Arnold felt strange as soon as he woke up this morning.
‘I thought that was it,’ he says. ‘I thought that was my lot – waaalll, you do when you’re ninety-four. You can pop orf any minute.’
But it turns out it wasn’t so much his time as his low blood sugar. So now he’s propped up in bed steadily working his way through a plate of toast and a mug of sweetened tea whilst we chat about this and that and fill out our paperwork.
‘We’ll do your blood sugar again in a minute. Keep going with the toast.’
Arnold’s military moustache is still neatly clipped, perched on his upper lip like a band of silver thread. Around the walls of the bedroom are dozens of family photos, army memorabilia, faded clippings about Burma, a small glass cabinet of three medals, a selection of drawings and watercolours of foreign scenes, some by Arnold, some by his friends.
‘That’s my wife there,’ he says, pointing at the largest of the photographs with the crust of his toast. It’s a charming, black and white portrait of a laughing young mother, kneeling on the carpet with her arms round two small children. ‘She went first, nine years ago. Funny - I didn’t think it’d be that way round. Still. You do what you can. They say you get over it but you never do. You just – find a routine to get you through the days.’
We ask him about any health visits.
‘Oh – I had a funny one the other day from the heart failure nurse. She said would I mind having an ECG? I said what’s that? So she said it was a tracing they make of your heart. So I said be my guest, if you can find a heart. So she said would I take my top off. It’s been a long time since a pretty young thing asked me to take my top off, so ‘course I said yes. Well there I was with all these wires stuck here, there and everywhere, and these gorgeous nurses fussing over me, when suddenly Alf from next door shouts up the stairs was it all right for him to come up? And I shouts down ye-es, mate. So he comes up. And when he puts his head round the door he says Cor blimey it’s like one of them porn films.’
He takes a sip of tea, then cradles the mug in his lap.
‘Mind you, if it was a porn film I wouldn’t be able to do much. There’s sod all going on down below these days. Do you know, the last time I had sex was ten years ago? I still get a little thrill from seeing a nice tight bum or a well-filled sweater going past in the street, but there’s nothing to back it up, if you know what I mean? I can appreciate it, but that’s about all.’
We tell him that the tea and toast seem to have done the trick, and would he mind having his blood taken again?
‘Fire away, mate,’ he says, smacking his hands clean.
I ask him about his medication.
‘Have a shufty through that Tupperware,. It’s all in there, mate. All except the Viagra.’
He gives me a stage wink.
‘I keep that under me pillow.’