‘It buckin’ hurts, mate! Naawwww! Buckin’ ‘ell! Cheysus Kay-Ryst!!’
Mr Layton carries this on at top volume the whole time. It’s so emphatic, in a Carry On Cockney kind of way, it would make you laugh, except the contrast with his dreadfully debilitated state brings you up short. Mr Layton has cancer. We’ve been called out in the early hours because he’s hit a rocky patch, some kind of sepsis no doubt, with low blood pressure, high temperature, tachycardia, and pain despite a container of meds. His cancer is an aggressive form; it’s taken hold quite recently, and an appropriate care package isn’t fully in place.
Mr Layton’s daughter Chrissie is sitting just slightly back from him on a low stool. She’s smiling, but when she catches my eye she presses her lips together, shakes her head slowly from side to side and mimes the word terminal.
‘Has there been any Macmillan involvement?’
Barry, the son, a gigantic man dressed in a roughly stitched sheepskin coat and blockish loafters – like a friendly ogre the villagers dressed in whatever building materials they had to hand – takes a sip from a mug of tea the size of a vase and grimaces.
‘Yep. They were round today.’
‘So what did they say about this sort of thing happening?’ says Rae, flicking through the folder.
‘I don’t think they got that far, mate.’
‘And what about hospices? Did they...?’
Barry tugs her elbow, frowns and shakes his head.
‘Don’t go there,’ he says, barely moving his lips. ‘He don’t want that.’
Rae puts the folder aside.
‘Obviously we’d do anything to keep your dad out of hospital, but I’m not sure what else we can do here, especially if – erm – that other option isn’t on the table.’
Barry shakes his head again and buries his face in the mug.
‘Buckin’ ell! Cheysus Kay-Ryst! It ‘urts! It buckin’ urts!’
‘At least we’ll be able to get on top of this infection, sort the pain control out and get you back home as soon as possible.’
‘That sounds good,’ says Chrissie, squeezing his hand. ‘Let’s take a nice little trip up the hospital. Shall we, Dad? Hey?’
I wait with them whilst Rae goes to handover.
Mr Layton’s shouting has subsided into a delirious, low-grade kind of fuss. He plucks at the blankets on his lap and carries on a conversation only he can follow. Chrissie stands next to him, rubbing his shoulder; her brother stands at the foot of the trolley, his hands in his pockets, his legs planted left and right, shifting his weight only occasionally as if to take the load better.
‘I’ve only just come down from a job up north,’ he says. ‘I’m knackered.’
‘Oh? What do you do, then?’
‘I’m on the cranes.’
He’s so enormous I imagine him passing up wheelbarrows of cement in his bare hands, the BFG of the construction industry.
‘They put a crane up on a site near where I live,’ I tell him. ‘It was so impressive to see it go up. And then one morning I was out walking the dog, and it was really foggy, and there was this banging coming from overhead. When I got a bit closer I could just make out a guy in a yellow jacket standing right out on the end of the boom, whacking something with a hammer. It made my legs weak to see him standing like that, right out on the end, bent over that drop, banging away. And the fog just made it worse.’
‘Yep. We’ll do that,’ he says.
‘I don’t think I ever really thought about cranes before that. Simple things, like where you put it up. How much of the site you’ll have to cover. Practical things.’
‘It’s how you take ‘em down at the end of it that’s more of a problem,’ says Barry. He leans forward a little and widens his eyes at me. ‘How are you gonna get your crane out when the building’s done?’ he says.
What would you do? Put up a crane to take out the crane? Then what about that crane? There’d be no end to it.
Barry shifts his weight again.
‘What do you call a big hole that runs through a building?’ he says.
I think about it, then shrug again.
‘A lift shaft!’ he says. ‘You put your crane up where the lift shaft is going to go. Your forty-foot boom covers the site. And when you’re done, you take the crane away, and there you are!’
‘Buckin’ cranes!’ says Mr Layton, shifting up straight on the trolley and gripping the rails. ‘Cheysus buckin’ Kay-Ryst!’
Barry taps me on the shoulder, grins and points an index finger up. ‘Scared of heights,’ he says. ‘Aren’t you, pops?’