‘I’ve been around lurchers all me life’, says Thomas. ‘Greyhounds, lurchers.’
He hands me back my phone, and while I scroll back out of the gallery pics to the home page, he leans forward and starts coughing, a darkly churning noise, like someone trying to start an old car with a handle.
‘Maybe you’d better not talk for a bit, Thomas.’
‘Jes’ give me a minute. I’ll be all right. I find it takes me mind off of it.’
After a lot of hawking and gargling he leans forward and spits into the vomit bowl, then wipes his mouth with the bundle of tissue he has in his other hand, and rests his head back.
‘I should never have smoked,’ he gasps, closing his eyes. ‘Good job I stopped when I did, though. And all without them patches and whatnot. Jes’ will power and the love of a good woman.’
I replace the bowl and tissues with fresh.
The ambulance rocks along.
When Thomas has found the energy again, he continues.
‘Ye-es. Smashing dogs, lurchers. But like all them long-legged dogs, they are prone to yer sprains and strains.’
‘This is the third Lola’s had this year.’
‘I’m not surprised. No doubt going after rabbits a bit too enthoosiastic?’
‘But there’s a trick to getting them over it. Know what it is?’
‘You give ‘em a good ol’ rub down. Really work your fingers in, from the shoulder down to the paw. The moment you see they’re brewing up a bit of a limp, you get in there with your fingers. And when you’ve had a good ol’ prod and a poke, you know what you do next?’
‘You throw them in the air! Not a huge amount, ‘course. Jes’ enough so’s when they land they land paws down running. And the limp’ll have gone, I guarantee it!’
‘I might try that then.’
‘Oh ye-es. I’ve had lurchers all me life. And you know the trick to getting a good one?’
‘No. What’s that?’
‘Let the dog pick you. You don’t pick the dog. And see it with its mum.’
He nods emphatically.
‘You’ll know when the dog knows, not a moment sooner.’
Later that day, we’re sitting in Sheila’s front room. Sheila is ninety-four, thoroughly independent. Her neighbours pop round most days, help keep the little garden tidy, the odd dinner and bake, and she has someone come in and clean the house once a week. But apart from that, she still goes to the local shop every day for her TV Quick and her groceries, and manages quite well enough, thank you very much.
Only she does suffer with a touch of arthritis, and it was playing up so much through the day that she got worried something else might be wrong and she pushed her red button.
‘I’m so sorry to call you out. I know you’ve got better things to do.’
‘Absolutely not. You should always call us if you’re worried. It keeps us in a job.’
‘Still. I don’t like to make a fuss.’
Everything seems fine. We decide to make a call to her GP, though, as she hasn’t seen her for a while and could do with a review.
I sit back down on the sofa next to her to explain what’s going to happen next.
‘You couldn’t rub my arm, could you?’ she says.
I start to massage her arm, working my way down from shoulder to fingers.
‘Ooh – that’s better,’ she says.
‘Good’ I say – gauging the distance from the sofa to the middle of the room.