I know this road. I’ve been up and down it the last seven years, blue lights and routine dawdle, am, pm, any hour you like. I’ve hacked along through queues of backed-up commuters, or flown through the early, empty hours. I’ve careened through rainstorms and idled through sunshine. I’m so familiar with every bump, camber, dog-leg, slalom and chicane you could blindfold me in the back and I’d be able to tell you exactly where we were and how far there was to go. I know that on-coming traffic always hesitates to pull over into the bus lane just here, so when I’m driving up the hill through this section on the wrong side of the road I have to allow for the fact that they won’t give me any room. I know I have to come wide at these lights or I’ll get boxed in. I know I can drive as fast as the ambulance will take on this stretch, but I’ll have to brake about now to get a reasonable line through the roundabout and not tip everything out.
But this has come through as a choking / cardiac arrest, so I’m pushing it.
‘I’ll take my stuff, you bring the green bag,’ says Rae, jumping out as we haul up outside the address.
We hurry inside.
Luckily, the elderly woman sitting on the sofa sipping from a mug of tea is about as far from choking / cardiac arrest as it’s possible to be.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she says. ‘I’ve no idea what happened.’
June’s daughter Rachel tells us her mum had dozed off in front of the TV, and the next thing they knew she was red in the face, coughing horribly and thrashing about. Rachel’s husband had grabbed her and slapped her back whilst Rachel called 999, but the whole thing seemed to pass as quickly as it started, with no harm done.
‘So there was no food involved?’
‘No. We finished supper hours ago.’
‘No boiled sweets or anything like that?’
‘No. All I remember was dozing off in front of Perriot.’
‘You know. The detective.’
We give her a check-up, but everything seems fine.
‘Looks like you’re all ready for Christmas,’ I say, packing away the kit whilst Rae finishes the paperwork. ‘I like your Nativity scene.’
It’s a beautiful thing – simply carved and painted, a loved family object, nicked and scuffed through years of getting out and putting away again.
‘My grandfather made it,’ she says, picking up a donkey and turning it round in her hands. I get the feeling she’d put it to her nose and lips if we weren’t there. After a moment she carefully puts it back, sighs and says:
‘I’m sorry to be a nuisance.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ we all say, her daughter sitting down next to her on the sofa and giving her a hug.
‘We’re just glad you’re all right,’ says Rae, standing up ready to go.
‘I know, but still – you must be so busy,’ says June. ‘You could do without people like me at Christmas.’
‘Actually, you know what, June? We could do with a few more. Happy Christmas!’
‘Happy Christmas!’We pick up our bags, the son-in-law shakes our hand, and shows us out.