This is our first call to St Germain’s in quite a few months. It’s been closed for refurbishment, and I’m interested to see what’s been done. Ellen, one of the hostel staff, waits for us outside, smoking by the recycling bins. She nods, drops the fag, grinds it out, leads us in the front door – a great stone arch rising impressively over us, its stone steps dipping in the middle from centuries of feet.
‘I don’t know if you know Pete,’ Ellen says, with a sigh as worn as the steps. ‘He can get a bit abusive sometimes but it’s all just blather. Apart from a bit of trench foot and COPD he’s not too bad, though. He’s got pissed up tonight, and now he’s lying half-naked in the corridor. He’s got a head injury, not too bad as far as I can tell but you’re the experts. See what you think. I must admit I’ve about had it with him.’
We follow Ellen through the security doors of the vestibule, then off to the wide, modern stairway. There’s a sign on the lift saying MAY BREAK DOWN. DON’T USE UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.
‘That’s the next thing on our To Do list,’ she says.
The stairs rise up through a series of mezzanine floors, each floor partitioned off into small, rectangular rooms with just enough space for a wardrobe, side-table and bed. Pete is on the third floor, lying on his side on the narrow stretch of office-grade carpet. There’s another inmate standing over him, a dissolute figure with a scattering of blurry blue tattoos up his arms. He stares at us as we approach, his face slack and reddened with booze.
‘He can’t stay here. I need to get to bed,’ he says. Then he looks down at Pete and toes him speculatively. ‘Get up ya’ drunken bastard.’
‘Hello Pete,’ I say. ‘It’s the ambulance.’
Pete growls and bats at the space between us, making a series of incomprehensible sounds as thick with hostility as his beard is thick with matter.
‘That’s not very nice, Pete. We’ve come to make sure you’re all right. People are worried about you.’
He hugs his arms to his chest and draws his legs up. He looks comfortable enough, were it not for the fact he was naked from the waist down and lying in a hallway.
‘Get up! Get up, will ya?’ says the man. ‘Nobody’s interested in yer wee stubby cock, fella. Trust me on this one.’
I prod and irritate Pete until he opens his eyes and responds sufficiently to assess him. We check him over. He doesn’t appear to have hurt himself. It’s just alcohol.
‘If he sleeps it off in his room, would you be around to look in on him from time to time?’
Ellen nods. ‘There’ll be someone around all night,’ she says.
We help him up and in to his room.
It’s only when we’ve put him to bed I’m aware of the apex of the stained glass window, rising up behind the bed, safe behind a Perspex screen. This is the uppermost floor, right at the very top of the old church.
When we go back out into the corridor, I notice a couple of stone angels poking out through cutaways in the stud walls like they were impatient at being covered over and sawed a hole for themselves with their praying hands. As a reward, they’ve been painted magnolia, the same as everything else.
‘Looks great,’ I say.
They watch over us with their eyes closed as Ellen leads us back to the stairs.