Mr Wiltshire’s house feels more like the crowded hold of a tramp steamer. There are boxes of records and CDs stacked precariously around the place; boldly-marked folders bulging with leaflets and articles and letters; full bags tied off at the handle; clothes hanging from the picture rail, and up on the landing, a tall wooden ladder lashed with clothes line to the handrail.
‘I’ll just sit myself down here if you don’t mind,’ says Mr Wiltshire after opening the door to us.
‘Oof!’ he says, lowering himself onto the steps. ‘My word. That does hurt there. Now – I have had some attention already, from your colleagues and from the doctors and nurses up at the hospital. They ran all their tests and I must say they were pretty comprehensive. I was on the Clinical Decision Unit for a couple of days after the fall. They took X-rays, blood tests, urine dips – you name it. Yes – uh, uh, uh – a most comprehensive series of investigations. And the end result of all their shenanigans was a diagnosis of a possible cracked rib. Now – they discharged me as I say, after a couple of days, with some pain relief and some advice. I was all right at first, but I have to admit I’ve just felt more and more pain there, until this morning I couldn’t even make myself breakfast. I mean, how tragic is that? Starting the day without my cup of tea and my bowl of porridge? I used to have cereal but I find now I need that extra boost.’
Mr Wiltshire is ninety-four. As a young man he’d fought for his life at the Battle of the Bulge; now, seventy years later, even without his porridge, he’d still be an asset.
‘I know you think there’s a lot of clutter about the place and of course you’re absolutely right, there is. But let me tell you something and I know you’ll think it a terrible digression but there’s a reason for it as you’ll no doubt see. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen those things advertised: Get your home insulated for free. Lofts, pipes, that sort of thing. Well of course I had already insulated these things myself. Not particularly beautiful, you understand, but perfectly functional, and my pipes never froze, not even in the harshest conditions. Now then, as I say, I saw this leaflet and I thought: Hm. Buckshee. Can’t harm to look. So I contacted the agency responsible and I said I was game if they were. Well – they came round, and I must say they were a thoroughly nice and professional operation. Hm they said, opening cupboards and whatnot, and shimmying up the ladder into the loft. Hm. We can do a lot to help you they said. About a week later it was all done, and they did a proper bang-up job, I can tell you. But there was this one unforeseen complication, you see. They’d lain all the insulating foam right across the rafters, so I couldn’t see where to put my feet! And now I can’t put my records and papers back up there, because they’ll just come straight through the ceiling!’
We arrange for someone to come round to assess his pain meds and living conditions. One of his neighbours has already popped round to make breakfast.
‘No sugar, please, Bet,’ he says. ‘Treacle, if you have it. I need that little something extra.’
We settle him into his favourite chair in the sitting room, surrounded by all his boxes.
‘I know it’s all a bit much but I just can’t throw music away,’ he says, taking some tea. ‘I’ve got some pretty racy stuff, you know. Stuff the BBC banned.
He closes his eyes and sings a few verses from a George Formby song: I’ve gone and lost my little yo-yo.
‘You knew what he was really singing about,’ says Mr Wiltshire, opening his eyes again. ‘And so did the BBC, of course. Oh yes, lots of good stuff. If I could only put my hand to it. The trouble is, I must admit it’s getting in the way. That’s why I fell, you know. Arse over kettle on the landing. At least I didn’t go all the way down the stairs, which would’ve been worse.’
And he tucks into his porridge.