The tomatoes in the nursing home garden were glossy and plump. Mr Cranshaw had almost filled his modest Tupperware container, but then either because he overreached himself, or because the weight of all those tomatoes proved too much, he pitched forwards and ended up sprawled on the path. The staff put a pillow under his head and a rug over his shoulders, and then called for us.
Although he is shaken up a fair bit, a little scuffed and bruised here and there, Mr Cranshaw is otherwise unhurt. We help him back to his feet, and then after a pause for him to get his bearings, lead him arm-in-arm back to his room.
It’s one of the nicest rooms I’ve seen. Small but comfortably proportioned, at the far end is a large square window overlooking a garden full of colour and interest. A striped awning has been partially lowered outside the window giving just the right amount of shade from the late afternoon sun without obscuring the view, and in the margin of this shade is an old armchair, the plush a little rubbed, the varnish on the wooden armrests worn a little black – but a loved and comfortable thing, one of those chairs that seems to resonate with the dreams of the occupant it’s absorbed over the years. Opposite the chair is an equally venerable walnut writing desk and Windsor chair, whilst above it, a selection of books and ceramic figures on a half dozen oak shelves. Beneath the shelves, a single bed, neatly made up with a forest green chenille bedspread. And then all around the walls, a display of family photographs that would seem from here to cover every generation and every national drama since the Edwardian era.
‘What a lovely room’ I say to Mr Cranshaw as we help him to his seat by the window.
He nods graciously.
‘Thank you. It was all by chance, of course. It just happened to be available when I came.’
One of the care assistants brings him a cup of tea. He thanks her affectionately.
Amongst the photos on the wall, wearing his black and white stripes with as much savoir faire as any of the uniformed and medalled relatives around him, is a badger.
‘What’s the story?’ I ask.
‘Oh him?’ says Mr Cranshaw. ‘One of the carers was kind enough to take that picture for me. It’s most peculiar. You see, I like to sit in my chair and look out over the garden and think about this and that. And I suppose over the years the animals have come to recognise me to some degree. I have all sorts coming up to me now. Squirrels, birds, foxes – and the badger you see there. He swings by most evenings. He comes up to the window and waits for me to bring him something back from the dining room. And d’you know? If I show the slightest hesitation in opening the window, he raps on the glass with his claw as if to say: Would you mind hurrying up? A chap can’t wait around all day! He’s a curious fellow, in many ways.’
Mr Cranshaw pauses to take a sip of tea, shakily replaces the cup on the saucer again, sniffs deeply, then brushes his moustache dry with the crooked knuckle of his index finger.‘P’raps he recognises a kindred spirit,’ he says.