‘I don’t know why I mentioned the sword business,’ says Derek. ‘It’s a letter opener. Decorative, really. I feel a bit stupid, to be honest.’
We’d been standing off for ten minutes waiting for police because we were told Derek was suicidal and had a samurai sword. But as it turns out, Derek is empty-handed, and even if he did have a letter opener somewhere, his flat is so horribly junked-up he’d have a job finding anything smaller than a shovel.
The police satisfy themselves everything’s okay, then leave us to it.
Derek’s flat is a mean, cold, rubbish-strewn hovel, a filthy sheet tacked across the window, a soupy consistency to the air.
‘This is the first time I’ve been out in a week,’ he says, draping an army surplus greatcoat over his shoulders like a cloak. ‘I keep myself to myself.’
For all the obvious signs of neglect, Derek is still an impressive figure. With his swollen belly, his fleshy breasts spilling out the sides of a cut-off Motorhead tee, his full beard and knotted grey pony-tail, he wouldn’t look out of place at a heavy metal festival, or at the back of a lamplit cave, with a book, a skull and an hourglass.
‘People can be so cruel,’ he says, picking up the walking stick by the door. ‘They never used to be.’
Derek suffers from PTSD. He was coping all right until he lost his job under difficult circumstances a few years ago, and it’s been a slide ever since.
‘All that work I put in to the place,’ he says. ‘All those years. And then all of a sudden there’s a change of management. Some new kids come in – kids! – and they say Okay Derek. You’re no longer the manager. You’re the manager’s assistant. And it all goes to shit. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.’ He starts to cry. I tear off some tissue from the roll and he buries his face.
‘Thanks,’ he says, after a while. ‘Sorry to be a pain.’
When I do his ECG there are some anomalies, nothing drastic, worth a check-up.
‘Is that my heart?’ he says, staring at the screen, hands palm-up on his knees like he’s receiving a blessing. ‘Well. At least it proves I’ve got one.’