Manning House has the glass and brick functionalism of a seventies telephone exchange, and it may once have been that. But now it serves as a hostel for rough sleepers, and if there are occasionally people to be seen sitting on the steps outside the door, smoking, their complexions are too blasted and their expressions too wasted for your average telephone engineer. Not that you see them outside for long, though. The staff controlling the entrance from their Plexiglas reception like to move them on pretty quick.
Lance has sliced the top of both his legs open. He is sitting with both legs raised and crudely bandaged, two members of staff standing right and left. He has a rolled cigarette between his bloody fingers, and waits patiently to be allowed to smoke it.
‘What did you use?’ I ask, shearing his blood-soaked jeans away.
‘The lid of a baked bean can. You know – the ring-pull kind. It’s pretty sharp, and you get a really nice grip.’
I’ve never thought about it before, but he’s right – it’s perfect. He’s neatly parted the flesh of his legs almost to the bone.
He stares down at his handiwork, the other side of some brutal, medieval practice that successfully opened a door and let the demons out.
As I’m re-dressing his wounds I ask about the other, older stripes on his calves and ankles.
‘I know,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry to waste your time.’
He fiddles with his cigarette, which adheres to his tacky fingers and almost tears.
‘Can I smoke this or what?’ he says.
‘Wait till you get outside,’ say the staff.