad with a phone to her ear.
‘Can I just…?’ I start to say, but without looking up the receptionist simply holds her hand up flat between us.
‘Go on, Bill,’ she says into the phone. ‘No – just someone at the desk. Ye-es…?’
There’s no-one else to speak to. Figures pass back and forth in the distance behind reinforced glass. I wave to one of them and he stares back; I have no idea if he’s staff or patient.
Finally, after a protracted goodbye, the receptionist gently replaces the phone.
‘We’ve got a…’
She holds her hand up flat again, and slowly puts the finishing touches to the notes she’s made.
A flourish on a T.
She lays the pen down.
‘There. Now. How can I help?
‘We’ve brought Nigel on a section three. We need staff to collect him off the ambulance. He ran off when we got here, but we managed to get him back.’
‘I see. I’ll send someone out to you.’
‘Thanks. Just outside there.’
‘Ye-es. They’ll be with you presently.’
She buzzes me back out through the air-lock.
Back on the ambulance, Nigel is talking wildly. Kyle looks at me as I open the door.
‘On their way,’ I say. ‘On their way.’
Ten minutes later, I’m just about to go back inside when the air-lock whooshes and a male nurse saunters out. He drifts over to stand at the bottom of the ambulance steps and listens to our report with his hands lightly clasped in front of him and his thumbs slowly twirling round each other.
‘Hmm, I see,’ he says, pleasantly. ‘Well – thanks for that. Hmm. Hello, Nigel, is it? Okay? Well. Good. Let me just go back inside and – ahm - fetch the relevant documentation, then we can – ahm - begin to initiate the whole process of transferral.’
‘But we just want to drop him off,’ says Kyle hopelessly.
‘Ah-hmm,’ says the nurse. ‘Just a moment.’ And he turns and walks back in.
Nigel pushes his glasses up his nose.
‘Use farce,’ he cackles. ‘Lethal farce.’