Nigel is resigned to his chest pain.
‘Hardly headline news’ he says. ‘I’ve had more work than the M1. Even my stents have got stents. Just a minute...’
He wanders round his flat looking for his wallet.
‘Are you sure we can’t get you a chair, Nigel?’
‘You’re very kind, but I’d much rather walk. Have you seen how small the lift is? We’ll barely fit in as it is.’
He’s right. It’s a lovely, art-deco block, but whether people were thinner back in the Thirties or whether design took precedence over utility it’s hard to say – certainly, the lift is a tiny hardwood box that takes two at a pinch and three if they’re extremely good friends.
‘Here it is!’ he says, waving a battered leather object in the air and then stuffing it in his pocket. ‘Now then. What else?’
‘Phone, keys, the meds we’ve got. A coat for later. I think you can safely leave Winnie, though.’
I nod at the plump, fairground prize cuddly toy at the foot of Nigel’s bed.
‘Ah! You like bears?’ he says. ‘Follow me!’
He gives me a conspiratorial wink and shuffles out of the room. I follow him down a narrow corridor whose walls are crowded with framed photos, pictures, prints, African masks, battered hats – into another room so utterly dark I can’t make out a thing.
‘Stay there!’ he says. ‘I have to use the standard lamp over here. I know where everything is so I’m okay, but if you try to follow me you’ll trip up for sure. Ah! There we are!’
Suddenly illuminated, a room filled with antique furniture, ceramics, paintings. And in pride of place, a chaise longue absolutely covered with bears in various states of decay. Some are dressed in naval outfits, some in mortar board and gown, but mostly a collection of friendly, tatty, tarnished old bears, carefully arranged in four rows, all looking in my direction.
‘Wow! Hello!’ I say, as much to the bears as to Nigel. ‘I’ve actually got a little bit of stage fright.’
‘You like them?’
‘I love them.’
‘It’s my life’s work. Every one with a story. I thought you’d approve. You look like a bear man.’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment.’
I go up to the chaise longue and start shaking each bear by the paw like a cheesy celeb working the crowd.
‘Hi. How are you? Good to see you! Thanks for coming out. Hey – the navy’s in town. Yeah! Looking good, growly. Love what you’ve done with the ears...’
Nigel laughs and slaps me on the shoulder.
‘You’re as daft as me,’ he says, righting a small bear that’s slumped over to the side. ‘There, now! Shall we go?’
He turns off the light.
‘Goodnight bears,’ he says as he closes the door.
He puts his arm through mine, and we both head down to the ambulance.