Thursday, August 30, 2012

off the radar

‘So where’s Mr Bartelman?’
‘Having a shower.’
‘A shower?’
‘I know – but he couldn’t be persuaded.’
‘How did he get in the shower?’
‘Stepped in, good as gold.’
‘But he’s just spent twelve hours on the floor and had to have the police kick the door in to get him up?’
‘Yep. I know.’
It’s good news, though. Mr Bartelman is twenty-four stone and lives in a basement flat. None of us feels the need to comment on the wretchedness of that simple phrase.
The flat itself has the feel of a recent move, with cardboard boxes stacked up in alcoves and under windowsills, carrier bags of stuff lined up under tables neatly stacked with books and CDs. The strange thing – or another strange thing – is that Mr Bartelman has been living here for years.
‘Not that I can see or smell.’
‘Any medical history?’
‘Lymphodema – quite marked in his legs and arms, but other than that, nothing really. Back ache – but then I’d have back ache if I was that heavy.’
‘Mental health?’
‘Nothing written up. Man of mystery, really. Off the radar. Although he says he went to the lymph clinic a few weeks back and they dressed his legs. You should see them. He’s got these thick support stockings up to the knee right and left. It’s like he’s being sucked down into two pipes, all that flesh just squeezing down into nothing. I haven’t had a chance to cut the dressings off, but they’re way too tight. It’s a wonder his toes aren’t black.’
There’s movement in the bathroom. The sound of water being turned off, curtain rings along a pole.
‘Sorry to keep you,’ he says, steam billowing round the door.
‘Are you okay, Mr Bartelman?’
‘Yes. Fine thank you. Shan’t be a moment.’
Exactly one moment later, the bathroom door swings open and Mr Bartelman stands there, a beach towel tied round his middle. He is a vast, pink melon of a man, his arms rising up and out to the side as if they’ve been forced there by internal pressure, his head reduced to a squared detail of grizzled grey hair and beard.
‘Just need my trousers,’ he says, and lurches off into the bedroom.
‘I see what you mean about the legs. But he seems pretty mobile. And then he says he couldn’t get up off the floor? For twelve hours?’
Rae shakes her head.
‘His neighbours heard him shouting and called the police. I don’t know what to make of it. His obs are fine, nothing obvious going on. Those legs definitely need attention. I said I could get that sorted for him at home but he insisted on going to hospital because he says he doesn’t feel right in himself.’ She shrugs. ‘Sorry guys.’
Mr Bartelman has managed to put on his shirt and trousers – a stripy business combo - in no time at all. Whilst he buttons the shirt I put his Velcro-shoes in front of him.
‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘I can manage.’
‘So - twelve hours on the floor?’
‘Yes. I slipped out of bed at about four this morning and just couldn’t get up. I tried everything but it was no use. Luckily my neighbours heard me when they came back from work this afternoon otherwise I’d probably still be there.’
‘But you haven’t hurt yourself?’
‘No. Thank goodness.’
‘No new pain?’
‘Nothing new.’
‘And I understand you feel unwell?’
‘Yes. But I can’t put my finger on it. Just not the full ticket.’
‘Dizziness? Nausea? Shortness of breath? Anything like that?’
‘Going to the toilet okay?’
‘Fine. But something’s not right. Generally. Now. I’ll just get my keys and we can go.’

I seriously doubt they’ll work, given the police recently put the door in. But you never know.

Monday, August 27, 2012

the recording

Bilal is waiting for us in his taxi, his headlights the only lights in the street. Everything is dark and quiet, with a silvering of early morning mist across the rooftops.
He gets out and leans against the bonnet as I park up.
‘Do you want to come on board to talk?’ I say to him, whispering a little and leaning in, although there’s precious little point – the ambulance diesel engine must already have woken everybody up. He nods, and limps after us up the steps and into the back.
‘What’s happened?’
Bilal pulls up his left trouser leg, then plants his left foot on the seat in front of him.
‘See what injury they cause,’ he says. ‘See here. Look. Is broken skin, and blooded. Here. Look. Is gate they smash across the leg only when I ask them just to pay.’
‘So what exactly happened then?’
‘Okay. I take drunk girls all the way home. They say to me can we be stopping at cash point for to get the cash. I say fine, I have done this before. I say is okay. But when I stop at petrol eh-station, the girls they don’t get cash. They go straight away inside to buy the foods. I watch them from the cab. They buy many foods – the crips, and  the nut, bag of cake, cocas-cola. Much foods. So then they get back into cab. And I tell them, I say Please -  do not be eating these foods inside the cab. Is not far to go and can you wait please until home. I point to sign I have on window, saying this things. And – one thing – I put on my phone and put it on seat next there, and I record it, because this happen before and there was much trouble. So then listen to this. Please.’
Bilal takes out his phone, finds the record function, places it on the trolley beside him and presses play. After a second or two there’s a dreadful noise. If he’d told me he’d lowered a microphone into a cage of wolves at feeding time I wouldn’t have disbelieved him. And in amongst the crunching and grinding and gulping and smacking and swallowing and belching the occasional word or two: please! don’t! from Bilal, and a semi-human response of drunken swearing from the girls.
Bilal turns it off.
‘You see,’ he says, trembling. ‘So then when I get to their house and ask for the fare, they swear at me. They say I insult them and bully them and cause trouble, and they say they will not pay me the fare. Then they laugh at me and they go inside the house. So what I do? I put on my recorder phone again – for the evidence later on, because this has happen to me before – and I go to the door, and I knock on the door. After minute and minute one girl come out again, and before I can speak she swear and then she – how you say ... ‘ Bilal makes a gesture, describing an arc from his mouth out into the air.
‘She spat at you?’
‘Yes. She eh-spitted on my face. Then she punch with fist in the eye, and when I go back and back like this ...’ he puts up his arms and leans backwards in a mime of pantomimic horror ...’she slam gate of the garden on my leg. Shall I play you this recording also?’
‘No. It’s okay, Bilal. Have you called the police?’
‘Yes. And I think it was police who call you.’
Just at that moment there’s a knock on the back of the ambulance. When we open it, two police officers lean in.

‘So do you understand what I mean by Community Resolution, then, Bilal?’
‘If you could eh-splain it again, please.’
‘Okay. So Community Resolution is a way of settling disputes outside of the courts. They’re quite effective because they have an immediate result, right here and now. They force the offender to acknowledge the crime, there’s a record made of it so that if they commit any other crimes it’ll be taken into consideration, and from the police and court’s point of view, it gets the whole thing wrapped up quickly. So – is this something you’d like to see done tonight, Bilal?’
Bilal shrugs and rubs his leg.
‘Hm. I think I just want this not to happen again. I just want make honest money. I don’t want trouble. But these girls – they make mess of my car with the crips and the nut, and then they refuse to pay what they owe. It’s not good, sir. Not good at all.’
‘No. It’s not good, Bilal. But what you’ll get is the fare paid, an amount on top agreed by all parties as suitable reparation for injuries and damage, and a letter of apology.’
‘A letter?’
‘Saying sorry.’
‘But the other way...?’
‘The other way means statements, attendance at the station for all parties, and then a case for criminal assault. The fare itself you’d have to pursue through the civil courts.’
Bilal winds his trouser leg down, puts both feet firmly on the floor of the ambulance, and sighs. Then he takes out his mobile phone and holds it out to the policeman.
‘You want hear recording?’ he says.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

the totem pole

It’s a narrow street, parked up either side. Luckily there’s just enough of a space opposite so a car could still pass us if they took it slow, but anyway it’s the best we can do and we don’t waste time worrying about it. The call is to a woman with Huntington’s disease who has fallen at home. Because of the problem she has talking there’s no way for the Homelink operator to tell how injured she might be, so we go in as quickly as we can, using the key from the key safe by the front door.

Barbara is sitting on the sofa in the front room, naked except for a blue t-shirt. Her legs and arms are cruelly wasted with illness, and even though she is sitting down her body is constantly tormented by a series of spasmodic twitches and jerks. Even looking in our direction as we come through the door is difficult for Barbara. Her head seems to swivel suddenly on the stalk of her neck; her face distorts into a twisted grimace, and she tries to speak, but all that comes out is a series of incomprehensible grunts.
Barbara is a tall woman in her mid-fifties. Her coal black hair still vibrantly curls around her head, but the disease has blasted most everything else. She smacks her lips and groans.
‘Hello Barbara. I’m Spence and this is Rae. Shall we find you something to put over your lap?’
She makes some noises, but nothing intelligible.
Rae finds a towel and drapes it across Barbara’s middle. There is a laminated card of words and phrases on the coffee table. I pick the card up and hold it between us.
‘I understand you’ve had a fall today? Did you fall in here?’
She reaches out a hand and by a main effort of concentration bats the NO box.
‘Did you fall down the stairs?’
‘Did you fall from the top of the stairs?’
‘The bottom? Or a couple of steps from the bottom?’
‘Were you knocked unconscious?’
‘Have you hurt yourself, Barbara?’
 ‘Where have you hurt yourself? Can you show me?’
She almost falls off the sofa when she leans to one side, but Rae keeps her upright with a gentle hand on her left shoulder, and Barbara is able to indicate her right hip.
‘Let’s have a look’
There’s no sign of trauma. It all looks pretty good.
‘Can you stand, Barbara?’
She stands, and even though she sways and staggers precariously, she doesn’t look to be in much pain.
‘Does that feel okay?’
‘Have you hurt yourself anywhere else?’
‘Do you want to go to hospital?’
‘Don’t blame you. Do you have carers coming in soon?’
Rae has found the folder.
‘There should be one along any minute now,’ she says.
Barbara grunts, nods and slaps the YES box again.
‘Okay, Barbara. What we’ll do is take all your obs and make everything’s all right, then we’ll chat to the carer when she comes to make sure everyone’s happy. Okay?’
Barbara grimaces and jerks her head.
‘Okay. Let’s do that, then.’

The carer bustles in through the door.
‘What’s happened?’ she says, out of breath. ‘I saw the ambulance parked outside...’
‘Everything’s okay,’ I tell her. ‘Barbara had a fall at the bottom of the stairs, but apart from a little bruising around her thigh I think she’s okay. She says she doesn’t want to go to hospital and frankly I don’t think she needs to. How long will you be here with Barbara now?’
‘A couple of hours. We’ve got a few things to do.’
‘Okay – good. You know Barbara better than us. If there’s anything that strikes you as odd in that time, you can always call us back. But I think it’s probably best if she stays at home and rests.’
The carer goes up to Barbara and hugs her.
‘You!’ she says. ‘What have you been up to, hey?’
For the first time I really notice the Pacific Island decor of the sitting room. There are prints of exotic birds, jungle scenes, photos of native villages. And dominating it all, towering above us at the side of the sofa, a totem pole. Each segment is a stylised animal, birds, monkeys, and strange squirrel-like creatures carved one on top of the other, wings and arms outstretched, their beaks and mouths fixed in wild attitudes of song.
‘Love the totem pole,’ I say, as we collect our things together. ‘Anyway – nice to meet you, Barbara.’
And despite the catastrophic and uncontrolled movement of every aspect of her face and body, it seems to me that the light flooding in from outside turns in her eyes as eloquently as any words anyone could possibly say.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

out of joint

Duane is standing on the corner by a blue holdall, smoking a roll-up, casting his eyes up and down the street, shuffling from foot to foot, his right hand stuffed into his open shirt, his right shoulder lower than the left. When he sees us approach he takes a last hit of smoke, drops the fag, waits by the bag, cradling his arm.
‘They jumped me on the beach,’ he says, scurrying up the steps as soon as I open the side door. ‘Got me from behind so I wasn’t ready. Bastards. But I’ll be ready for them next time. They’ve put me shoulder out, haven’t they? Can you fix it quick so I can get back down there? I know you’ve got your tricks.’
I pull out a chair for him and he sits. We help him out of his shirt. His torso has a reduced, tautly feral look, patches of dirt on creamy muscle, smelling of sweat, and vodka, and wet concrete.
‘I walked down from Middlesbrough,’ he says. ‘Look at my shoes. You can tell by my shoes.’
I look down. Maybe he’s forgotten that his shoes fell apart and he recently got new ones, but these trainers are shop-clean.
‘That’s a long way,’ I say. ‘Middlesbrough.’
‘It’s a fuck of a long way. Motorways...’ he trails off, tenderly prodding his shoulder. ‘Pop it back in, mate,’ he says. ‘Come on. I know you’ve got the moves.’
‘It’s not as easy as that, Duane. You need to see a doctor. They’ll probably want to take an x-ray, to see exactly what the damage is. Then they’ll give you some medication and put it back.’
‘Come on, man. Just put it back in and I can be about my business.’
‘You just don’t want to cause any more damage, you see, Duane.’
I give him Entonox to help with the pain. He draws it down enthusiastically, like a scuba diver working hard underwater.
‘Nice gear,’ he says after a while, pointing at me with the mouthpiece, then putting it back in his mouth and clamping it between his grey teeth.
We move off.
I put the clipboard aside.
‘So what brings you down this way? I can’t believe you walked it.’
‘Yeah,’ he says, inspecting the mouthpiece and raising his eyebrows. ‘Whatever.’
‘Have you got family up North?’
‘Yeah. But I’m like one of those missing persons, like. I hardly know what I’m doing one minute to the next. They said I had post traumatic whatever, but I ‘ent never been a soldier.’
‘It’s not just soldiers who get PTSD. I think anyone who had a bad experience can get it.’
‘Yeah?’ he says, then puffs some more on the Entonox, thinking about that.
‘Does your family not know you’re here, then?’
He shrugs, then groans and leans over to his right. ‘I rang the wife last night,’ he says. ‘She didn’t say much.’
He closes his eyes. I adjust the sling and the cushion. Then he says: ‘Just whack it back in, mate. Go on. I know you’ve got your moves.’

The A&E department is as busy as ever. We sit Duane down on the only available space – a blue plastic chair next to the PathLab specimen duct. There is an elderly woman on a trolley in front of us, and the family with her shift uncomfortably when I sit Duane there. They sneak appalled glances in our direction, and close protectively.
Rae goes to handover to the charge nurse whilst I wait with Duane.
‘Come on, mate,’ he groans. ‘Don’t fuck about. Shove it back for us – or I’ll do it myself.’
‘It won’t be long, Duane. I know it’s painful but you’ve got to be patient. Honestly, mate – you don’t want to cause any more damage to your shoulder than you already have.’
‘I don’t care,’ he says. ‘I just want it back in so I can get after them. This is nothing to what I’m going to do to them, mind. I’m gonna tear them to pieces.’
The department is crowded to destruction, porters moving beds and equipment, a student doctor in flat shoes shuffling through with her head down, hugging a bundle of notes, a health care assistant cheerfully wheeling his cannulation trolley like he’s selling sweets, a radiographer grimly backing out of resus with her mobile x-ray machine, a cleaner working his broom in meditative swirls, patients wandering round, visitors asking directions, nurses hurrying off to break, dragging themselves back in, and at the centre of it all, the trading floor activity of the doctors and nurses in the central station with its phones, screens and white board of names, dates, states of play – everyone, the whole department at that moment, each facet of it in its own way frantically servicing the cubicles and the beds inside them like bees in a rambling, stuffy blue hive. But every now and again something happens to still the noise and bring it all together, something that gets a common response. It could be a cubicle alarm, a shout of pain, or just one of those unaccountable silences that suddenly drop across a crowded room when one person talking becomes the focus. Right now that person is Duane, standing up and saying: ‘Fuck!’
  If he notices the change in the air around him he doesn’t show it. He has just two points of interest: the pain in his shoulder and the people who did it.
 ‘Where are you going, Duane?’
‘I’m off outside to do it me’seln.’
‘Seriously, Duane. Just take a seat. The doctor’ll be with you in a minute.’
‘Nah! That’s it. I can see you’ve got better things to do.’
He walks off, a shuffling kind of lope like a wounded ape, and everyone takes a step back to let him go.
I wave to Rae to get her attention, then follow him outside, but in the time it takes me to do that, Duane has taken a run and driven the point of his right shoulder into the wall. I meet him staggering back in through the double doors, his shoulder hanging a few inches lower.
‘Nah!’ he sweats. ‘You’re gonna have to do it.’

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

no entry

Mr Walsingham is making slow progress with his zimmer. We raised him off the floor about half an hour ago with the inflatable cushion, and now he’s heading back into his study to fetch a clean pair of pants. His catheter bag is slop-full of dark urine. Mr Walsingham has a temperature - no doubt a UTI - which his cardigan, shirt and tie are doing nothing to ease.
‘Do you want your bag emptying before you move off?’
‘No thank you. I’ll do that myself in the bathroom once I’ve got my clean pants on.’
His wife is sitting in the living room with her swollen legs raised.
‘I’d help you but...’ she smiles and taps her bandaged legs.
‘No. You stay there, Mrs Walsingham. We don’t want another casualty.’
‘I’m afraid that’s all we are these days,’ she says. ‘A couple of old casualties.’
‘Nearly there,’ says Mr Walsingham.
We approach the study, a boxy room with an unmade bed along the right hand wall, a bookcase, a tidy stack of clear plastic crates, and a table at the window with a laptop and in/out tray. On the door of the study is an A4 piece of card, with a No Entry road sign carefully drawn out in silver and red pen. Underneath the road sign is some careful writing: Important work going on in here. Do not disturb on any account – AND YES! THIS MEANS YOU!. And then in brackets underneath: This is meant to be a polite notice, by the way.
‘I like that,’ I say to Mr Walsingham. ‘Your No Entry sign.’
‘Jessie, our youngest did that for me one Christmas. She must have been about eight or nine. She didn’t have any money to get a present so she made me this.’ He grips the zimmer, leans forwards and reads the notice again. Just before he begins the laborious effort of forward movement again, he says: ‘She’s in her fifties now, of course. Head of something overseas.’
Just above the bed is a large framed photo of his wife as she was in the sixties - hyper-colourised, coiffed and golden – a woman in a council chamber or boardroom, awkwardly posing by an ornate chair.
‘Could you fetch me a pair of pants out of that box, there, please?’ says Mr Walsingham, lifting a hand from the frame to point and almost toppling over backwards.
I hold one up.
‘Which is the front?’
I’m reminded of the disposable nappies I used to put on the kids, but that feels like ancient history now. I seem to remember it was something about the pictures, but this is the adult version, and don’t have any.
‘Here. This way,’ says Mr Walsingham.
Between us we manage to get him changed.
‘Where do you want to go next?’
‘The bathroom, to empty my bag, if that’s all right, then bed. This whole business has worn me out.’
‘The out of hours doctor says he’ll pop by later on tonight to dip your urine and see about a prescription.’
‘That’s kind of you. I really don’t think I could bear another trip to the hospital.’ He stops, and smiles at us. ‘I’ve had enough of them, and I’m damn sure they’ve had quite enough of me.’
He straightens, takes a breath, then begins the awful business of turning the frame around.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Four o’clock in the morning and the clubs are running down. The front is raggedly populated, with gangs of bare-legged girls screaming and laughing, scraping along on heels or tip-toeing barefoot, holding on to each other, or draped whale-tailed over barriers, huddled up in doorways, smoking, watching, as a pressed rage of guys in shirts and smiles as hard as their haircuts pick through it all, or run the taxis like the bulls at Pamplona, bellowing and swearing, with nothing in their heads but the pursuit of the quick and hectic brilliance of their lives; challenging, foraging, extending their sex or their violence into every cell and corner, their who-gives-a-shit, their what-the-fuck, whilst above it all a holographic host of seagulls skims the outer reaches of the street lamps, riding in from the sea now, moving in to pick over the cartons and the carcasses.

We turn into a quieter tributary.

 Half way up on the left hand side a tall man in a light blue tracksuit top is standing in the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette. He makes no sign that he’s the one we’re looking for, but simply turns and steps back onto the pavement between two parked cars. We draw level and get out.
He is standing over a much smaller guy who is lying on his back on the pavement. He has his hands folded in his lap and his legs neatly placed side by side with the toes up, like an alabaster knight on a tomb – except instead of armour he has a Fred Perry Tee and chinos, and instead of a helmet, a boy-band haircut.
The tall man stares down at him, and carries on smoking.
‘So – what’s been going on?’ I ask them both.
Adam, the smoker, tells me.
‘We’ve both taken Ketamine. Simon’s had a bad reaction to it. I think it’s messing with his bi-polar. He said he wanted to kill himself and started acting all weird. He’s not safe. I think he needs taking to hospital.’
Simon opens his eyes.
‘I took Ketamine, okay? Is that a crime? All I want to do is go back to my hotel room – the hotel room in my name – tuck myself up in bed and go to sleep. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the law? Aren’t I free to go back to the room I’ve paid for?
I squat down next to him.
‘Simon. Don’t worry, mate. All we want to do is make sure you’re okay. We’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do.’
Adam sighs and turns a little to the side, as if he can’t bear to hear these things square on. ‘No, man,’ he says. ‘You don’t get it. Why do you think I called you? He’s tripping, yeah? He’s out of it. You didn’t see him. You didn’t see what he was like.’
Simon pushes himself up onto his arms and throws his focus around.
‘Leave me alone!’ he says. ‘Just leave me alone! God! All I want is to get some sleep.’
‘Well you can’t very well lie in the middle of the pavement like this,’ I say. ‘Why not come onto the ambulance – we won’t go anywhere. We won’t even shut the door if you don’t want. Let us make sure that everything’s okay, then we’ll think about getting you to bed.’
‘He’s not coming back with me,’ says Adam, quietly. ‘He’s not. I’m not accepting the responsibility. He’ll throw himself out of the window, or some shit. He needs locking up. Why the fuck do you think I called you?’
He takes a step backwards and smokes intently, looking up and down the street as if he expects something more effective to turn up.
‘Simon – you can see how worried Adam is, can’t you? We’ve never met before, so obviously we’ve got no way of knowing how you are in yourself normally. But Adam is a good friend – yes? – and he says he’s worried that the Ketamine has had a bad effect on you. We don’t care what drugs you’ve taken. We just want to reassure ourselves that you’re okay.’
Simon staggers up to his feet and almost pitches backwards through a shop window. I grab his collar to keep him upright.
‘Jesus Christ!’ says Adam – but still with that icy remove, as if he were phoning his anger in from a long way away. ‘See what he’s like?’
‘I’m fine!’ shouts Simon, pushing my hands away and standing swaying with his legs planted far apart and a line of saliva swinging from his bottom lip. ‘I’ve had some alcohol, and I’ve had some Ketamine. Fine. Big fucking deal.’ He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and frowns, seeing me for the first time. ‘What do you know about it?’ he says. ‘Have you ever taken Ketamine?’
‘I’ve taken drugs before but not Ketamine. I’ve always stayed away from those hard-core psycho-tropic ones. I was always a bit worried how they’d affect me.’
‘Yeah. Well. I’m fine.’
A group of four drunk guys, shirts unbuttoned and untucked, bottles in their hands, strolls up the street and slows to see what the scene is. Adam immediately flicks his cigarette at them, steps off the pavement with his arms out to the side and his palms out.
‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ he says, as quietly as ever, but with such an edge to his voice that even the four drunk guys are appalled. ‘Do you think is the fucking TV? Come and  have a good look, then!’ he says. ‘Come on!’
They carry on walking.
Adam turns his attention back to us.
‘So what are you going to do?’ he says.
‘I’m not going to hospital!’ wails Simon. ‘They’ll section me and I’ll go to the cells. And then my mum’ll hear about it, and I’ll lose my job.’
‘What do you do, then?’ I ask him, trying to smother his fire with banality.
‘I sell carpets,’ he says. ‘I’m good. You could carpet the world with what I’ve sold.’
‘That’s a lot of carpet,’ says Rae.
‘Please!’ he wails. ‘I only came down here to forget about things. But that bitch sold me that fucking K and I swear I’m never taking it again. All I wanted was a good time, some alcohol, a little drugs, maybe a vagina I could park my thing in then get to bed and get some fucking sleep.’ He straightens up unsteadily and looks about. ‘Where are the vaginas? There must be vaginas round here somewhere. What about an escort agency? I bet you know where there’s an escort agency. No? I bet you do.’
‘Come on, Simon,’ says Rae, stepping forwards and resting her hand on his shoulder. ‘Look. Here’s the thing. Adam says he’s not happy taking you back to the hotel in the state you’re in – no! Just hear me out. Adam knows you very well and he’s worried about the effect the Ketamine has had on you. So here’s what I think. You’re exhausted and you need some sleep. God knows I sympathise. So why not come with us to the hospital and sleep it off there? You’ll be surrounded by doctors and nurses who can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re okay. Okay? They’ve seen every variety of drug you can think of. They’re well used to all this, so you don’t have to worry. And no-one need ever know. How about it? Come on, Simon – you know it makes sense. And  face it – how are you getting back to the hotel anyway? It’s too far to walk, and no taxi is going to take you like this.’
‘No!’ he says, and staggers away down the road.
‘Aren’t you going to stop him?’ says Adam. ‘Fuck sake! What’s the point of calling you if you don’t do anything?’
Before we have a chance to explain, Adam strides away after his friend, grabs him in a bear hug and pulls him to the pavement. The two of them thrash around, Simon screaming, Adam as cold as ever.
Rae sighs and talks to Control on the radio to update the police. Control tells us the police are tied up with a massive fight on the front and don’t have anyone to assign. By this time, Adam has given up trying to hold Simon down. Simon stands up, straightens his shirt, then carries on walking. With one last look in our direction, Adam follows on behind.


Two hours later and the sky is sufficiently light now to say the night has passed. We’re sitting slumped in the cab in the middle of town, dozing with the radio on, waiting for that one last job to finish us off.
I open my eyes and see a slight figure walking across the road just in front of the ambulance.
I open my eyes a little wider.
His hands are jammed in his pockets, and he walks purposefully, at a precarious dog-trot, his chin out and forwards as if an invisible lead was pulling him along from the neck.
He doesn’t see us.
He doesn’t see anything.

In fact, I think he’s asleep.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


There are half a dozen people gathered outside the house. A spread of ages, the oldest in her sixties, the youngest a toddler on his scooter, but all of them with the same hard-edged stare. A guy of about twenty, bare-chested, his t-shirt hanging from the belt of his jeans, a rawness to him like an animal that’s been skinned then jumped back up to have its revenge, leans in as I pull up in the car.
‘He needs a scan, mate. You need to take him to hospital and get him looked at properly.’
‘Hello,’ I say, as friendly as I can manage. I decide not to pause to write down the arrival time; a clipboard is not going to improve things here.
‘Where’s the patient?’ I ask, stepping out of the car. I hear the question taken up and passed around the crowd in giggles and whispers.
‘Through there, mate. On the sofa. He had a fall last week, yeah? He needs a head scan.’
‘Are you a relative?’
‘A relative? I’m his son, mate.’
‘Okay. Can I ask your name?’
‘Okay, Kevin. Lead on.’
The rest of the crowd separates and I follow Kevin along a narrow hallway into the front room.
Barry is sitting on a black leather sofa, his arms behind his head and his legs stretched out onto the sheepskin rug in front of him. The crowd shuffles in behind and spreads itself about the room, leaning against the door, draped over the arms of the opposite sofa, or standing with folded arms in front of the patio doors.
‘Quite an audience,’ I say. ‘I’ve got stage fright.’
‘We’ve got to keep an eye on you, luv’ says an elderly woman, stretching her gums as affectionately as a Great White.
‘All right?’ says Barry, yawning.
‘So what’s been happening then?’
‘I don’t know. I just don’t feel right.’
‘In what way?’
He shrugs.
‘Do you have any pain?’
‘Shortness of breath? Dizziness?’
‘Not really.’
‘Nausea? Vomiting?’
He shakes his head.
‘Let me just put this thing on your finger,’ I say, attaching the SATS probe. I’m glad of these gadgets sometimes. It makes it look as if something’s happening. ‘Now then. Tell me about this fall you had, Barry.’
He sighs, then tells me he fell over coming back from the pub a week ago. He went to hospital, was discharged the same day, but then went back the day after that. Some more tests, more observations, but nothing found. He was feeling increasingly drowsy, so went to see his GP, who diagnosed a UTI and put him on antibiotics. But the drowsiness persisted, the not-feeling-right.
I take his observations, whilst the rest of the family chip in with comments and advice. An elderly dog appears, his paws slipping and clacking on the laminate floor. He noses the air in my direction, his one good eye as black and round as a Webcam. He collapses down in an untidy heap at the feet of the elderly woman, who I now realise is probably only about fifty.
‘Well – everything checks out,’ I say to Barry, putting the clipboard aside.
‘I’m telling you – he needs his head scanning,’ says Kevin.
‘I can understand why you’re worried,’ I say, ‘but the doctors at the hospital won’t do a scan just because you ask. You’d have to go private for that. But what they will do is take a close look at all your Dad’s signs and symptoms, and make a judgement based on that.’
I turn back to Barry.
‘You’re not showing anything that might make me worried about a head injury,’ I tell him. ‘The drowsiness is probably as much to do with the UTI as the fall last week. But that in itself was a shock to the system, and it’s quite natural you feel out of sorts.’
Kevin has opens a can of beer and drinks half of it straight off.
‘Don’t mind him,’ says one of the others in the room. ‘He’s only having a drink ‘cos he’s wound up about going away in a couple of days.’
‘No I’m not,’ says Kevin. ‘I’m drinking ‘cos I want to stop myself killing someone.’ And he walks out.
‘Ignore him,’ says someone else. ‘He’s got problems. He doesn’t mean it.’
I turn back to Barry.
‘I’m more than happy to take you back up the hospital, Barry, if that’s what you want. It’s just I don’t think it’ll achieve much. You’ll end up on a trolley for a few hours, then referred back to your GP. I think you could save yourself all that and get yourself down to your local surgery instead.’
‘I have got an appointment later today,’ he says. ‘It weren’t me what called you.’
‘Perfect. All right then. I’ll finish writing the form out, then you can take that to show the doctor as record of everything I found.’
‘Okay mate.’
Kevin comes back into the room and sits down just to my right. After a moment he lifts a butt cheek and farts as loudly as he can. The others in the room laugh and nudge each other. To mask my increasing unease, I say: ‘You should blame the dog, Kevin. They’re good for that.’
He stares at me.
‘I’m not going to blame the dog,’ he says. ‘She’s done nothin’ wrong. She’s a good girl. Why would I blame her for something she didn’t do?’
‘Fair enough,’ I say. ‘Almost done here.’
Kevin stands up.
‘Where’s that eighty quid?’ he says, looking around.
‘What eighty quid?’ says Barry.
‘I had eighty quid in cash on the table.’
The table behind me.
‘You’ve dropped it somewhere,’ says someone.
‘Have a look round,’ says someone else.
He stands up.
‘Can I move your bag, mate?’ he says quietly.
He moves it, flipping the lid at the same time to glance inside.
I’m tensing myself for the accusation, but he seems to shy away at the last minute; instead, he crashes around the rest of the room, increasingly angry, getting the others to stand up, slamming things aside on the TV unit. The only one not disrupted is the dog, who scarcely lifts its head.
‘There,’ I say to Barry. ‘Here’s the form. Give that to the doctor – it’s a record of what I found today. Okay – happy?’
‘Delirious,’ says Barry.
‘Don’t get up. I’ll see myself out.’
I stroll through the room, easy as a pantomime horse through a lion enclosure.
I throw my bag in the car.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

a very bad patient

It starts with me scratching the outside edge of my right palm. A little while later, when I grip the head-end of the carry chair, the hand feels puffy and tight. When I turn my hand over to investigate, I find an angry, reddening lump. Bitten, then – but by what? A mosquito? Horse-fly? Snake? I scratch it again before I remember I shouldn’t.
When we get back to base I take some Loratadine I have in my locker.
An hour later and my hand is markedly swollen. I show it to one of the A&E doctors. She turns my hand over gently, presses the oedematous flesh of it, rests the back of her hand against it to gauge the temperature.
‘That’s quite a reaction,’ she says. ‘Have you taken anything?’
‘Just some Loratadine.’
She tuts like she thinks that’s as effective as prayer. She gives me Chlorphenamine, tells me to keep an eye on it. ‘If this red patch starts to spread up your arm, speak to me again,’ she says.
The shift finishes.
I go home to sleep.

When I wake at midday, I’m already scratching. I hold the hand up in front of me. The whole thing looks like a rubber glove that I’ve blown up and tied off at the wrist, ballooning with fluid. It’s so tight that if I bunched my fingers into a fist the back of my hand would rip and a shower of gunk hit the ceiling.
I feel hectic, invaded.
I get dressed, go downstairs, wave the hand in front of Kath.
‘Oh my god! You’ve got to get that seen to,’ she says. ‘I’ll drive you down there.’
I pack an emergency bag of stuff – iPod, phone, wallet, book. The only thing I don’t pack is a Very pistol and some mint cake.
Kath drops me at the entrance.
‘I’ll call you,’ I say.
She drives away and I walk inside.
There are half a dozen patients distributed about the waiting room, all of them with a murderous, bedded-in look. A woman gets up to go to the water point; it’s like watching a prisoner exercising in the yard.
I hesitate.
Should I go in via the ambulance entrance and speak to the doctors there? But I rarely get up this way and I don’t know the staff all that well. I recognised one of the nurses as we drove in, but it looked as if she was going home. I decide to be brave. At least this way I’ll get to see what happens as a regular punter.
I go up to reception and rest my comedy hand on the counter for dramatic effect.
After a long, professionally extended moment, the receptionist looks up.
‘Yes?’ she says.
‘Hello.’ I smile and pause, expecting her to recognise me.
She doesn’t.
Out of uniform, out of context, out of luck.
‘How can I help?’ she says.
I lose my nerve and lean in.
‘I’m actually a member of staff.’
‘A what?’
‘I’m a member of staff. Ambulance,’ I whisper.
‘Just tell me what’s wrong,’ she says, hitting a key on the computer like it’s a panic button.
‘I’m supposed to be working tonight, but I’ve been bitten by something. On my hand. It’s become infected. Look at that! God knows what it was. A scorpion, maybe.’
She sighs.
I wait, then go on.
‘I don’t suppose I could have a chat to one of the doctors to get their advice,’ I say.
‘I’ll book you in.’
‘Couldn’t I just have a quick word with one of them? Only I’m supposed to be working tonight.’
‘Like I said, I’ll book you in.’
She frowns and sighs at the same time, her eyebrows and shoulders all part of the same pressure release mechanism.
‘Name?’ she says.
I give it.
She fills out the form.
‘Take a seat.’
‘Any idea how long?’
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘The Triage Nurse will see you presently.’
‘But it’s tracking up my arm.’
‘Speak to the Triage Nurse.’
I take a seat.

I settle in.
Take out a book.
Look around.
This is good, I tell myself, smoothing out the page. It’s good to know the patients’ experience. Maybe this’ll make me more sympathetic.
I self-consciously hook the thumb of my right hand into the v of my t-shirt, to help with drainage. Maybe someone will see that. They’ll see how ill I am. They’ll see my oedematous hand, and come running.
This is what’s it’s like to sit in a waiting room.
Seen by a receptionist.
Waiting for a triage nurse.
For how long?
What if something’s terribly wrong? Will these minutes and hours count?
Oh my god! How long have you been like this? And you came in through reception? Jesus Christ! The poison is running up your arm and you sit and read a book?
I look around me.
No movement. No sign of anything happening at all.
No-one else remotely ill.
There’s a young couple laughing, holding hands, stroking each other like they’re waiting at the Town Hall to get married.
An elderly man snoozing over a puzzle magazine.
A woman texting beside a child as it picks over a ragged box of A&E toys.
Nobody looks ill at all.
I remember a story I heard about a flamboyant A&E consultant who, when the department was completely overrun with patients, went into the waiting room and asked everyone to stand up. ‘Good. Go home. You shouldn’t be here.’ Probably apocryphal, but bracing nonetheless.
I sigh and go back to my book.
My hand throbs like Wile E Coyote slammed his paw with an Acme mallet.
A coach party arrives at Reception.
I joggle my knee.
Massage my hand.

Time passes.

‘Mr Kennedy?’
I feel like jumping up and throwing my book in the air. But instead I collect my stuff together and go in to see the triage nurse.
‘Take a seat.’
I take a seat.
She takes my temperature.
Fills in another form.
I smile and play the brave ‘Tsch! What a nuisance!’ card. ‘I’ve no idea what bit me. An alligator, maybe.’
‘I’ve seen lots of these infected insect bites this month,’ she says, clicking her pen definitively.
‘Yes. Take a seat back in the waiting room. The nurse practitioner will see you soon.’
I go back into the waiting room.
I re-open my book, make a savage fold along the spine, breathe, look around.
It feels like I’ve been rejected by the parole board.


There’s a shot I saw in yesterday’s paper – a panoramic, composite photo sent back from the Martian Curiosity explorer from where it landed. A vast expanse of desert wasteland, fringed with mountains in the distance.
This is how far away I am from seeing a doctor here.
A name is called. The boyfriend / girlfriend combo detaches with kisses and the man strolls happily in to see the nurse practitioner. The girl hums and picks up a magazine. What can be wrong with him? An STD, I hope.
I go back to my book, hating the world.
Check the time.
Go back to my book.

The light eases outside, blue to gold, summer to autumn.

If I ever make it outside again, how will the world have changed? Will I even recognise it?
Everyone will be travelling around in pods, wearing foil suits.
‘What year is this?’ I’ll say.
They’ll hurry past.
Me and my hand.

The man comes out again and his girlfriend stands  up to throw her arms around his neck. He made it!
The Nurse Practitioner smiles, then checks her list.
‘Mr Kennedy,’ she says.

The doctor rotates my hand, probes the swelling.
‘Hm. It looks like it might be getting a little cellulitic, but I don’t think we’re at the IV anti-biotic stage just yet. Let’s give you a course of oral Flucloxacillin, see how we go with that. Keep on pushing the Chlorphenamine. You need to go home, keep your arm raised and watch the rest of the Olympics in style. Okay? Okay.’
He slaps my shoulder, sculls backwards on the office chair, stands and goes away.
The Nurse Practitioner finishes the paperwork.
‘There!’ she says. ‘A scrip for the Olympics! That can’t be bad, can it?’
I shake her hand with my comedy mitt, and stride back out into the world.

Friday, August 10, 2012


A young girl with wild hair and black eyes steps out from a graffiti covered wall and waits for us at the entrance to the alley. I ask her who the patient is but she doesn’t answer or react; instead, she turns round on the spot and soundlessly leads us down. It’s a curious place – on the left side, the decaying remains of the backs of shops and restaurants, on the other, a row of sharp new designer lofts, with etched grey lettering on glass, coloured furniture, chrome trim. There are two kitchen workers taking a break by some bins outside one of the doors on the left. One of them pushes his friend forwards: Take him! He’s no good any more. They wrestle and play fight. The girl looks round to make sure I’m still following.
Suddenly she turns in at the foot of a set of concrete stairs and takes us up to an old doorway. She knocks loudly, there’s the sound of something heavy being moved aside, the door opens, the girl carries on. We follow her through a derelict hallway until she stands aside and points to another doorway. Through it is a large room filled with people, a bay window open at one end with an army blanket pinned across it as a curtain. Down in one of the music shops in the street outside, someone tries out a guitar: Seven Nation Army; the notes drifting up against the blanket as thickly as the smoke.
In the middle of the room sleeping bags and clothes have been kicked into a messy pile; on top of it, a brindle staffie pup is rolling around on its back in an ecstasy of stretches and sneezes. There are half a dozen people sitting around the edges of the room on the bare floorboards, smoking, filter-feeding in the swampy fug.
As nicely as I can I ask them if they’d mind stepping outside to smoke. They’re all immediately apologetic. Someone hooks the blanket aside onto a nail that’s been knocked into the plaster for that purpose. The rest stub their fags out on the floor and shuffle past me into the hall. One person remains – a thin, bare-chested man of about thirty, slumped against the wall with a joint in one hand and a can in the other. He looks cartoon-sad, washed-up, like a clown who has just had his make-up and rubber shoes forcibly removed. The dog stops rolling around and hurries over to sit next to him.
‘Are you the patient?’ I say.
‘Yeah. It’s me, mate. I’m the patient. I’m the one you want. Fookin’ yeah. I’ve been shaking more and more. Having fits, like. I’ve been that unwell. Pains all over my body, dizzy, passin’ out. It’s like I’m gonna die, yeah? I’m feeling slightly better now I’ve had a drink, ‘cos I know it’s all to do with that n’ stuff. It’s like - I want to get clean, yeah? I want to go on a detox. Can you help me? Can  you get me on the programme, fella? ‘Cos I tell you what – I can’t go on like this. I feel so shit. It’s like – whoa! No way, yeah?’
 He grimaces, then slurps from the can.
The dog stares at him, then me, then back to the man, as if it wants to check that we understand each other.
I’ve met Rich before. The last time he was face down outside the Law Courts, a ragged crowd around him then, superintended by a couple of police officers and a security guard from the court.
‘Didn’t you already go on the detox thing, Rich? I thought that was one of the conditions?’
‘It was, yeah. It was. But – see. I did it n’all. And it went really good. But it’s hard, man. It’s so fookin’ hard. I ended up in the old bad ways, you know wha’ I’m saying? But this time I know I’ve got to stick it out, because I can’t carry on feeling like I’m feeling. You know what I mean?’
‘It’s good you made it that far, Rich. I know it must be hard. But as far as getting on another programme, it’s not really something the ambulance can help you with. You need to go back to your GP to get you signed up again.’
‘I know, I know, mate. I didn’t want to them to call but they were just worried about me. They didn’t like to see me going on like this.’
The dog smiles at me, happy about the consultation, then leaps back up onto the pile of clothes to start rolling around again.
‘Waaay!’ shouts Rich, waving his can at the dog. ‘Look at him go! Scribble knows how to have a good time.’

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

who was he?

The lightening sky is fragile as old silk. It stretches above us, lustrous, silver-blue, backlighting the dark terraces and the cars. It’s about half past four and I’m feeling better. The night-shift sickness is easing, the grey sweat I draw in the early hours. I’m sure if you shone a light on me around three o’clock you’d see it happening beneath the skin, the blood cells jellying-up in the veins, the heart backfiring, the lungs two dusty yawn pumps. I work stupid and slow, a diver at depth, sucking pure helium whilst he stares at the bolt in his hand.

A street lamp switches off just as we pull into the road, like I blinked and made it happen. It disorients me for a second, but then I carry on looking for the number. In the end the house we want is easy to spot, a police car parked outside.

‘I don’t know if you know the story or not,’ says the police woman, waiting in the hallway. ‘Charlie woke up around three and found his wife Vera missing and the front door open. He called us, we did a quick recce of the area and found her in her nightdress about four streets away, crouching behind a van. She wasn’t distressed or anything – in fact, it was really weird. It was like the most natural thing in the world for her to be out and about in the early hours barefoot in her nightdress. Anyway, we brought her home, warmed her up and called you guys. There just through here in the sitting room. The daughter’s here with them. She only lives down the road.’

We follow her into the sitting room.

‘Hello! Hello! It’s the ambulance!’ I say, overly brightly, like a party entertainer. I nod at Charlie, a frail old man of eighty, hugging his knees through his dressing gown, rocking backwards and forwards and sucking his teeth; his daughter Suzie, jangling a bunch of keys, and Vera, her long grey hair wild about her shoulders. She is sitting on the edge of her armchair, cradling a mug of tea and looking around with the kind of benign confusion you might see on someone who woke up to find themselves on stage.
‘So – Vera? What’s been going on this morning? I’ve heard a little bit from the police. It’s all a bit strange isn’t it? How are you feeling?’
‘I feel fine, absolutely fine. I can’t explain it. It’s just one of those things. When I woke up there was a strange man in the room and I didn’t like it so I had to get out. I didn’t have time to put anything on, so I just went.’
‘A strange man?’
‘I’ve never seen him before. But I didn’t like him and I just had to go.’
‘Has this happened before?’
I look across at her husband and he shakes his head.
‘This is what I don’t understand,’ he says. ‘It’s completely out of character.’
I look back to Vera, quietly sipping her tea.
‘Do you mind if we check you over?’
She puts the mug aside.
‘Honestly, I feel fine,’ she says.
‘No pain anywhere? Headaches, blurred vision, dizziness?’
‘Nothing at all.’
‘Shortness of breath? Sick? Anything unusual at all?’
‘I was a bit shivery, you know, but I expect that’s because I’ve been running around in my nightie.’
‘I expect so.’
Whilst Rae runs through the observations, I take some notes. Vera is as old as her husband but the two of them enjoy perfect health. Nothing in her past medical history, nothing recently.
‘Have you noticed any discomfort going to the toilet just lately? When you pass water, for instance? Does it sting?’
‘No. And I’m very good about drinking, aren’t I, Charlie?’
He nods, and bites his lip anxiously.
‘What do you think it could be? he says.
‘I don’t know. It’s all very odd. Have you ever had any lucid dreams before, Vera? Sleep-walking? That sort of thing?’
She shakes her head.
‘I’m a good sleeper,’ she says. ‘I can drop off anywhere.’
‘She could sleep on a rope,’ says Charlie. ‘Me - I’m hopeless’
‘Is it all right if we stand down now, guys? says the police woman. ‘I don’t think there’s much more we can add.’
‘Thank you so much for what you did,’ says Suzie, getting up to show them out.
‘Our pleasure,’ says the police woman. ‘I’m glad it had a happy ending. Night all.’
Charlie shakes her hand, then looks back at me.
‘What do you think?’ he says.
‘I don’t know. The strange thing is all your observations are completely normal, Vera. It could be the start of a urinary tract infection. They’ve been known to make you a bit confused sometimes. Or maybe it was some form of mini-stroke. I’ve not heard of that particular symptom, but you never know. From our point of view, the safest thing would be to take you down the hospital for a check-up and maybe a blood test...’
‘I’m not going to hospital,’ says Vera. ‘Absolutely out of the question.’
‘She’s got a fear of hospitals,’ says Charlie.
‘Okay. Well – I suppose it’s not so far off that your surgery will be open. At the very least you’re going to need a chat to your doctor, to see what they have to say. How about that?’
She nods and picks up her tea again.
‘And don’t forget – the slightest thing happening between then and now – anything out of the ordinary, anything that you’re worried about – call us back. Okay?’
I finish writing the paperwork.
‘Any questions?’
Vera studies me for a moment, then Charlie, and finally Suzie, who's come back to stand in the doorway.
‘Well, just one,’ she says at last. ‘Who was he?’

Saturday, August 04, 2012

the racer

The scaffolding is down now on Highfield Point, its refurbished walls as minty-white as the frosting on a magnificent cake. Even the doors have been replaced – a smooth, electronic affair, drawing us in to the polished lobby, and the polished lobby cat, whose ginger fur stands up in rows of freshly-laundered spikes.
‘Fourteenth floor’ says one of the wardens, leaning against the door of the reception office, momentarily lifting her mouth away from the phone to poke with her chin in the direction of the lift. ‘Mandy’s with him.’
The lift arrives immediately, intuiting our request. The doors open, their edges picked out in crisp, fluorescent green stripes. A female lift voice tells us to stand clear, then politely marks off the floors as we go. There are white spotlights in the ceiling to hold us in place. The air smells bright and disinfected. It feels as if I could ask the lift woman a question and she’d be happy to answer, but we ride up to the fourteenth so efficiently there’s no time to think of anything or take the relationship further. She closes the doors behind us without anything more being said. She descends.

Stanley is sitting on the edge of his bed, his hands draped into the v of his lap, an expression on his face as slack as the afternoon.
‘I’m not myself,’ he says.
‘In what way are you not yourself, Stan?’
He shrugs.
Mandy, the other warden, is sitting on the edge of a floral settee, her arms folded but her face flush with concern.
‘I think Stan’s been finding it a bit difficult to cope,’ she says. ‘He’s been off-colour for a long time now, and there was a bit of a worry that the dizziness that he’s been feeling was worse today.’
I look back to Stan, whose position hasn’t changed on the bed.
‘Do you feel dizzy now, Stan?’
He shrugs again – a minimal affair, something that barely disturbs his neatly ironed shirt.
‘So what’s the problem today, Stan? Do you have any pain?’
‘Pain? No.’
‘Shortness of breath? Nausea? Vomiting?’
He shakes his head.
‘Tell me about this dizziness, then. How long’s that been going on?’
‘I don’t know. Eight – ten weeks.’
‘Constant, or off and on?’
He curves his mouth down and raises his eyebrows.
‘Is it worse when you get up in the morning? Or does it come on whilst you’re walking about?’
‘Hard to say.’
‘Okay. Anything else wrong?’
He lifts his chin a little.
‘When I look at the curtains,’ he says, ‘it makes my eyes go funny.’
‘What do you mean? The light there?’
‘Yes. The light. I can’t keep my eyes open.’
To illustrate, he points his face at the curtains, his eyes two pale slithers of reflected light amongst the wrinkles.
‘So you’re a little sensitive to the light, would you say?’
‘I just can’t keep them open.’
Mandy leans in.
‘I think these things have been going on for a little while, as Stan says, but we were just a bit concerned they were worse today, and we didn’t know whether it might be the beginnings of a stroke or something. I’ve told Stan’s daughter Elly about it. She’s on her way over, but she says she might be a little bit delayed because she started a new job today and didn’t think it’d be easy to get away.’
‘Okay. That’s fine. So, Stan? Do you have any pins and needles? Numbness? Funny feelings anywhere else?’
He shakes his head.
‘I don’t feel right,’ he says. ‘I just don’t think I can be left on my own.’
‘Grip hold of my hands,’ I say.
He passes the test for stroke.
‘You’ve passed,’ I say.
Rae takes his blood pressure, temperature and such. Everything checks out.
‘Have you spoken to your doctor about any of this?’
‘My doctor? What does he know?’
‘Well it’s their job to know, really, Stan. If you don’t like your doctor, you can always change.’
He shrugs.
Mandy leans in with his care folder.
‘Stan has a cardiac appointment in a week or so and another for an eye check-up,’ she says.
‘Great. That’s good.’
I write it all down.
‘Well – what to do with you, Stan? You’re a man of mystery.’
‘Am I?’ he says. ‘Oh.’
Rae has wandered over to the other side of the flat.
‘Is this you on the bikes?’ she says.
He looks up.
‘I raced all through the fifties and sixties,’ he says. ‘TT, Grand Prix, you name it. Nortons, Triumphs. I was very keen. We went all over.’
I go over to join Rae at the board.
Amongst all the photos is one of Stan sitting on his racing bike with his arms folded. He’s wearing a tight leather jacket, a round white helmet with the goggles lifted up. Even though his balaclava is over his mouth, you can tell it’s him. He squints out at the camera, a younger, tougher version of the man who moments earlier was squinting at the curtains.
‘If you look at that photo you can see a van in the background,’ he says.
There is one – a converted furniture van, with Équipe Macintyre painted on the side, along with images of bikes leaning round bends and popping wheelies.
‘Is that your support vehicle, Stan?’
He nods, and raises a hand to point.
‘And can you see someone sitting on the top of it?’
There’s a blurry image of a small child sitting on the roof, her legs stretched out onto the windscreen.
‘That’s Elly. About six she was, then.’
And just at that moment, Elly comes into the room, a large, harassed looking woman in a freshly-starched uniform with a name badge.
‘Dad,’ she says, dropping her bag down beside the bed and leaning over to kiss him on the top of his head. ‘What are we going to do about you?’
He settles back into his original position.