Thursday, February 21, 2013

some kind of magic

A camera over the carriageway, recording, relaying, metering the moment into hours, minutes, seconds. You could speed it up if you wanted, make everything happen faster, or unhappen, slower. The pulse and fade of it all, the tidal traffic and sky; a ribbon of red to the left, a pulse of white to the right, as the sun flows west and the moon hurries over and shadows climb and fall around the tunnel mouth, the escarpment, the barriers and bushes and trees, dark to light to dark again, sunshine and gathering cloud, a twist of stars above the earth. And through it all, perched on its gantry, the camera, periodically wiping its lens, keeping watch. And as the seconds and minutes roll forwards, the framing of the precise moment the car swerves, clips the barrier, rolls through the air and lands on its roof. The still period after. Another car stopping. Flashes of blue, a fire truck into fend-off. Uniforms and scene lights. A police car. And at twenty-three thirty-one forty-nine: an ambulance.

I pull on my fluorescent jacket and approach the scene: Claudia, standing with her arms folded, giving her details to one of the traffic cops whilst the fire team examine the wreck behind her.
‘What happened?’
He nods and waves his notebook in the air.
‘I’ll leave with you with these guys for a moment and then carry on a bit later, okay?’
He steps away.
‘Like I just told him ...’ she carries on. ‘... I was driving along doing about eighty when something happened and I lost control. I think I must’ve blown a tire because the steering wheel kind of ripped round in my hands – and I tried to get it back – but the next thing I knew I clipped the barrier, flew up in the air, did a somersault and landed on the roof. I can’t believe I didn’t hit the tunnel wall. I mean – look at it.’
She’s right. This is a notorious spot. Given what happened she should’ve ploughed straight into the parapet.
‘Are you hurt?’
‘That’s the amazing thing! I was left hanging upside-down in my seatbelt for a minute or two. Then I thought maybe I’d better get out before it explodes or something. I managed to free myself from the belt, but neither door would open so I climbed over the seats and out the back. Someone stopped to help – where is he, by the way? – then the fire brigade arrived. It all happened so quickly. I still can’t believe it.’
She holds her long hair back from her face and surveys the wreck behind her.
‘I only got it last week,’ she says. ‘I suppose I’m just not destined to have nice cars.’
‘What was your last one?’
‘A crappy old two cee-vee.’
‘I don’t suppose that would’ve survived a landing on its roof quite so well.’
‘No, but then I wouldn’t have been doing eighty.’
‘Claudia – do you have any neck pain? Back pain? Pins and needles? Any other strange sensations?’
‘No. I’m good.’
‘What about if I press here? Or here? Anything at all?’
‘Nope. I think I’ve been lucky.’
‘Still – given the speed you were doing and what happened, we’re going to have to immobilise you. Just to be on the safe side. Sometimes the adrenaline of these things can hide an injury, so we have to be careful.’
‘I’m in your hands.’


‘I still can’t believe it happened,’ she says. ‘You couldn’t just blow my nose for me, could you? Thanks.’
She’s lying on the trolley in a collar, head blocks, vacuum mattress.
‘Now I know how Tutankhamen felt.’
The ambulance bounces along, heading for the hospital. I finish writing up the paperwork.
‘I rang Carl, so he should be waiting for me there.’
‘I just can’t believe it. I was going home from a night out with friends. And now this.’
She wets her lips and blinks rapidly.
‘I should’ve gone to the loo whilst I had the chance,’ she says. ‘How am I going to manage it trussed up like this?’
‘There are ways and means.’
‘Hm. Ways and means. I don’t like the sound of that.’
‘Don’t worry, Claudia. I’ll tell the nurses how desperate you are and they’ll sort something out.’
The ambulance shudders as it goes over a pothole.
‘Christ! These things aren’t built for comfort, are they?’
‘No. You’ve got to be sick to want a ride in one.’
‘How much longer?’
‘Almost there. So. How was your evening out with your friends? What did you get up to?’
‘Oh. The usual. We try to meet up once a month.’
‘That’s nice.’
‘Yeah – it is nice.’
She moves her eyes sideways to check me out, then looks back up at the ceiling again.
‘Actually, we meet up for a little erm ... ceremony. Every full moon, you know.’
‘What – like a pagan thing?’
‘Something like that.’
‘Wow! You’re the first witch I’ve had in the back. That I know of.’
‘It’s a lovely thing. We all meet up – eat food, drink wine, in the garden round a fire, or if the weather’s good, out in the woods and places. I mean – it’s just an excuse for a social, really. But it’s nice to have that extra focus, giving thanks to the Goddess or whatever you want to call her, for looking after us and keeping us well. I know it sounds a bit ho-hum, but it’s surprising how much it’s helped these past few years. And we’ve had some rough times in the group. It’s just – good, you know?’
She wriggles in the mattress, like an escapologist discreetly testing the straps for weakness.
‘And now look. I think the magic let me down.’
‘I don’t know, Claudia. Maybe the magic did work. Maybe it was the magic that kept you from getting badly hurt tonight – that, and the safety cage.’
‘Do you think?’ she says. ‘Hey – maybe you’re right!’
She closes her eyes for a moment, and we ride along in silence. I wonder if she’s thinking about the full moon shining down on us, or maybe replaying the moment she lost control, when the car clipped the barrier, spun in the air and landed on its roof.
Suddenly, she opens her eyes wide again.
‘It’ll take some even stronger magic explaining this to Carl,’ she says.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

access all areas

Jean is waiting for me on the landing.
‘I didn’t call you,’ she says, then turns and walks back into her room, closing the door behind her.
I knock. She doesn’t say anything. When I give it a gentle push, it opens. I peer round the edge.
‘Can I just come in and have a chat?’
‘Suit yourself. But it won’t do no good.’
The foot of the single bed allows just enough room for the door to open; the head of it is pushed into a shabby little alcove with a couple of empty shelves above. The room is a dingy, high-ceilinged affair, painted so many times and so hurriedly you’d have to break the windows to let in some air. The fireplace in the centre of the main wall has been boarded up, but the old mantelpiece is still there. Jean has propped up half a dozen family photos along its length  – two kids in school uniform, the same kids a little older hugging each other in Christmas hats, a blurry party photo.
‘My angels,’ she says, rolling a cigarette, scattering tobacco over the carpet as her hands shake. ‘I’d do anything for those kids.’
‘Jean – do you know why I’m here?’
‘No. Why?’
‘There was a call to say you might have taken an overdose tonight. Is that right?’
She shrugs, licks along the fag paper, puts the fag in her mouth and then pats around for a light.
‘What have you taken, Jean?’
‘Look – I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I only moved in yesterday and it’s noisy, okay? So I took a few extra Tramadol. All right? Is that such a crime? I didn’t ask you to come here. I only phoned the doctor ‘cos I wanted to talk to them about stuff. What’s happening with me n’all that. Because I can’t go on like this, that’s for damned sure.’
She cups a lighter in her hands and leans over it; the flame illuminates a wizened face so drawn into itself it’s hard to say if she’s forty or a hundred and two.
‘The thing is, Jean, Tramadol is quite a risky tablet to overdose on. So I’m duty bound to say you should come up to the hospital to get checked out.’
‘What? And sit up there for hours? No way. All I wanted was help with my drinking. That’s it. The hospital won’t be able to do that, will they?’
‘Well, no – that’s really something your GP needs to organise for you.’
‘Right. So what’s the point of going up the hospital? No one cares up there. They just take one look at you and think piss head. They couldn’t give a toss.’
‘I think they do care, Jean. I mean – I won’t pretend they’re not busy. And often when it gets busy and pressured, they don’t have the time to sit down and talk things out in the way they’d like.’
‘They don’t care.’
‘When was the last time you were up at the hospital?’
‘Last year.’
‘What was that for?’
‘I had a perforated duodenal ulcer. It was bad. I was rushed in for emergency surgery, spent a week on intensive care, six weeks on the ward and then a couple of weeks in that rehabilitation place. The surgeon saved my life. He was amazing. Another couple of hours and I’d have been dead.’
‘So you see – they do care. The surgeon. All those other doctors and nurses. They took care of you then, didn’t they?’
She takes a crackling drag on her cigarette, and then carefully picks a piece of tobacco from the tip of her tongue with the dirty thumb and finger of her other hand. She drops it over the side of the bed and says: ‘Nah mate. Ain’t no-one cares about me.’
‘Come on, Jean. Let’s go down the hospital.’
She shakes her head.
‘What are your daughters called?’
‘Lucy and Janine.’
‘What do you think Lucy and Janine would say if they were standing in this room now? They’d want you to come and get help, wouldn’t they?’
She glances over at the photos on the mantelpiece.
‘They’re my angels, they are. My babies.’
‘So what do you think Lucy and Janine would say if they were here now?’
‘Mate – don’t bother. I’m not going to no hospital.’
‘I can’t force you...’
‘I know you can’t force me.’
‘But if you stay it’s against advice. Look. I need to finish off the paperwork before I go. You don’t have to decide right now. Let’s get a few details down and then talk about it some more.’
‘You can talk about it till you’re blue in the face, I’m not going.’
‘Are these your tablets here?’
I pick up a carrier bag from the rickety little table over by the window. Underneath a greying bra are boxes of medication – anti-depressants, pain relief, sleeping tablets.
‘There’s quite a lot here.’
‘Tell me about it.’
Jean sits cross-legged on the bed, watching me. An aura of tragedy hangs around her head as palpable as the smoke.
‘I had a good job,’ she says. ‘I bet you’re thinking What? Her? But I did. A really good job. D’you wanna see my work pass?’
She puts the fag back in her mouth, hauls herself to her feet, then moves unsteadily over to a decrepit chest of drawers. From the heap of junk on the top of it she untangles a security pass on a lanyard. She tosses it over to me, then leans back against the chest of drawers and folds her arms.
It’s a rushed portrait, functional, slightly blurred, but it’s Jean all right – in a uniform, smiling confidently.
‘That’s me,’ she says. ‘Access all areas. That was a really good job, that was.’
I can’t think of anything particular to say about it, other than to agree it looked pretty responsible. I hand it back.
She weighs it in her hand a moment or two, then shrugs and drops it back amongst the trash. ‘Now can you just go, please? I’m tired and I wanna go to bed.’
‘Are you sure you won’t change your mind?’
‘Change my mind?’ she says, opening the door and then going back to sit on the bed. ‘I think it’s a little bit late for that, love. Don’t you?’

Monday, February 18, 2013

the commercial lift

‘And this is the atrium…’ says Callum, making a sweeping gesture ahead of us with his board. ‘As you can see – light and airy, classic with just a hint of modern. All original features, of course…’
He carries on in that vein, Rae just behind him with the bags, me with the chair.
It’s like stepping into a Homes & Gardens supplement on the Thirties. A richly varnished, oak parquet floor, oriental rugs, a couple of intricately carved chairs either end of a marble table, a couple of landscapes in fruity gilt frames, the remnants of bell-hangs, room indicators, the whole space illuminated by two ballroom-sized, arched windows and a chandelier looming down from the masses of ornamental plasterwork overhead. Either end of the hallway are two lifts, both with black trellis gates and brass fittings.
Callum checks his board.
‘Flat twenty,’ he says.
Just as we start to argue about which floor and which lift that might be, an elderly man and his wife appear. They are both so immaculately presented – the man in a heavy tweed coat, Rupert scarf, trilby hat and walking cane; the woman in a Russian coat with black fur trim and some kind of fascinator made of exotic feathers – I could swear I catch sight of a Stage Manager ushering them on, stage left.
The man does a perfect double-take, then says:
‘Are you here to collect someone?’
‘More than likely,’ says Callum. ‘Actually, we were after Flat number twenty.’
‘Twenty, eh?’ says the man. He glances at his wife, who makes so little response she may as well be stuffed and tugged along on wheels.
‘You want the fifth floor, South Wing,’ he says. ‘The Fifth. But I have to warn you. The blasted South Lift’s still out of commission, so you’ll probably have to use the Commercial Lift. Unless you use the stairs...’ He pauses, surveying us with a vaguely disappointed air. ‘I’ll show you to the Commercial Lift.’
He turns smartly on his polished shoes and marches us back in the direction he’d come from, leaving his wife in the middle of the lobby. As we pass the South Lift the man gives it a disdainful rap with his cane.
‘Blessed nuisance,’ he says. ‘Been like it since Noah. Look. Here we are: the Commercial Lift.’
He points with his stick to a much less prepossessing door – a plain steel shutter with a thin rectangle of reinforced glass in the middle. ‘You’ll need to give the door a damned good pull. It’s stiff, you know.’
‘I see,’ says Callum. ‘Thank you very much.’
‘Not at all,’ says the man. ‘No! Harder than that! Harder!’
The door eventually grinds open with a shriek.
‘That’s the ticket.’
And he marches away to retrieve his wife.

The lift is really too small for the three of us, our bags and the chair, but we decide to go for it. Closing the door takes more effort than opening it, particularly as none of us has a clear angle. When it does eventually clunk-to and the lift judders upwards, the three of us have taken on the shape of the space, a vacuum-packed cube of paramedics, Rae flattened against the mirror, me with my nose pressed against the word ambulance on Callum’s back.
‘Do you work out?’ I say to him.
‘I hope that’s the chair,’ he says, shifting his weight.
The lift makes a succession of worrying noises, but finally clatters to a halt on the fifth floor. After the kind of team-work Mack Sennett would’ve been proud to film, we finally manage to force the door open, sprawling out onto the landing along with our gear.

An elegant woman in a black and white dress is waiting outside her door to meet us, back-lit with more golden sunshine, her grey hair a perfect bob, her peach lipstick complementing her pearls. She gives a frightened little start, glances the other way down the corridor, then back to us.

‘Are you the ambulance?’ she says.

Friday, February 15, 2013


They make quite a jovial crew, the two police officers and Ian, the man slumped between them. Ian is a crudely tattooed man in his fifties, frizzy hair tied back in a pony-tail, the gold cuff-links of his shirt unclipped, tie at half-mast, grey winkle-pickers scuffed and spotted, the whole, sharp look liberally splattered with blood. When I open the back of the truck up, they guide their unsteady cargo towards the steps, laughing, shouting instructions, carrying on.
‘Poor Ian was assaulted this evening. Took a few punches, maybe a kick to the head, maybe knocked out, we’re not sure. No weapons involved. Up you go, mate!’
We help Ian on to our trolley, where he sighs and stretches out.
‘Sorry. Sorry to be a nuisance. I hope I’m not wasting your time,’ he says.
Apart from a few lumps and cuts, he doesn’t appear too bad, but because of the head injury/alcohol combination we’re obliged to take him to hospital.
‘There were seven of them,’ he says.
‘It’s going up,’ says one of the officers, sighing and pulling out his notebook. ‘You said five a minute a go.’
‘I know who it was. Raffie and that lot. I borrowed a pony off him twenty-five years ago...’
‘Sorry – what’s that? Twenty-five pounds, twenty-five years ago?’
Ian nods.
‘So they come and beat you up for that?’
He nods again.
‘One of them had a riding crop.’
‘A riding crop? What’s he, then? A jockey?’
‘It might’ve been a walking stick. I was just out for the night, you know. Happy-Go-Lucky, minding me own. And I pass them by in the street. And one of them goes What are you looking at? So I goes Mate? Seriously? Have a nice evening. And I raise me titfer. Next thing you know – Wham! Bam! Thank you, Mam. He kicked me in the mouth, the bastard – ‘scuse my language. Look.’
Ian lifts his head forwards, draws back his bloody lips, and drops his jaw.
It’s like peering into the maw of a Great White that’s been dead on the beach a year, or the mouth of a medieval rat. To recreate Ian’s mouth, you’d have to sculpt a set of gums out of pink sugarpaste, put it on a compost heap for the summer, then press splinters of burnt and rotten wood around the edges in two haphazard semi-circles.
‘Look’ he says, hooking a corner of his mouth further aside. ‘Ah hink ah’ve lahst a carple...’


Later on in the journey he tells me about his other injuries.
‘I was shot,’ he says. ‘Twice. With a thirty-eight.’
‘You were shot? Who shot you?’
‘The police. Coming out of a bank, twenty year ago. But don’t worry. I never used to go for people like you, honest people, people who worked for a living. It was only them as wouldn’t miss it. I used to go into the bank with a bag over my arm and say: Give us all your money. And they did. But that one time, yeah, I got shot. Here, look, I’ll show you. You’re a medical man. You’ll like this.’
He starts to unbutton his trousers.
‘No – it’s okay, Ian,’ I say. ‘We’re just about there now. I don’t think there’s time...’
He unzips his fly and raises his hips.
‘Honestly, Ian – it’s okay.’
‘No. I want you to see. Your mate won’t mind. Look.’
He wriggles his trousers down, bends up his right knee and then rolls out towards me to expose the inside of his right thigh. There, mid-way – two round, grey patches of scar tissue.
‘Just there,’ he says.
‘Where are the exit wounds?’
‘Didn’t have none. That’s why they use thirty-eights, see? They’re designed to rattle around inside you, like shrapnel in a tin can, mashing you all up. Which is what they did. Smashed me leg to bits. Didn’t do much running after that.’
The ambulance parks up. Rae opens the back door.
‘Ian was just showing my his gunshot wounds.’
‘Would you like a gander?’ he says.
‘No. You’re all right.’
‘Suit yourself.’ And he zips himself back up.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

you are not alone

Our headlights pick up Eva a little way ahead, this side of the fence, leaning against the Samaritans board that says You are not alone.
I dim the headlights to avoid dazzling her, and come to a stop a tentative vehicle’s length away. She doesn’t even look round.
The ambulance rocks from side to side, fitful little shakes in the wind, like a bored giant has a hand on the roof. Even though we’re careful when we open the doors, it takes a firm grip to stop the doors being wrenched back against their hinges.
‘Hi! Eva is it?’
Rae walks towards her; I follow on with my hands in my pockets.
‘Did you call us?’
Eva huddles up to the board more closely.
‘I want to go,’ she says. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘Why don’t you come and sit on the ambulance and talk to us there? It’s a lot warmer. We’ve got the heater on. Blankets. I could leave the door open if you’d like, so you don’t feel hemmed in.’
‘I just want to go,’ she says.
‘Come on, Eva. Yeah? It’s freezing out here. Come and have a chat and we’ll see what’s what.’
Eva stares ahead into the mauve-black horizon beyond the cliff edge.
‘I understand you might have taken some pills? Is that right? Are they your meds, or...’
‘They’re mine.’
‘Okay. So – shall we get on board out of the cold and talk about that? It really is horrible weather.’
‘My life’s horrible.’
‘Come on. Let’s get you in the warm.’
Eva turns and studies us. A pouchy, red-faced woman in her forties, the curls of her greying hair whip about her face. She hesitates, and for a minute I think she might take a sudden run at the fence and hurl herself into the abyss just beyond it. But instead she seems to fold into herself, pushes her hands more deeply into the pockets of her jacket, and follows us back to the ambulance.


‘Eva – because of where we are and everything, the police were also asked to attend. Shall I stand them down? I don’t think they’re really needed now, do you?’
Eva responds to everything with a tired shake of her head and a pained, squeezing shut of her eyes.
‘No. Keep them coming. I want them to come. I’ve got – plans, if they don’t.’
‘Okay. That’s fine. We’ll keep them coming, then.’
She shivers under the blankets, then plants one muddy booted foot up onto the trolley, and starts jigging her knee up and down.
‘I’m under the crisis team,’ she sighs. ‘I rang them first. It told them about the voices, what they wanted me to do. Fat lot of good it did me. Them and their strategies. Their coping mechanisms. Watch some TV they said. Play some CDs. Distract yourself. Watch some TV!’
She sneers, then gathers the blanket more tightly around herself.
‘So I drank a bottle of vodka, took all my pills and came up here instead.’

The wind is picking up. It makes an eerie whistling noise as it tears around the square corners of the truck.

Suddenly there’s a knock on the door.
‘I expect that’s the police,’ I say. ‘Shall I let them in?’
Eva nods.
It’s like opening the door of a spaceship landed on a hostile world. The wind pushes aggressively past me into the cabin, the black night beyond whirling and frozen and flecked with snow.
Two officers, looking in.
‘Shelter from the storm!’
‘Come in! Come in!’
The ambulance tips as they climb aboard.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

an old woman with a cup of tea

We let ourselves in with a key from the safe.
‘Hello? Ambulance.’
‘Up here, love.’
A steep, narrow staircase with an awkward tuck at the top. Let’s hope she doesn’t have to be carried out.
On the landing, a sofa piled up with clothes, boxes, stuff.
The door to the bedroom standing open.
Donna is stuck half in and half out of bed. It looks like she went to swing her legs out and got them tangled in the pile of junk that’s piled precariously to her left. This whole section of the room is a disaster, a lethal, human-sized version of Mousetrap, cunningly improvised out of domestic items: the pile of books that will topple on to the carrier bag of fruit that will roll a heap of apples onto the upended chair that will tip back and tug the lead of the kettle that will teeter on the edge just long enough for the water to come to a roiling boil then dump its contents all over the bed.
There’s just so much of it. Once it goes it’ll really go. Donna will be swept away downstairs on a mini-tsunami of Jammie Dodgers, Household magazines, inco pads, make-up freebies, shoe horns, grab-sticks, remote controls, Catherine Cookson novels, a signed photo of Jim Reeves... her withered legs kicking in the air, her hearing-aids squealing.

‘Here we go.’

Donna’s no weight at all. The hardest part by far is the disentangling of her legs. We move what we can, then extract her slowly and carefully. Once she’s clear, putting her back to bed is no more effort than fluffing a pillow.
We check her over and everything seems fine. She was only discharged from hospital a couple of days ago, though, and it doesn’t seem as if any of the proposed changes to her house and care package have been put in place. It’s going to take some ringing around to sort the whole thing out and keep her out of hospital.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I ask her, whilst Rae starts in on the numbers in the care folder. ‘How do you take it?’
‘As it comes. But you can make it up here, you know,’ she says, gesturing blithely to the Wailing Wall of Junk to her left. ‘It’s all to hand.’
 ‘Well to be honest, Donna, we’re not too happy with the way it’s balanced up there. You could have given yourself a nasty burn. You were lucky not to have the whole lot down on you just now.’
‘I’m used to it.’
‘Still. I’d rather make the tea downstairs.’
‘If you say so,’ she says, patting the sheets either side of her and squeezing her eyes shut contentedly. ‘I’m just so grateful to be back in bed.’
‘Let’s have a good old think about your set-up here.’

Downstairs the little galley kitchen is clean and bare. There’s a line of yellow and black hazard tape on the floor running a couple of inches in front of every cupboard and appliance front. A new clothes horse still in its plastic wrap. A couple of boxes of dressings and emollient creams. Plenty of room.

Whilst I wait for the kettle to boil I watch the sparrows squabbling  in the bramble thicket that’s taken over the little back garden. Then I make three cups of tea and carry them up.

Rae is sitting on the bed waiting for a call-back.
I hand out the teas and join them.
‘Who’d have thought it?’ says Donna, cradling her cup.
‘Thought what?’
‘All those years ago, when I joined the WRAF. There was a whole line of us. A whole long line – of seventeen year olds, all messing about outside the nurse’s office waiting for our inoculation jabs. I was so excited – about everything. It was all ahead of me, my life. And now look!’ She raises her mug. ‘Here I am, an old woman with a cup of tea. Who’d have thought it!’

Monday, February 11, 2013

luke's big weekend

‘Warm enough?’
‘Yes ... thanks.’
Barbara draws the blanket more snugly around her shoulders. She breathes with a kind of brittle, mechanical lurch to her shoulders, her large eyes emphasised by the scooped lines of her face. The nasal specs she wears keep her going on a trickle charge of oxygen; her disease has reached that precarious point where the balance between oxygen and carbon-dioxide saturations has a critical influence on her breathing. There’s no room for error, certainly no room for infection. The asbestos she worked with all those years ago buried its noxious roots deep within her lungs; now, she has to contend with its ruinous fruit – pleural effusions and thickenings, lesions, consolidation, a lobectomy.  She bears it all bravely, with the love and support of her husband, sons and daughters, grandchildren.
‘I can’t believe... I’m going back in,’ she says. ‘Two weeks ... two weeks I was in....only came out the other day.... they’ll take one ... look at me and say ... not her again.’
‘No they won’t, Nan,’ says Luke, leaning in, giving her a slap on the knee. ‘They love you. They’ll say “Great to have you back. We missed all your moaning.”’
She squeezes his hand.
Luke would cheer anyone up. A funny, open-faced guy in his early twenties, there’s a warmth to him as vigorous as a wood-burning stove.
‘Here, Nan,’ he says. ‘Did I tell you about my trip to Blackpool?’
‘I heard... it wasn’t  quite what ... you were expecting.’
‘It was rubbish! What a dump! If you ask me they should just bulldoze the lot and start again.  I tell you what - when I got back I just felt grimy. I stood under that shower for an hour, heat on top whack, but even then I still felt grubby. Honestly, Nan. What do people see in the place? I went up that tower there. About two hundred years old, they said – which didn’t surprise me. I bet they haven’t taken a brush to it since. You can’t go all the way up to the top ‘cos it’ll probably tip over, but there’s a bit just shy of it where you can stand on a glass platform and look down. Nan – you couldn’t ‘a paid me to go on there. All those rusty old rivets. You may as well have paid a tenner to throw yourself down a lift shaft. Honestly, it were that bad. And the beach! Don’t get me started on the beach! What a slum! All these knackered old donkeys standing round given you a look like they’re in two minds whether to ponce a cigarette or kick you to death. We just hurried past and didn’t make eye contact. Anyway, finally we made it out on the town for Henry’s big do, and that weren’t too bad. I think I drunk more than I was planning to, just to get warm again, you know what I mean? But I tell you what, Nan – the girls there! It was like “You’ll do, mate,”  Wham! Over the’ shoulder, out the door. I didn’t stand a chance. And then the hotel – well, that’s not what I’d have called it. Zoo, more like. I tell you what, Nan – David Attenborough might have liked all the wildlife crawling up the walls, but it just brought me out in a rash. And it weren’t cheap. I probably spent about six hundred that whole weekend. May as well have gone to Spain and be done. At least it’d have been a bit warmer. One whole hour I was in that shower. It was like sand-blasting a dirty wall. And when I came out, I still felt grimy.’
Barbara smiles at Luke and gives her head a little shake.
‘But you ... had a nice time... despite all the ... difficulties.’
‘S’all right,’ he said. ‘But I’m never drinking again.’

Friday, February 08, 2013

two drinks

An elderly woman opens the door to us. Securely riveted into a scarlet three piece suit patterned with golden leaves and tendrils, with her hair – if it is her hair – sprayed, coloured and moulded into an extraordinary shape like a vast spiral space helmet, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turned out to be the visiting President of some alien colony from Mars.
‘She’s just through here, love. Did Colin let you in? He’s such a lovely man, Colin. I don’t know what we’d do without him.’
Colin is the caretaker of the block. Not only did he let us in, but he showed us to the shining chrome and brushed steel lift, pressed the button for us, told us he was there if we needed anything, watched over us as the door closed.
‘This way.’
The woman rolls ahead of us on bad hips into a wide and comfortable lounge where two other elderly women are sitting. One of them, Mrs Silverman, holds a bloody tea towel mid-way down her leg.
‘Oh dear!’ says Rae. ‘What’ve you been up to?’
‘She wants to take more water with it,’ says her friend, rocking backwards and forwards on her chair with the excitement of it all.
Mrs Silverman laughs.
‘I’ve been so stupid,’ she says. ‘I just got up to fetch Maura something to eat, because she can’t be bothered to get it herself...’
‘...And I came over a bit dizzy. I lost my balance and just caught the front of my leg on that nest of tables. It doesn’t half hurt.’
‘Tell them about that time you were blown up in the war, Beth.’
‘I was! By a bloody great German mine. It didn’t go off right away, you see. It just kind of sat there, waiting for me. It blew me right across the street. I wasn’t badly hurt, though. Just ruined my hearing. So you see – it takes a lot to knock me off my feet.’
‘Maybe the Germans should’ve dropped a nest of tables instead.’
Mrs Silverman doesn’t appear to have heard that. She just carries on pressing the tea towel to her leg.
‘Let’s see what you’ve done, then,’ says Rae. But just before she takes the tea towel away, she opens her bag ready, sets an inco pad just below Mrs Silverman’s foot, and preps a gauze pad with some sterile water.
‘Eh voila!’
It’s a substantial wound, almost full-thickness, about a hand’s breadth across the top of Mrs Silverman’s lower leg.
‘That’s nasty,’ says Rae. ‘I’ll clean it up a little and put a dressing on there, but I’m afraid it means a trip down the road.’
‘’Fraid so. That needs some attention. We’ve got a chair here for you.’
‘Don’t worry, Beth,’ says her friend. ‘We’ll look after the place till you’re back.’
‘They’re my girls,’ says Mrs Silverman proudly. ‘My gang. We make quite a team. A bunch of old dinosaurs but we get by, don’t we?’
The others agree.
Whilst Rae finishes dressing the wound, they bustle about making an enormous fuss involving keys, taxi money, glasses. To see them busily exchanging items, arguing, putting things in, taking things out, you would think they were sending her off to the South Pole. Through it all, Mrs Silverman tries to keep control.
‘Honestly, don’t fuss! I’m only going down the road,’ she says. Then she turns anxiously to me. ‘They won’t keep me in, will they?’
‘It’s hard to say for sure. Your blood pressure’s high at the moment, and they might want to monitor that. And given that it’s almost midnight, they’ll be reluctant to release you back into the wild in the early hours. But it’s hard to second-guess what they’ll say. Take what you need.’
‘I’ll fetch your winter coat,’ says one of the friends.
‘Not the best one.’

Sometime later, we go.


‘We’re all over ninety,’ says Mrs Silverman on the trolley, her hands clutching the bag on her lap. ‘Think of that. Or don’t think of it, more to the point.’
‘It’s lovely you all have each other.’
‘Ye-es. It keeps us going. But you know, I lost my husband a couple of years ago, and it’s not the same anymore.’
She checks the contents of the bag again, sighs, and then her thoughts seem to wander inwards for a while.
She looks across at me.
‘It’s all wrong of course,’ she says.
‘How d’you mean?’
‘In what way?’
‘It’s all very well and good coming up with a cure for everything, for old age. But you’ve got to die of something. And what it means is nowadays you’re expected to live forever.’
‘But I thought you seemed pretty happy? You’ve got the gang.’
‘I know, and if it wasn’t for them who knows how I’d cope. But really I’m ready to go now. I’ve got all these niggles, all these stupid things going on. And what do they do? They fiddle around and so on – and it’s nice of them to do it – but really I’ve had my time and I’m ready to go.’
‘It’s a difficult subject.’
‘It is a difficult subject, particularly when it’s you that has to live it.’
She raises her eyebrows and leans towards me.
‘What’s the name of that clinic? In Sweden or somewhere, isn’t it?’
‘Dignitas. In Switzerland.’
‘That’s the one. Well. Apparently it’s all very nice. They give you two drinks. A milkshake to make you feel relaxed, and then something stronger to pop you off. All very easy. I must admit I  like the idea. It’s just such a long way to go.’
She leans back.
‘Because it’ll never happen here. And you know why?’
‘No, why.’
‘Because of all those old bishops in the House of Lords. It’s against their religion, so whenever the Bill comes up, they vote it down. And I just wish they wouldn’t.’ She glances around the cabin. ‘Because it means all this. Bashing your leg open. Trips to hospital in the middle of the night. Not that I’m not grateful for all you’ve done, of course.’
‘I know.’
‘I should’ve gone when Bill went. He always was very tidy. He just kind of rolled over and that was it. And the funny thing is, I’ve always been the one with all the problems – it doesn’t make sense. And now look. Here I am, hanging around, when all I want to do is be off. It’s difficult to know what to do, sometimes.’
‘It’s late. You’ve had a nasty fall. I’m not surprised you’re out of sorts.’
‘You don’t mind me talking like this, do you? I’m not upsetting you, am I?’
‘No. I think people should talk about it.’
‘You don’t think I’m being morbid? Maura always says I’m being morbid. She doesn’t like to hear about it.’
‘No. Some people don’t.’
‘But you don’t mind.’
‘Two drinks. That’s it. One to relax you, one to send you on your way. Done.’ She stares at me. ‘Now that’s an appointment I wouldn’t mind keeping.’

Thursday, February 07, 2013

us londoners

There’s a flat-pack, showroom feel about this place. A bland painting of Chinese junks in Hong Kong harbour; a blue glass bowl on a table, with blue glass fruit; spot lights, up-lights and a brushed steel standard lamp; a brown leather three-piece arranged around a brown wool rug – the whole thing catalogue-fresh, untouched, unreal.
Eric doesn’t seem real, either. Lying like he is, half on and half off that armchair, his wasted legs supported on a Moorish-leather pouf,  he looks like some wizened old derelict magically transported from a Dickensian poor house. His sallow face is partially hidden by long, greasy grey hair and a wild grey beard; his filthy parka and jeans barely touch the sticks of his emaciated body. Whilst we talk, he absently picks and rubs at his nose with grimy nails.
His son Edgar is kneeling next to him; in the middle of the room stands Eric’s ex-wife, Wendy, a woman whose expression seems as fragile as that bowl of fruit.
I smile and raise a hand up in greeting, and walk over.
‘Hello! Hello! I’m Spence. This is Rae. Can I ask your name?’
The son looks up at me.
‘What do you mean? Don’t you even know who’ve you’ve come to see?’
I imagine a pilot would feel the same sudden lurch of alarm, unexpectedly flying into a pocket of dead air. I straighten up and try not to grab at the controls.
‘Well – yes. They give us the basics, of course, but it’s always nice to start from scratch on scene, so to speak.’
‘So then, Spence. The basics are that my father is extremely unwell. The doctor has been out to visit and arranged for my father to be taken into hospital where a bed is waiting for him on the Medical Assessment Unit. So if you could go and get your trolley that would be great. As you can see he’s in a very delicate state and he needs careful handling.’
The son’s face trembles with the stress of all this.
Eric turns his head so he can see me.
‘Oh – hello!’ he says. ‘Just give me a minute.’
‘There’s no rush,’ I say. ‘Let’s take our time and get this right. Now then – did the doctor leave a letter at all?’
Edgar sighs.
‘No, the doctor did not leave a letter. As I’ve explained to you, the doctor has made arrangements for my father to be admitted to the Medical ... Look. I think it would be best if you just went outside and talked about this with my mother. Okay? You’re upsetting Dad.’
‘Fine. No problem.’
I smile at Wendy; she turns and leads us back outside.

‘What do you want to know? I thought that was all perfectly clear. Doctor Blackthorn spoke with a consultant at the hospital and arranged for my ex-husband to be admitted to the Medical Assessment Unit. Is there a problem?’
‘Well – no. And fingers-crossed that’s exactly what will happen.’
‘What do you mean, fingers-crossed?’
‘It’s just that the hospital has been particularly busy lately, and it may be that because of bed availability and one thing and another, Eric may have to go via A&E.’
‘No. Absolutely not. Doctor Blackthorn assured me Eric would go straight to the unit. He spoke to a consultant, for God’s sake. Was he lying? Why would he say it if it wasn’t true? This is ridiculous.’
‘I know, I know. It’s far from ideal.’
Far from ideal?
‘But I just want to be honest with you so you’re not disappointed when you get there. These days, it’s almost inevitable that you get triaged at A&E first, then moved up when a bed becomes available. I can only give you the facts as they are.’
‘We may as well have taken Eric up by ourselves. At least that way we’d have got the bed.’
‘It wouldn’t have made any difference, I’m afraid.’
‘You know how difficult this has been for us? Do you? Do you have any idea? Eric’s been drinking himself to death for years now. Years. Living in filth. Finally we rent this flat and persuade him to move into it so he can be near to us. He’s utterly phobic about hospitals. He absolutely cannot lie on a trolley in A&E. He won’t do it. He’ll walk out, go off home and die. Is that what you want?’
She looks tearful.
‘Doctor Blackthorn promised us,’ she says. ‘Why don’t I ring him and see what he has to say about all this?’
‘You’re more than welcome to ring him. And maybe I could have a word, too. Rae is ringing the hospital now to get the final word. Who knows? Maybe this time we’ll be going straight to the assessment unit. I certainly hope so. But I’m just being honest with you, Wendy.’
‘You can tell Edgar,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how he’ll take it.’
Rae puts her phone away and comes over to deliver the news.
‘A&E,’ she says. ‘No beds in the unit.’
‘Pathetic!’ says Wendy.
She walks quickly inside.
We hear some furious whispering.
Edgar marches out and stands close up in front of me.
‘What’s happening?’ he says, the muscles in his face twitching. ‘Why aren’t you doing what the doctor ordered?’
‘I know this is stressful for you, Edgar.’
‘Do you?’
‘I can imagine. But like I said to Wendy, I’m only trying to give you the facts. There are no beds available on the assessment unit, so it means Eric will have to spend a bit of time in A&E until one becomes free. It’s disappointing, I know, but it’s just the way it is.’
He takes a step closer, just a head butt from me.
This whole system is a complete joke!’ he shouts. Then he steps away and says quietly: ‘I’m not blaming you, of course.’ And then in a strangely even-handed and vaguely sergeant-majorish kind of way, he repeats the whole thing to Rae.
 ‘This whole system is a complete joke! I’m not blaming you.’
Then he goes back inside.

We can’t fit the trolley into the flat – a fact that doesn’t improve the atmosphere at all – so we bring our carry chair instead. I set it up with a couple of blankets next to Eric’s chair.
‘Okay Edgar...’ I say to him, getting the names wrong.
Edgar is back in my face again.
‘No! I’m Edgar, Remember? The son? He is Eric, the patient. That is Wendy, my mother, you are Spence, she is Rae. You see? It is possible to get it right. Or do you want us to wear name-tags like you?’
I hesitate.
My instinct is to confront him with his behaviour. But with that adrenalized insight these situations sometimes give you, I see the whole scenario played out in an instant: the stress of withdrawal; the explanations on the radio; the replacement crew dispatched; the wait for police back-up; the paperwork... and in the middle of all this warring, Eric, suffering on the armchair, refusing to go in, this last chance for treatment closing off.
I take a breath.
‘Sorry for mixing up your names. It’s been a long day.’
‘Don’t drop him off your chair,’ says Edgar. ‘Look. I’d better do it.’
‘No. What I need you to do is stand over there and let us do our job,’ I say as evenly as I can.
He moves away.
We load Eric onto the chair, get him out to the ambulance.


The whole journey in, Edgar sits on a jockey seat behind the trolley, his arms folded, staring at me. Somehow I manage to ignore him. After all my observations are done and the paperwork completed, I sit forward and chat to Eric instead. It turns out he’s from the same part of London I was born in, just south of the river, off the Vauxhall Bridge Road. It cheers him up to talk about the place, what he did there, what he knows. I don’t tell him that the family moved out of London when I was only two, so all these impressions I have are from much later. I don’t want anything to get in the way of the warm, confederate feel as we go over the old names: John Islip Street, Millbank Gardens, Bessborough Place.
After a while he reaches out a dreadful, nicotined claw, and we shake hands.
‘Lovely,’ he says, placing his other hand over the top to seal the bond. ‘Us Londoners – us Londoners have got to stick together.’


Mrs Framlingham hands me a dish of sliced banana and cold custard.
‘Would you be a dear and put those back in the fridge? I’ll have them  as a little treat when I get back. Will you be bringing me back? ’
Mrs Framlingham is as a delicate and perfectly formed as one of those carved wooden gazelles on the sideboard. Over a hundred years have passed since Mrs Framlingham was laid in a cot on a bright winter’s morning such as this, but in all that time the essential spirit of her hasn’t diminished by one candle.
‘Now then. What do I need? Not much, I expect. What am I going in for again?’
‘You had a fall and you hurt your shoulder. The doctor wants you to have an X-ray.’
‘An X-ray?’ She raises her eyebrows. Marie Curie probably met much the same response.
‘Well – if you think it’ll help. Now where are my shoes with the grip?’
We offer to put Mrs Framlingham in our carry chair. After all, there’s quite a journey back to the truck. We parked as near as we could, but Mrs Framlingham lives in a flat on the furthest corner of the estate, inaccessible by car, with a series of steps through the landscaped gardens and two flights of stairs up to her front door.
‘Yes, well, that’s why we chose it. We wanted somewhere quiet, out of the general melee. And we have a super, uninterrupted view over the hills.’
She refuses the chair.
‘If you walk a little in front of me and don’t mind me throwing myself on you if I go, then I’m happy to walk,’ she says. ‘Oh yes, I’m quite active, you know. That’s how I first injured my shoulder.’
‘Walking downstairs?’
‘Skiing. Now, where are my blasted keys?’
There are, in fact, round her neck. It’s an elderly rite of passage. They probably hang keys round your neck like a medal at City Hall once you hit eighty.


‘I don’t normally take this route,’ says Mrs Framlingham, squeezing my arm. ‘The landlord put me off these steps when he fell down them last month. No – I normally go off piste, through there...’ she points with her stick to a wide expanse of lawn and flower beds off to our left. ‘The benefit is not only is it quicker and more direct, but if I were to fall, I’d fall into that hedge. And then I could live there, quite comfortably, with my legs sticking out, like a scarecrow.’
‘So. A hundred years old, eh?’
She stops and pokes her tongue out at me.
‘Watch it!’ she says. ‘I’ve got my stick and you’re well within reach.’
She waves it sword-style in front of her.
‘Look at that,’ she says. ‘Still got it.’


Mrs Framlingham’s feet barely reach the ambulance floor. There’s something endearingly child-like about the way she holds on to the armrests as the truck bounces along.
‘Oh my goodness!’ she says. ‘Not built for comfort, are they? If you weren’t sick before you came on, you certainly will be afterwards.’
We chat about this and that, where she’s lived, her children, what she did for a living – a teacher, some years in Africa and the Middle East.
She tells me about the war.
‘Rotten old business,’ she says. ‘Early on I was given the job of looking after a bunch of girls up in Manchester. When the train pulled into the station the whole city was in flames. Everything was burning, you couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t move. But I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why. I wasn’t overly philosophical or anything like that, it was just something I seemed to take in my stride. I remember once I had gone to the butcher’s to pick up some sausages. Well you see I’d been saving up my coupons, one sausage a week, for quite some time. I knew the girls liked sausages and I wanted to give them a treat. I came out of the butcher’s with my dish of sausages just as another damn air raid started up. And there was shrapnel flying about and buildings coming down, dust everywhere, flames, the lot. And all I could think of was getting those blessed sausages back to my girls. So I ran through it all, with one arm over the plate, to keep off the dust. Silly really. But my word they did enjoy them. Mind you, I haven’t touched a sausage since. Well – you don’t really know what’s in them, do you? They pack them out with all sorts of rubbish.’

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

in the deep dark wood

I’m beginning to wonder if we should’ve brought more kit. But I don’t know what’s worse – going back for more, or taking too much and being burdened down on the return. One thing’s for certain, though: if the patient can’t walk, we’re going to need specialist help to fetch him off this hill.
‘Not far now,’ says the man who found him, his dog leaping on ahead of us.
‘You said that a minute ago.’

Five hundred yards was what he said when he waved us over in the little car park. Five hundred yards. And he pointed straight up.
But this? This feels more like a mile.
His little Collie-cross runs back to see what’s keeping us. He’s so bright and enthusiastic, I wouldn’t be surprised if he put a paw to his mouth and whistled.
‘On you go, boy,’ says the man. ‘Micky’s pretty sharp. That  poor fellow would’ve been there all night if he hadn’t sniffed him out.’
The man is wearing a donkey-jacket with fluorescent orange flashing across the shoulders. Even though he’s in his late fifties, he’s as lean and fit as his dog.
‘Sorry it’s a bit of a hike,’ he says, striding on. ‘It’s got to be the most remote part of the wood. He certainly picked his spot.’

It’s heavy going. The path has suffered after weeks of rain. The crude steps up from the car park were bad enough, but now even though the gradient isn’t quite so vertical, these thick, exposed roots make it feel like we’re climbing some crazy organic staircase. Sudden muddy hollows clutch at our boots, and a tangle of over-hanging brambles grab at our clothes and kit.
We’re both puffing and blowing when the man suddenly stops and holds his hand up.
Hello!’ he shouts, then listens, his breath misting as he turns his head this way and that to catch a reply.
The wood absorbs everything with an earthy kind of hush which the failing light only seems to thicken.


‘I hope it’s not a hoax,’ the man says, turning to us and sniffing. ‘But I’d be surprised if it was. He certainly looked like he was in pain.’
I have a thought and turn to Rae.
‘Did we lock the ambulance?’
She nods, and takes advantage of the respite to put her bag down and properly catch her breath.
‘So – did he say what he was doing up the tree?’
The man shrugs.
‘Messing about, I expect. There’s a lot of that goes on. Especially at night.’
‘How far do you reckon he fell?’
‘I don’t know. Fifteen feet? His leg looks pretty mashed.’
We pick up our bags and start forward again. The path gets tougher, rougher. We pass the ruins of foetid dens, desperate little hideouts, a collapsed walkway made of scavenged timber, wire and tarpaulin. A scrap of blue and white plastic hanging from a branch – Police line / Do not cross.
‘I’m afraid this is where we leave the path,’ says the man, pushing branches aside and following Micky further into the gloom.
‘Come on. Two hundred yards or so, tops.’

It’s the first time I’ve actually been up here. I’ve no idea what the history of the place is. I’ve been aware of it all these years, a great sprawling sine wave of wild land rising darkly overhead as I race past on the road that skirts the bottom. But if it featured at all on my internal map it was as one of those mysterious, unexplored areas. Here there be Dragons, burnt-out mopeds. It might have been a mature wood extensively cleared years ago. Or perhaps it was open pasture left to grow wild. Either way, I’m sure in a hundred years or so the wood will finally reassert itself and find its equilibrium again. Even now we pass the occasional oak and beech. But mostly it’s a chaotic sprawl of scrub and gorse, ragged clumps of hawthorn and blackthorn, elderberry and rowan, spindly thickets of sycamore saplings.  And sneaking over everything, up the ribbed stands of elder and the hulks of dead branches mouldering amongst the detritus, a rich green carpet of moss.

We all listen. Micky puts a paw to his ear.
A long, low wail, some distance ahead.
‘Thank God,’ says the man. ‘Well – you know what I mean.’

Jeremy is lying where he fell. His femur is almost certainly smashed, and he’s been there some time. I want to ask him what he was doing, but it’s hardly necessary. Above him, a white nylon washing line has been thrown over a branch, a noose drunkenly fashioned at one end.
‘What’s wrong with my leg?’ he wails. ‘Christ! It hurts so much. Can you help me, please? I need something for the pain. I’m going to die.’
‘Do you need me anymore?’ says the man. ‘Only I was supposed to be back an hour ago.’
‘He’s a big lad,’ says Rae, standing up and freeing the radio from her belt. ‘We’re going to need the Fire Brigade. I’ll get them running, then go back to the truck and rendezvous with them there. Will you be okay here, Spence? You’ve got my number.’
‘We’d better get a move on. The light’s going fast.’
‘See you later.’
I turn to help Jeremy. I give him pain relief, wrap him in a thermal blanket, take some obs. The light around us slides down a notch, and the trees huddle up.
‘Who are you?’ says Jeremy, a little more settled now, peering up at me as I check him over again. ‘Why don’t you get me some help?’
‘There’s a rescue team on its way, Jeremy, but this is a very difficult place to get to and it might take them a while.’
‘How long?’
‘Half an hour, I should think.’
‘Half an hour!’
‘I’m just being straight with you. But you’ve chosen a pretty remote place.’

It’s almost too dark to write. I use my little torch for a bit, but it seems the batteries are wearing out, so I switch it off again to conserve what little power I have left.
I wonder how Rae will find her way back.

‘So what were you doing up the tree, Jeremy?’
‘What tree?’
‘This tree. Here. The one you fell out of.’
He closes his eyes and rests his head back.
After a while he says: ‘I wanted to get a better view.’
‘Jeremy? Listen, mate – I know it’s a difficult question but I have to ask. Did you tie that rope up there? Were you trying to hang yourself?’
‘Hang myself? Why?’
‘I just need to know.’
‘Why would I hang myself? My life is – beautiful.’
‘Good. Good.’
He narrows his eyes.
Who are you? he says.

I ring Rae for an update. She tells me the fire brigade are about ten minutes away now. She’ll call me when they’re all heading up the hill.
‘How on earth will you find us?’
‘I left a trail.’
‘What do you mean? Biscuit crumbs?’
‘Nah – the birds would’ve eaten them. Every so often I made an arrow out of sticks.’

The light has almost completely gone now, leaving just a residue of shapes and sounds, a soupy kind of blue-black where things lose their substance and you can almost see the weave of the air. Jeremy moans softly. His silver thermal blanket rustles as I tuck it more firmly around him – and then, the unmistakable snapping of a twig a little way off on the very margins of what I can make out.
I stand up and strain to see who’s there.
There’s a long pause, and then a low voice answers: ‘Hello yourself.’
I keep silent and try to see who it is creeping around like this, but the light’s so bad I’d probably do better closing my eyes and sniffing the air. I wait, but the figure doesn’t say anything else. There are a couple more twig snaps, lighter and more distant, until we’re alone again and the visitor has gone.
I crouch back down next to Jeremy.
‘Why aren’t you doing anything?’ he whispers. ‘Why aren’t you getting me help?’
‘I am, Jeremy. There’s a rescue team on their way. Shouldn’t be long.’
Suddenly he reaches out and claws at my leg.
‘Give me your phone!’
‘No. Why? Who do you want to call?’
‘The doctor. I want the doctor to come and fix my leg.’
I guide his hand back into the blanket and tuck him up again.
‘Hang in there, Jeremy. Not long now. You’re doing well.’

I hear a faint whistle. Standing up again I can just make out the infinitesimal twinkling of flashlights away in the distance.
‘Over here!’
I point my own torch in that direction and switch its feeble yellow light on and off. The flashlights cast around for a moment, then convene in this direction. They grow larger, sounds of heavy footsteps stumbling through. And after a few minutes our little tableau is fully fixed in the light – me, standing with a hand to shield my eyes; Jeremy, huddled in his thermal blanket next to me on the ground, and above us, trailing down from the black canopy of the tree, a white nylon washing line with a noose at the end.