Robert leans forwards in his chair and rolls up his sleeve for the blood pressure cuff. There’s an intricate tattoo on the inside of his forearm: Live your dream, spookily inked in blues and blacks, ivy and lilies and roses.
‘It’s the drink, Spence. I know it’s the drink. What’s to be done with me, ay? What’s to be done?’
‘Have you ever been on a detox programme, Robert?’
‘Yeah. Once. A while ago.’
‘And how long did you stay sober?’
‘’Bout a couple a year.’
‘That’s pretty impressive. You’ve done it once, you can definitely do it again. Don’t you think?’
He stares at me as I put the steth in my ears and pump up the cuff.
‘It’s the drink,’ he says again, his head wobbling from side to side. ‘D’ya get me?’
His mobile phone rings.
‘Hey! Dad! How’s it going? I’m jes’ with the paramedics, Dad. Yeah. D’ya wanna word with them?’
He hands me the phone.
‘It’s me dad,’ he says.
‘Hi,’ I say to him. ‘My name’s Spence. We got a call out to Robert this morning because he felt unwell and thought he might have a fit.’
Hello there, Spence. Yeah – well – he hasn’t fitted with his drinking in the past, but sometimes he gets wound up when he’s been overdoing it. Do you know about Jack, the guy he shares the house with?
‘Yep. He told us Jack went in for some kind of heart op.’
That’s right, yeah. I think that hasn’t helped matters.
I say that can’t have helped.
‘No, absolutely. Look – I’m sorry, but this phone line’s terrible. It sounds like you’re being attacked by a giant squid.’
No, no. I’m on the bus. So what are you going to do? Are you taking him to hospital?
‘I don’t think he needs to go. He’s not that bad. I’ve made him an appointment to see his GP this morning, to talk about getting on another detox programme.’
Okay, mate. Fair enough. Thanks for all you’ve done.
‘No problem. I’ll hand you back.’
Robert takes the phone and chats on with his dad whilst I finish off the paperwork.
It’s a lovely house, one of those warm and chaotically interesting places, prints and pictures on the walls, family photographs spanning the years, books on the bookshelves, and bright sunlight filtering in over the back of a huge sofa through the bay window and the straggling rosemary bushes outside – in fact, the kind of place you could happily lose a few hours browsing.
Robert says goodbye to his dad and puts the phone on the table.
‘Me dad,’ he says. ‘He’s a good man, he is. Deserves better’n me, tha’s for sure.’
‘So Robert? You managed to stay sober for two years. What was it that started you drinking again?’
‘Me? I made a film.’
‘Yeah. A film. With me dad.’
‘What kind of film?’
He shrugs, a loose, Vodka-driven movement that rides up from the small of his back to the top of his head like a wave.
‘I can’t remember, mate. Sorry. It’s gone. A film type film.’
‘Who else was in it?’
‘Jes’ me and me dad. Yeah. It was dead good. I loved it.’
‘But it started you drinking again?’
‘Yeah. Well. It would, wouldn’t it?’