Saturday, June 29, 2013

night voices

Where’s the wife? Don’t tell the wife.
Man, 32, lying at the bottom of some concrete steps, his bloody head being held by a police officer.

I’m his uncle. If I say he’s all right, he’s all right
Man, 60, standing over him.

Will I survive the night, d’you think?
Woman, 94, being tucked up in bed after a non-injury fall

Stop! You’re filling me up with drunks.
Nurse in charge of resus

Do you do heart attacks?
Husband of patient, whilst waiting to handover

You can stand down. Towering Inferno turns out to be a barbecue on a balcony.
Fire Command Officer

We’re getting married next month. Maybe I can work this into my speech.
Man, 28, lying on ambulance trolley.

I had the oysters. For some reason.
Woman, 26, scratching and feeling faint on the sofa.

As a Marvel action-superhero films go, it’s pretty shit. But if you take it as a big, trashy gay laugh, it’s brilliant.
Paramedic, taking his thirty minutes in front of Sky movies.

I told the doctor all about it but he wasn’t interested. He never is. You’ve barely got time to sit down before he’s showing you the door.
Woman, 74

Do you like cats? These two are nineteen. They don’t do much. But I’ve got some livelier ones in the kitchen.
Woman, 80

Friday, June 28, 2013


This road is famous. Every other large old house has been turned into a nursing home, apparently by the same company. Half a dozen houses, evenly spread along the road, behind dense, leylandii screens.
We’ve already been to the wrong home.
‘We have no issues here today,’ the woman had said at the door. It was only when we got back into the truck that we realised we had the right name but the wrong number.

Further along, now, driving into an identical crescent drive, to an identical porch.

‘Ah lovely. You here quick,’ says a Filipino  nurse, the warmth of her smile and the blue of her uniform accentuated by the sombre tones of the riveted, old oak door behind her. ‘Mrs Layton had one episode vomiting coffee ground this morning. All obs are normal, BP and so on. But the doctor she want her for check-out at the hospital. I show you to her if you’d like to follow me, please.’
She leads us through a creaky warren of corridors. It’s like some kind of geriatric hive, each cell with a blaring TV, and a decrepit figure in an armchair or a bed.
‘Don’t worry. I show you out again!’ smiles the nurse.
Finally we make it to Mrs Layton’s room.
‘Here we are!’ says the nurse. ‘Ambulance for you.’
‘Oh no. Not them.’
‘What matter, Mrs Layton? You not want go hospital?’
‘No I do not. Oh for goodness sake. I hate hospitals. Why can’t you just leave me alone?’
She tries to turn away from us onto her side, struggling to pull the covers over her head with her arthritic hands.
‘Come on, Mrs Layton!’ says the nurse, going up to the bed and gently stroking her on the shoulder. ‘Don’t be so grum-pee.’
The way she says the word gives it a whole new weight, the very quintessence of grumpiness.
‘Wouldn’t you be?’ she says.
‘Of course! But you want get better, Mrs Layton? Come on then.’
The nurse straightens up and smiles at us, unfazed.
‘She used be a ballet dancer,’ she says.

The room is as perfectly decorated as a page from a nursing home catalogue. The only thing that stands out is Mrs Layton’s black and white wedding photo on a ledge just above the little TV. A man in a soldier’s uniform is leaning in to his bride, with confetti being thrown in from either side. The strange thing is that someone has cut out another photo of the same man – a studio portrait, leaning in, Niven-style – and slipped it into the bottom right corner of the frame. So in a strange way, it looks like the man is marrying himself.
‘Do I really have to go to that wretched place again?’ says Mrs Layton.
‘Yes you do. You vomit coffee ground. But don’t worry. You back in no time. Look. I put slipper on for you.’
The nurse turns back the covers and stretches two, white canvas slippers around Mrs Layton’s crooked feet.
‘There! Like you dancing again.’
We help her into our chair.


Out on the ambulance, Mrs Layton grumbles in a tetchy, non-specific way for much of the journey.
‘Who did you dance for?’ I ask her.
‘Who did you dance for? What company?’
‘Don’t patronise me.’
‘No, no. I mean it. I’m genuinely interested. I sounds a lovely thing to do.’
‘I don’t want your pity.’
‘But if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. We can just be quiet. I don’t mind. I was just interested, that’s all.’
‘I wasn’t a ballet dancer.’
‘But I thought...’
She turns her eyes on me.
‘Look. Years and years ago I used to help a friend out who ran a dancing school for children. Occasionally. That was all. I was never a ballet dancer.’
‘So you see now?’
She turns back, and closes her eyes.
After a moment I ask her: ‘Are you okay?’
She doesn’t reply.
‘What’s wrong?’
She sighs, opens her eyes, and stares at the back door of the ambulance.

‘I’m old. That’s what’s wrong,’ she says.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

big moon

We follow the two police officers down the concrete steps to the front door of Basement flat 20A.
‘Have you seen this big moon then?’ says the male officer.
‘Big moon?’ says his colleague, a female officer who frowns at him as if he’s just used some inappropriate code word. ‘What big moon?’
‘The big moon. Apparently it’s going to be e-normous.’
‘Well – shame it’s so overcast, then.’
‘It’ll clear up,’ he says. ‘It has to.’
She sighs and rings the bell again.
A light goes on in the hall.
‘Doesn’t sound like there’s a crazy woman smashing the place up, does it?’ says the male officer. ‘Unless she’s very, very tiny and discreet.’
A figure approaches.
The chain goes back on the door; it opens.
A young guy, in a dressing gown, with a mug of cocoa.
‘Ye-es? What’s this about?’ he says, looking from the police to us and back again.
‘Did you call for help, sir? Something about a drunk lady smashing the place up?’
‘Er – no. I didn’t.’
‘You sure?’
The man frowns and nods. ‘Ye-es. As sure as anyone can be about these things. What did you say this was about?’
‘Not to worry, sir. Apologies for the interruption. Duff information.’
The man takes a sip of cocoa and watches us walk back up the steps.
‘I hope everything’s all right’ he calls after us, then quietly closes the door.
I radio Control to check.
After a minute or two:
Apologies – the address was misheard. It’s actually twenty-eight. Two eight. Received?
We walk a few houses further up.
‘So anyway, this moon, right, apparently it’s going to be so big it’ll knock your hat off.’
Another flight of concrete steps, not quite so well kept, with a container of dead plants by the door.
There’s already a light on in the hall this time.
The male officer knocks.
‘Why are you so interested in astronomy all of a sudden?’ the female officer says, pulling on some rubber gloves.
‘Me? I just like to know what’s going on. It’s all part of the bigger picture, Mary.’
The door opens. Another young guy, fresh out of the shower, bare to the waist, vigorously towelling his hair. He’s about the same height and build as the first – in fact, so much so that for a moment I could be persuaded he’s run round the back, thrown off his dressing gown and dumped a glass of water on his head for effect.
‘Yeah?’ he says. ‘Wha?’
‘Sorry to disturb you, sir. We had a call from this address regarding a violent incident. Do you know anything about that?’
‘Oh – just a minute.’ He leans back and shouts: ‘Sam! Someone to see you.’ Then to us: ‘You want Sam, mate.’
Then he turns and walks back down the hall.
‘Watch it when you come in,’ he says. ‘There’s broken glass everywhere.’
The fact that he’s barefoot and we’re in huge black boots doesn’t seem to strike him as significant.
Sam passes him in the hall, and he disappears off into a side room.
Sam is more subdued than his flatmate.
‘It’s my mum,’ he says. ‘She came home drunk, said she was going to kill herself, smashed the place up a bit, then ran off.’
‘Do you mind if we have a chat?’
‘No. Come on in.’
We follow him down the hall to the front room.
The plasma screen has a tear in the middle of it; there’s an ash tray shattered into pieces across the laminate flooring, and in the middle of it all, a white plastic phone, stamped into fragments.
Whilst the female officer talks to Sam, the male officer innocently looks around, shining his torch through the window out into the back yard, then drifting just as blank faced into the kitchen. The only thing he doesn’t do is whistle.
‘She’s not there,’ says Sam. ‘She says she was going to take all these pills but she left the packets. She just went mad, then ran out.’
‘Has she done this before?’
He looks down.
‘Yeah. Some.’
‘We’ll need a description.’
He gives it.
The male officer wanders back in.
‘You guys might as well stand down, seeing as there’s no patient,’ he says. ‘No-one to treat.
‘Thanks for coming, though.’
‘You’re welcome.’
We say goodbye to Sam and say we hope his mum’s all right.
‘Yeah,’ he says.

Outside, the cloud has cleared sufficiently to let the moon through at last.
I stand and look at it for a moment.
I can’t make up my mind if it is actually bigger, or only seems that way because the officer said it was.
It’s certainly full, though.
You can almost hear it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

cutting the cardigan

Jonathan leads us through the dark house to the back room where his elderly mother, Mrs Napoli, sits in a wing-backed armchair. There’s a ‘failure to thrive’ feel about the place, as if some dead hand somewhere had turned a dimmer switch way down, not just on the lighting, but on the very life-force of the place. It has all the usual features: the airless, dusty covering over the books and ornaments and piles of magazines;  the foxed pictures; the high corners of curling wallpaper; the overgrown windows and the overgrown carpets, with Mrs Napoli sitting in the back room ahead of us, firmly and irrevocably planted in the centre of it all, the corkscrew-nailed, grey-toothed, full-bearded, incontinent matriarch of neglect.
Jonathan re-takes his seat next to her, and smiles accommodatingly.
‘It’s the ambulance, mama.’
She’s been stuck in this chair for a week. There’s a bucket on the floor next to her ballooning legs, but she’s in no position to use it.
She waves a yellowing claw in the air.
‘I’m a bit stuck,’ she says. ‘What can you do for me?’
Luckily, we can move a few things and get our trolley in. We proof it with inco-pads and blankets, so it’s ready to receive. It takes some inelegant manoeuvring and stern words of encouragement to get Mrs Napoli out of the chair, but at least she can weight bear to some extent. With a couple of (elephantine) dolly steps backwards, she makes it on to the trolley. I lift her legs up using a blanket so she can pivot into a semi-recumbent position.
‘What will they do for me at the hospital?’ she says. ‘Will they get me on my feet again?’


On the ambulance, her son Jonathan watches as we run through our basic observations. Jonathan is a curious figure – well turned out in chinos, jersey and jacket. He lives with his mother, so there must be at least one clean, clear space in the house.
He leans forward in his seat. A pair of large, steel-framed glasses dominate his face, slightly enlarging his eyes, giving him a strangely dilute aspect. It’s like being studied by some giant but largely harmless aquatic creature, pressed up against the glass in the aquarium.
‘You’ll be fine, mum,’ he smiles. ‘You’re in the best hands.’

‘I need to get to your upper arm to do your blood pressure, Mrs Napoli, but this cardigan is so tight I think you’re going to struggle. Is it all right if I cut it?’
Actually, I’m guessing it’s a cardigan. This fetid scrap of pink might once have had a label, but you’d need someone in forensics to verify.
‘No! I’ll take it off.’
I do what I can to help but really, it’s impossible. Mrs Napoli’s too weak to sit up and too plump to bend sufficiently in the middle.
‘It’s not going to work, Mrs Napoli. They’ll cut it off at the hospital. I really don’t think it’s worth keeping.’
‘Well if you must,’ she says.
I cut up from the cuff to the shoulder.

The shears meet no resistance, make no sound.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

eyes of love

Alexander Street is the only original feature left in this quarter, a Victorian terrace jutting out into the melee of a building site, looking as perfectly realised and out of place as a film set. Judith’s flat is round the back, through a broken up gate, under a ramshackle pergola thickly hung with jasmine and honeysuckle. A tiny courtyard garden just round the corner, with a single seat, a scattering of concrete figures, and strings hanging down from the branches of an old apple tree: mirrors, shells, stones with holes.

Judith looks like a twelve year old girl who took sixty years getting ready for school. Her lank grey hair is kept in place by grease and an Alice band; her skirt and blouse are flecked and shiny. ‘You were quick,’ she says, then opening the door wide, ‘Excuse the mess.’

It’s as if the contents of three houses have been packed into one, with most of it – the plates, ornaments, pictures, calendars, dream-catchers, plaques of pithy sayings, mirrors and narrow cabinets of thimbles and Whimsies and cut-crystal figures – stuck up on the walls. The dominating theme is cats, except for a kind of shrine in the front room to a collie dog. There is an oil painting above the gas fire, with a poem wedged in a corner of the frame, entitled Eyes of Love, and two painted ceramic statues of collies, sitting right and left, looking up.
‘I didn’t know what to do,’ says Judith, gently lowering herself onto the sofa, then lying on her side and hugging a pillow. ‘I felt so bad.’
It quickly becomes apparent there’s nothing physically wrong with Judith other than the symptoms of anxiety.  When we get her talking about her cat, or the building work going on outside, she’s instantly more stable and calm, but when her attention is allowed to re-focus on herself, she starts puffing out her cheeks and saying how ill she feels.
‘My brother’s gone away on holiday, with my sister. I try not to be jealous, but why couldn’t they take me? What’s wrong with me? They always go away together. They’ve had an easy life. They don’t know what I have to face.’
When she looks straight at me, her eyes are small and filmy. There’s a kind of implosive grief about Judith. Despite Rae’s pragmatic, ultra-positive approach, the warmth of her questioning runs flat. It’s like shining a torch into a gigantic, black cave; the beam just peters out.
‘I can’t go out. I’m scared of collapsing. And what would people think? Look at me. Look at my hair. I shouldn’t be like this, I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t do anything about it. People say they’re going to help but they don’t. Sharon said she’d come and take me out for a coffee but she hasn’t. I’m left here on my own and I don’t know what to do with myself. It gets lonely.’
Rae gets more information. It seems that Judith has lots of help, from family and friends and a variety of agencies. To hear her talk you’d think she never saw a soul.
The phone rings.
‘Can you get it?’ she says, dropping her head down onto the pillow. ‘I can’t talk to anyone.’
I take the call.
‘Judith’s phone’ I say.
A brisk, Northern voice. In the context of the flat, as bracing as a bucket of water.
-          Oh, hello, love. It’s Sharon.
-          Hi, Sharon. My name’s Spence. I’m with the ambulance.
-          I thought so. Has she had another bad do?
-          It looks like it.
-          She does struggle, poor thing. I’m her friend Sharon. The woman with the dog. I thought she might be heading for another set-back, what with her brother being away on holiday and one thing and another. He does everything he can, but it’s starting to get a bit much for him. Is she too upset to come to the phone?
-          Yes. I think so.
-          I understand. The thing is, I only recently moved a bit further out, and it’s not so easy to get over. I’ll make sure I catch a bus over this afternoon and take her somewhere. But anyway, look – I won’t keep you. I know you’ve got things to do. Just tell her Sharon called. Tell her I’ll ring back in half an hour.
-          Okay, Sharon. See you.
-          Bye, pet. Bye.
‘That was Sharon. She’s going to call back in half an hour.’
Judith covers her face with her hands.
‘Everyone moves away,’ she says.

Suddenly there’s a couple of sharp raps on the window. Judith looks up.
A seagull, outside on the ledge, flicking its head from side to side, scrutinising the sitting room. When it sees some movement, it draws its beak back, and raps on the window again.
Judith is up on her feet, now, reaching out to a pile of cat food sachets by the side of the sofa. She takes it over to the window. The seagull knows what’s coming; it hops back onto a lower aspect of the ledge, so Judith can slide the window up and empty the cat sachet. The seagull immediately starts pecking it up.
Judith watches the bird fondly.
‘Sonny, my beautiful bird,’ she says. ‘Have you brought me some sunshine today, my bonnie little sunshine boy? Have you?’

The bird pauses momentarily, fixing her with its fierce, orange eyes, then with an infinitesimal shrug of its wings, looks back down at the ledge, and carries on snapping up the meat.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


The carer shows Josh and me down the basement steps to the front of Jane’s flat. The ragged yellow curtains drawn across the bay windows have just enough of a gap to let us peer inside.  Jane is there, lying face down on the floor. She’s moving her head, at least.

‘I don’t know how you’re going to get in,’ says the carer. ‘I haven’t got a key.’

The door looks pretty substantial; when I foot it, there’s a suggestion of a bolt as well as the Yale. We turn our attention back to the windows. There’s a deep gulley between them and the steeply sloping bed that rises back up to road height. Jane has stuck a planter there, some kind of lush, tall grass and a giant yucca straining up to capture what light it can.
‘Nam, sixty-seven. I’m getting flashbacks,’ says Josh, struggling through the foliage. He climbs up onto the ledge and starts testing each sash window. Most of them are either locked or painted shut, but the furthest one top right is unsecured. He slides that one down, reaches in, unlocks another, slides open a lower pane, crawls inside. A few seconds more, and he lets us in the front door.

The flat is unkempt, dark, with childlike drawings ripped from a notepad and sellotaped to the wall. June is lying in the front room, face down, half-naked. Her left leg is lying abnormally flat; it’s apparent she’s fractured her hip even from here. It’s also apparent she’s been on the floor some time. There are faeces on her legs and a wide, dark stain around her on the carpet. But despite the dreadful injury, and despite the fact she’s lain three days on the floor like this, Jane’s remarkably chirpy.
‘I’m an artist,’ she says. ‘Retired, anyway. See that mural up there?’
She can’t point, but doesn’t need to. Above her on a wall that’s been unceremoniously stripped of its wallpaper, is an approximate view of mountains, dobbed out in a heavy brush from some peach and mauve tester pots.


A difficult extrication, but it goes smoothly. It’s like a three-dimensional puzzle – what furniture to move and where, the angles needed to negotiate the narrow hallway, the way to get over the little metal railings (I balance the feet-end on the railings / I walk round / Josh balances the head end on the railings / Josh walks round). Jane seems to appreciate it, too, periodically toking on the gas and air, blissing-out on the movement and the attention and the blue, blue sky.

The carer hurries off to her next appointment; we go to A&E.


Josh explains the situation to the triage nurse. She comes over and strokes Jane on the hand.
‘You poor love. They’re telling me you fell over, hurt your hip and couldn’t get up? In your flat? How long have you been there?’

‘Fourteen years.’

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

whatever it takes

All the houses in the crescent are set back behind high flint walls and wooden gates that go all the way up to arches of brick. Through the gate, into a courtyard garden, with an antique, two-seater iron bench and table over a neat circle of slabs in the middle; around it, branching off with studied irregularity, containers of shrubs and palms, a Laburnum and a raised bed of flowers. The sunlight filters through its branches as we pass along a narrow pathway, brushing past rosemary and lavender, to a large ammonite by a boot-scraper at the front door.
The door is as perfect as the garden, each pane delicately inscribed with flowers, stars, fleur-de-lys, with a weathered lion’s head knocker in the centre of it all, and a bell-pull to the side.

When Rae raps with the knocker, the sound is indecently loud.

Mr Ravenscroft must have been waiting in the hall because the door opens almost immediately. I imagine thirty years ago he would have filled the doorway, pushing his thick hair back in exactly the same way, but age has taken inches off his considerable height, and his hair is grey.
‘Thank you for coming,’ he says. ‘Look – we didn’t really want to call but frankly we’ve run out of ideas. My wife June had an operation on her back a week ago, and she’s been very fragile. Getting about is a problem for her, using the loo and so on. This morning she fell over and banged her hip. I was out shopping at the time, so she had to get herself up somehow and put herself back to bed. And she hasn’t moved since. Her hip’s giving her an awful lot of pain, the analgesia she was discharged with doesn’t seem to be helping all that much, and what with one thing and another we seem to have come to the end of our rope. Would you mind taking a look? Sorry to bother you and all that.’

He leads us inside, to the bottom of an elegant flight of stairs.

The interior of the house is even more striking than the garden. Every inch of wall space is taken up with beautiful pictures. There are delicate, vividly-coloured woodcuts of birds and trees and landscapes, abstract tapestries, designs for theatre posters, collages, wooden panels painted with cherubs and devils, simple life studies in charcoal and china pencil. It’s a riotous gallery. You could spend a day in the hallway alone

‘My wife,’ says Mr Ravenscroft. ‘That’s another thing she finds frustrating, of course. Not being able to work.’

June is lying on her back in the bedroom upstairs, itself an exuberantly decorated place, with marionettes dangling from the chiffonier, carved wooden hands, dancing skeletons, butterfly mobiles, masks, painted mirrors– in fact, so much, it’s hard to concentrate on what’s being said. Luckily, Rae is the attendant. I can just stand there, ready to act, discreetly looking round.

It’s clear that June needs to go in to hospital for an X-ray. Even though she doesn’t show any obvious signs of a fractured hip, the fact that she can’t weight-bear, can’t lift her leg up off the mattress, can’t even push herself up the bed without an extraordinary amount of pain, inevitably means an X-ray is the next step.
‘Can’t I go private?’ she says. ‘I have insurance.’
‘Well – this counts as trauma, and the private hospital doesn’t have an A and E so probably wouldn’t accept you. I’m afraid it means a trip down the road with us. Maybe after they’ve run some tests and know what the problem is, you’ll have the option of transferring privately.’
‘I really don’t want to go to the A and E,’ she says, looking appalled. ‘I’ll be there for hours. Won’t I? Hours and hours? And what about all the bugs you read about?’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ says Rae. ‘They’re getting on top of the bug situation.’
June holds her hand out to her husband.
‘Oh Simon,’ she says. ‘Please don’t let them take me.’
‘We don’t have to take you,’ says Rae. ‘It’s your choice. All we can do is give our opinion – which in this case is for you to come with us to hospital for an X-ray. The alternative is to stay at home and have your doctor out. But I’m almost certain he’ll say the same as us. It’ll just be delaying the inevitable.’
‘I don’t see what else we can do, darling,’ says Simon. ‘We’ve tried everything else.’
‘But the hospital darling. You’ve read those stories, too.’
‘Yes, I know, but look here - you may have broken your hip.’
‘Can’t I just stay in bed and rest? I’ll be fine.’
‘Darling – you haven’t been all that fine so far, have you? Be realistic.’
‘But the hospital?’ She turns her head and looks at Rae again. ‘How on earth am I to get there?’
‘We’ll take you.’
‘How will I get down stairs?’
‘We’ll carry you.’
Carry me?’
‘Yep. On a special chair.’
June sighs.
‘If you think it’s absolutely necessary, I’ll go. But I’ll need my foam mattress for the ambulance. And my lucky shawl. And a little pillow for the carry chair. I’ve just had an operation, you know.’
‘Yes, Simon told us.’
June looks at me.
‘What does that say on your uniform? There – in blue and white.’
‘NHS’ I tell her.
‘And you work for the NHS?’
‘I do, yes.’
‘I see. Well, look. I am prepared to come with you, on the understanding that I travel on my foam mattress, because otherwise I really won’t be able to stand it. And I’ll need my big sunglasses, because it’s bright outside and my eyes aren’t used to it. And please do let me take my lucky shawl. It’s been most places with me and I really can’t be without it.’
I go over to an antique chair and pick up what I think is the lucky shawl.
‘No, not that one. That one.’
I try another.
That one! Show him, won’t you, Simon?’
Without really looking he pulls one out and hands it to her, then whilst Rae helps her put it on, shows me back downstairs to where the foam mattress lives.

It’s in a room that’s been turned into a studio, with a kettle and a sink, a printing press and a washing line across the ceiling for hanging prints up to dry. He struggles to keep the mattress folded in half without it springing open and sweeping all the pots of brushes and jars of pencils and things off the work surface.
‘There you are. Got it?’ he says. ‘Sure? Good.’
He breathes heavily, pushes his hair back again. ‘I hope we’re not putting you out too much.’
‘No, no. June needs to go in. Whatever it takes.’

Squeezing the mattress to my chest, struggling to see over the top of it, I waddle back outside, knocking paintings askew, back through the garden, ineffectually paddling around with the latch on the garden gate, blundering on across the street to the ambulance. When I let go of the mattress in the cabin, it springs open, filling the space. I stand there for a moment, seeing June lie on it, flying up in the air whenever we go over a bump. We may as well put her on a trampoline. And I can well imagine the looks from the nurses and the other crews at hospital when we come through the doors.

The NHS. Whatever it takes.

I fetch the chair, and head back inside.

Monday, June 17, 2013

the red house

Betty is holding the phone a little way away from her ear, frowning.
‘Shall I have a quick word?’ I say to her.
‘Please! She’s asking all these questions and I just want some help.’
The ambulance call taker on the other end is relieved to speak to me.
‘Thank god you’re there,’ she says. ‘Is this a cardiac arrest? I can’t seem to get anywhere with the lady.’
I glance over at Betty’s husband Lou, slumped over in his armchair. Rae has pulled the blanket off him and his breathing is plain to see, even from here.
‘No. We’re good. We don’t need anyone else at the moment.’
‘Excellent. Thanks. And er... Good luck!’
‘No worries.’
I hang up.
The click galvanises Betty, pitching into a jowly, endlessly complaining monologue that’s more like a function of the weather than a coherent description of her woes.
I’ve had a stroke... he can’t cope... the lift doesn’t work... look at my legs... his daughters don’t care... my son’s in Denmark... the nurses say they’re coming round but they don’t... he drinks... I haven’t had any breakfast...’ and on and on, apparently without breath.
I try to get Betty just to hold off for a second whilst we assess Lou. After all, he’s the reason we’ve come this morning. But she’s incapable of being quiet, only pausing to answer the questions Rae asks Lou, mixing in all kinds of irrelevant detail.
Meanwhile, Lou has ended his stagey collapse in the chair and sits with his face in his hands, sobbing.
‘I can’t cope! I just can’t. It’s all too much.’
Rae tries to figure out exactly what’s happened whilst I sit down with a care folder and start getting some details.
‘I’m sorry,’ sobs Lou. ‘The place is a shit hole.’
We reassure him that it’s not. And it isn’t. Even the TV magazines on the coffee table are aligned, corner to corner, the pen that marks out the evening’s viewing neatly capped and set parallel with the edge. On the opposite wall are a spread of family photos, surrounded by a brace of lurid royal plates, Princess Diana at the top. On the floor by the gas fire is a large ceramic biscuit barrel in the shape of a bear.

Betty continues her monologue from her armchair across the room, even though I try to get her to stop. At one point, Rae holds the flat of her hand out in her direction, like she’s been forced to use a magic spell. 
The magic doesn’t work.
We can’t go on like this... the doctor’s no good... I haven’t been out in five years... the dog downstairs barking all hours... my daughter would be the first to be round for money if we dropped dead... I can’t sleep... the lift doesn’t work...’
‘Yes it does. We came up in it.’
In fact, it was the most bizarrely over-engineered lift I’ve ever been in. It had a neon button console like something out of the space programme, and an enthusiastic voice commenting on every last action: ‘lift door opening! lift doors about to close! lift doors closing! proceeding to floor number four in five, four, three, two, one... proceeding to floor number four...’
Betty narrows her eyes at me.
It didn’t work for a long time.

Lou has stopped crying. He dabs at his eyes, examines the handkerchief, then turns to look at me.
‘Married?’ he says.
‘Two girls.’
Suddenly he laughs, his face squashing up livid and red, the funniest thing he’s heard in years. When he quietens down, he leans forward in the chair and talks to me again. Even Betty is quiet now.
‘Heard of the Red House?’ he says.
‘The Red House? No.’
‘Used to be a coffee place. ‘Course, I’m going back a few years. A girl I saw used to hang around with the guy who lived in the flat above it. D’you follow? Anyway, he was a bit of a local chancer, if you get my drift. Into this and that. Well – it turns out, so was she! So what did he do? He got himself a shotgun and boom! That was that.’
He raises his eyebrows and smiles at me.
‘He got eight years for that.’
‘Eight? That’s not much.’
‘I know, I know’ says Lou, resting back in the armchair, looking tearful again. ‘Things were different then.’

Thursday, June 13, 2013

who pays the ferryman

Jimmy is lying in bed, rolling a fag.
‘I’m not going in, so don’t ask.’
‘Please don’t smoke whilst we’re in the room, Jimmy. We’ll stink of fags all night.’
‘Suit yourself.’
He leans over and takes a swig from his vodka and coke instead.
I can’t help laughing.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘It’s not exactly funny, Jimmy. It’s more bizarrely frustrating. You’ve got chest pain. You call the ambulance. We come and have a look at you, we say: yes, you’ve had an MI in the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours and you need to come to hospital, and you say no. I must admit I don’t get it. Why did you call if you didn’t want help?’
He shrugs, puts the fag in his mouth, then remembers what he’d said and takes it out again.
‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘I thought maybe you could do the bloods here and that’d be that.’
Jimmy had an MI last year. He knows exactly what’s involved.
‘That’s not something we can do on the ambulance,’ I tell him.
He smiles and shrugs again. ‘Then I’m sorry for wasting your time.’
He closes his eyes, laces his fingers behind his head, and leans back against the headrest. His expression is one of complete satisfaction, like a giant cat that’s just finished snacking on a delicious bird. He’s infuriating and entertaining in equal measure.
‘Look. Jimmy. Let me be as clear as possible.’
‘Fire away,’ he says. ‘It won’t make a blind bit of difference.’
‘You’ve got a history of MI. You’ve had chest pain and shortness of breath for the last day or so, and the GTN hasn’t helped.’
He nods, but keeps his eyes closed.
‘Now you’ve started getting pins and needles in your left arm and a funny feeling in your neck and chin.’
‘Yeah, it’s weird. That’s what freaked me out a bit. I didn’t get that last time.’
‘Okay. Fine. Our ECG shows you’ve recently had an anteroseptal MI. We haven’t picked up anything more acute than that, but like I’ve said, this ECG isn’t definitive. You need to go to hospital for bloods and further tests. Otherwise…’
‘How will I get back?’
‘How will you get back?’
‘Yeah. I know for a fact those tightwads won’t get me a taxi.’
‘Jimmy – that’s the least of your worries. You’re heart’s under a lot of strain at the moment. You could have a cardiac arrest and die. I don’t mean to worry you…’
‘Oh! I’m going to die! Thanks for not worrying me.’
‘I’m just trying to be clear, Jimmy. If you don’t come to hospital you might well suffer a cardiac arrest and die. So what do you think about that?’
‘About what?’
‘About staying here and dying.’
‘Fine by me.’
‘It’s not though, is it, Jimmy?’
‘Look. Thanks for coming out and everything. I appreciate it. But I just thought you could do the bloods here and I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital. I’m not hanging about for hours with the doctors coming by every so often scratching their nuts going hmm and ok-aay and interesting and all that, just to turf me out in the middle of the night to walk home in my onesie.’
‘The thing is Jimmy…’
‘Go on, then. Tell me the thing.’
‘…the thing is, our jobs are on the line.’
‘How’s that?’
‘You’re having a heart attack…’
‘You just said I wasn’t.’
‘No I didn’t. I said you’d had one recently and you might well be brewing another.’
‘In your opinion.’
‘In my opinion.’
‘So how’s your job on the line?’
‘Because we’re the last clinicians to see you. And when we’re called up in front of the Coroner to explain why we didn’t take you to hospital, he’s not going to be too interested in us saying Oh, well, Jimmy didn’t really want to come because he was worried about getting home again. He’ll say Maybe Jimmy didn’t understand what you were saying, God rest his soul. Maybe you could’ve tried harder to convince him. Maybe you should try some other line of work. And he’ll throw us out on our ear. For what? For a ten pound taxi fare?’
‘You’re not going to give me ten pound, are you?’
‘No. I’m not.’
Jimmy shrugs.
‘I’m staying put, then.’

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Ruth doesn’t answer the buzzer, but it’s so early in the morning the tradesman button works and we let ourselves in. Her flat is up on the first floor, a complicated and bizarre route up half-stairways to mezzanines, the numbers running randomly through the block, but we’ve been here so many times we don’t need to think about it overmuch.
Her door isn’t locked. I knock and gently push it open.
She’s standing securely planted in the middle of the room, crutches in either hand and a fag in her mouth. ‘What the fuck do you want?’ she says, then shrugs off the crutches, tosses them into a corner, and throws herself just as carelessly into an armchair.
‘It’s my birthday today,’ she says. ‘Happy fucking birthday.’
For some reason I’m immune to Ruth. Control always send extensive notes about Ruth – block caps in red, warning about her abusive, threatening, sometimes violent behaviour – but for some reason it always passes me by. It’s just one of those things, a bizarre and particular immunity, like a bee keeper who can draw out a comb of honey covered in bees and not get stung. Added to which, I’m so exhausted I could probably wear the bee swarm as a beard and still go home whistling.
‘How are you, Ruth?’
‘How am I? Brilliant, mate. Just brilliant. How the fuck do you think I am? Suicidal. I want to die. It’s my birthday today and that’s what I want. Death. Thank you. Happy fucking birthday.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’

Ruth is a middle-aged woman who could pass for elderly. Her hair is ash-grey, the skin of her face pouchy and slack, cruelly undermined by years of smoke and the loss of all her teeth. It feels like the vital sap of her has turned tarry by long years of struggle with mental health problems, alcohol abuse, social and domestic troubles. She’s alone in this flat, but it feels crowded.
‘I’ll see you in heaven, Mum,’ she says to the photo of an elderly couple pressing their heads together and smiling in a silver frame with a diamante butterfly in the corner. ‘You too, pops.’ Then she looks up at me. ‘You think I’m crazy, talking to my mum and dad like that, don’t you? You’re thinking Crazy Bitch.
‘No. Not at all. I think it’s nice you still talk to them like that.’
‘Yeah? Nice? You think that’s nice?’
‘Yes. I do think that’s nice.’
I could lie down and nap on that word nice.
‘Keeping you up?’ she says.
‘I’m really tired,’ I tell her. ‘But the shift’s almost done. Anyway – how are things? We’ve been sent by the crisis team. They’re worried about you?’
‘Are they? Are they really?’
‘Yep. They want you to come in for a chat.’
‘I’m finishing my fag first.’
‘Of course.’
She takes a long, contemplative drag, then watches the smoke as it streams out into the room.
‘It’s my birthday today,’ she says.
‘Happy Birthday, Ruth.’
‘I’ll just finish this and I’ll be out.’


On the vehicle  Ruth rubs her arm. She’s scored it lightly with a piece of broken glass, but not so it’s bled over-much.
‘That’ll be sore,’ she says. ‘I shouldn’t have done that. You haven’t asked me where the glass is. Aren’t you worried?’
‘Have you still got it on you?’
The ambulance jolts from side to side.
‘Fucking hell,’ says Ruth. ‘If you weren’t sick before you got on you would be now.’
‘Ruth – have you got a CPN?’
‘Yes I have, fucking bitch. Gone on holiday.’
‘Oh? Well everyone needs a holiday sometimes, don’t you think? I know I do.’
‘What about me? When do I get a holiday?’
‘Can’t you sort one out?’
‘My fucking sister’s going on holiday next month. She hasn’t fucking invited me, the bitch.’
‘Maybe this is something you could talk to your CPN about when she gets back?’
‘What? Holidays?’
‘She’s a social worker. Not a fucking travel agent.’
The ambulance pitches from side to side.
‘Jesus Christ. I can’t take much more of this.’
She grimaces, rubs her arm, looks at me.
‘And it’s my fucking birthday today, you know?’ she says.
‘Happy Birthday, Ruth.’

Monday, June 10, 2013


We ring Keith’s bell, but it’s Kathy his neighbour who comes to the door.
‘I saw the truck’ she says. ‘He’s asleep. I’ve got the paperwork.’
Kathy stands aside and lets us in to the apartment lobby, a cool, high-ceilinged, ornately-plastered affair, one of those Georgian town houses converted into flats sometime in the fifties and hanging on ever since.
‘Is the social worker here?’
‘The social worker? No.’
‘He needs to be. It’s a Section Two. I’m guessing Keith doesn’t want to go in.’
‘No. He’ll fight.’
‘So we need the social worker. Maybe the police.’
Kathy hesitates. She has the lank, slightly doughy look of someone who’s been coping for a while in the face of things. She’s involved, has routines.
‘I’ll find out where the social worker is,’ I tell her, reaching for my radio.
The social worker is a tall, ascetic man in a woollen waistcoat and shabby/smart two-piece suit. He reminds me of James Cromwell in L A Confidential, a man made thin by years of unpleasant but necessary administrative control. He works his chewing gum quickly and methodically, with his front teeth, mostly.
‘He’s very weak, poor fella,’ he says. ‘Taken to his bed these past weeks, refusing all help. His problems are all down to the drink. He’s a chronic alcoholic with everything you might expect, and now it’s tipped over into depression and self-neglect. He’s got to go in, guys. He’ll not see the weekend at this rate.’
‘Will we need the police?’
The social worker stops chewing for a second.
‘The police? No, I don’t think so. See for yourself. He doesn’t want to go, but he’s so weak you could tuck him under your arm.’

Kathy is waiting for us in the hallway again. She has a Crawford’s biscuit box full of meds, the complex regime shakily written out on a stack of recycled envelopes.
‘I’ll show you in.’

Keith’s flat is surprisingly well looked-after, but I’m guessing Kathy has taken care of that.
Keith is lying on his back in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin.
‘Hello Keith,’ says the social worker. ‘We’ve come to take you to hospital.’
‘I want a drink first.’
Kathy has already prepared it. Vodka in a bottle of Lucozade, with a straw. She bends the straw and holds the bottle so he doesn’t have to turn his head, or lift it.
‘And a cigarette,’ he says.
She taps one out of the pack and lights it for him from the cooker.
We wait just outside the room.

‘So I’m guessing Kathy fetches in the drink?’
The social worker puts his hands in his pockets and leans against the wall.
‘I think the off-licence delivers. But to be honest, if he didn’t drink he’d fit, so…’
He sighs, and closes his eyes for a moment.
‘Makes you re-evaluate your drinking habits, doesn’t it?’
I laugh, but actually it doesn’t. It feels completely different, but I’m too tired to put that into words.
Kathy comes back out.
‘He’s ready now,’ she says.

He screams as we put him in our chair, making his body go rigid. We can’t get the trolley into the flat, so we have to manage as best we can. I make sure the blanket loops over his head so his greasy hair doesn’t rest against my shirt, and we bundle him tightly so he can’t grab out. His body is emaciated, caked in dirt. But amongst all the dreadful details of his self-neglect, his legs are the things that hold my attention the most. Maybe it’s because he’s holding them straight out, and the blanket has fallen away there. I think it’s their extraordinary shape and colour – bone thin, bone white, but pinched-off at the ankles, the feet like a pair of red rubber gloves filled with water, toes all-angles, rotten to the nail.

He screams as we wheel him to the ambulance, but it’s dark outside, there’s a freshening wind; I don’t think anyone notices much.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

three sketches

A heavily-built man in his sixties, sun burnt arms folded across a bulging vest. There’s a punchy, ill-focused hostility to him that the bottle of whisky he drank has fed but not created. The open fracture to his ankle has been dressed and stabilised. His family smoke and look in at the ambulance steps.
Let me off. I’m not going nowhere. I’m getting off and going home. Broken, you say? What - are you, a doctor? I don’t give a fuck if it’s broken, pal. S’all right. I’ll do somepin’ about it in the morning. I’ve got diabetes you know. Did you know that? Diabetes. So fuck you, fuck your broken leg. I’m off.

A tall, middle-aged man, lying on his side in a pool of blood, kicking his feet, half-rising then collapsing back and banging his head back against the skirting board. His face is a raging mask of blood, each tooth individually described in red. His eyes, his bare torso, his hair – every aspect of him covered. We were told he cut his ear off with a razor, but it’s all such a mess and he’s so violent and spraying and spitting it’s impossible to get close enough to tell.
What about my son? Hmm? Yeah? What are you doing about my son? Yeah? You? What are you doing? You fucking get away from me.  All right? I’m okay. I’m okay. All right? I’m okay. Just – fucking – leave me alone. Aaaargh!

A six year old girl, pale, shadowed eyes, lying on the ambulance trolley on her side. She is hugging a toy rabbit and staring up at her father who is leaning forwards so he can stroke her forehead.
The water’s so cold it takes your breath away, but then I suppose it is the South Atlantic, coming straight at you from the Antarctic. I was a bit worried about sharks, but the guy said they didn’t come any further than Robben Island. And I said where’s that? And he pointed to this place just a little way off shore. I mean, it was really close. Like the Isle of Wight. And I said ‘What – you mean, that’s Robben Island? Just there?’ And he said ‘Yeah, but that’s where the water starts warming up so they prefer it.’ Ssh. You’ll be fine, darling. You’ll be fine.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

occupational hazard

A pale, skeletally thin woman shows us round the back of the flats.
‘He’s the one in the corner,’ she says, a dull glint from somewhere down in the shadows of her sockets.
‘You’re welcome.’
She drifts away, smoking.

It’s such a bright day everything’s been cast into black and hard white. The courtyard is baked, absolutely still, no sign of the violent disturbance – stand off for police. Nothing, except for a dog barking in the distance.
As we approach the door that’s open in the corner, a police officer strolls out.
‘Oh!’ he says, so relaxed he may as well be in shorts and flip flops. ‘He’s in there. Mad as a box of frogs.’

Graham is sitting on the edge of his armchair watching The Hairy Bikers make a pie on TV. He’s joining in with their conversation, in a grunting, hyper-manic way, bellowing delightedly, swearing, shouting out, or bouncing up and down. There’s something crude and cartoon-like about Graham, his crayon teeth, his lumpish movements, but most of all his laugh – a mwa-ha-haaa that only needs a cloak, mask and Parisian sewer to complete the effect.
‘Mwa-ha-haaaa! Through the telly to tell you, hah? To tell you...’
The police sergeant nods at us and takes a discreet step in our direction.
‘This is Graham,’ he says. ‘Graham has been acting pretty strangely this afternoon. The neighbours were worried because – well, you can see for yourself. He’s calmed down a lot, I have to say. A bit grabby, but nothing too serious. Over to you for the assessment!’
He smiles, and takes a step back again.
‘The paramedics are going to ask you a few questions,’ he says to Graham, who suddenly shuts up and frowns. ‘Just answer their questions and then we can figure out what we need to do next.’ Graham suddenly jumps out of his chair and scuttles up to the officer, who takes his hands out of his stab vest just in case. Graham pauses a moment, then reaches out and tries to grab the officer’s radio, babbling something about signals and light.
‘No, no,’ says the officer, batting Graham’s hand aside. ‘What have I told you about touching my radio?’
Graham holds his hand in mid-air, then gives another Phantom laugh.
‘Mwa-ha-haaa! Graham!’ Then sits back down again.

Our line of questioning gets us nowhere. We need to check him over, and figure it’ll be best to do it on the ambulance. Amazingly, Graham gets his keys and coat and follows us out  quite meekly.
The sunlight in the courtyard hurts my eyes.

Even though all his physical obs are normal, his behaviour is still a cause for concern. There’s a possibility it has an organic basis, so we persuade him to come to hospital with us. The police officers seem relieved.
‘Good luck!’ They slam the door, and we move off.


A&E is as busy as ever. I dread to think how disruptive Graham might be, but for the moment he’s calm and pliable, so we take a risk and lead him in with us, sitting him on a chair as far away from the other patients waiting to be assessed in the triage area.
After ten minutes or so, Graham suddenly announces that he’s having a fit. He starts to slide off the chair to the floor.
‘Come on, Graham. You’re not having a fit. Stay in the chair, mate.’
‘I’m having a fit!’ he shouts, taking off his glasses and flinging them across the lobby.
‘Graham! Stay in the chair!’
‘I’m having a fit! I’m – having – a – fit...’
He lands on his bottom on the floor, pulls off his watch, throws that in the other direction, then starts a peculiar round-and-round scuttling motion, paddling with his hands and feet, shouting out for help. I stand in front of him to stop him doing anything else, and to screen him from the nearer patients. But that puts me within reach. He lunges forward and wraps his arms around my left leg. It’s like being attacked by a giant koala bear. I try to unlock his fingers. The A&E lead consultant has hurried over and is with me now. He grabs one of Graham’s arms, and using some kind of Aikido lock, turns Graham away from me. Once he has his attention, the Consultant addresses Graham directly.
‘No! You do not do this! You are not having a fit, and you are not to behave like this in my department! Understand? Do you?’
Security have arrived, two guys so massive they would punch out the supporting columns if they missed your head. Graham gives one, last, very much less convincing mwa-ha-haa, and gets back into his chair.
A nurse gives him a sedative.
‘I know Graham,’ she says, as he swallows the pill. ‘He was in a little while ago. How’s your leg?’
‘Fine, fine. Maybe I should take the rest of the shift off with stress.’

‘Yeah?’ She laughs. ‘Maybe you should. Last time Graham was in he said he used to be a paramedic.’ 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

the bed people

The bed people are in the bedroom, setting up the bed.
‘How long will it take for the mattress to inflate?’ I ask them.
‘Half an hour or so. You get a green light at the bottom when it’s ready. Not something you can rush, unfortunately.’

I knew this was going to be trouble. I knew it when the job came through: Pressure relief mattress due for delivery. Help required with transfer. Wife on scene for access. An address way over the other side of town. Barely half an hour from our finishing time. And a journey back against the rush hour traffic. Querying the need for us to attend was fruitless. It was unusual, but for whatever reason Control had committed a resource, and we had to go. Half-way there we thought we’d escaped, diverted to a male, unco, in the street. But the male turned out not to be quite as unco as first thought, and ran off before we got there.

They sent the bed job straight back through again.

When Mrs Chastain answers the door her manner is so chilly I wonder if she thinks we’re bed people, too. Which in a way, I suppose we are.
‘Can I ask your name?’ I say, stepping into the lobby.
‘Mrs Chastain,’ she clips. ‘Well you’re here now, so that’s something. When I spoke to your people they said it might be four hours, and even then they couldn’t guarantee it.’
‘I know. You see, we’re an emergency ambulance, so other calls take priority. In fact, we were diverted to an unconscious male on the way here…’
She sighs. ‘Anyway, you’re here. The bed people are just setting up the new bed now. Apparently it takes a little while for the mattress to inflate.’
‘You’ve let a fly in.’
‘A bluebottle. I can’t stand them. Open the door and pray it makes its own way out.’

It does.

‘I’ve got a self-closing fly-screen on the back door,’ she says. ‘This one shouldn’t need it because it’s got the lobby. But you left the outside door open when you came through.’
‘Never mind.’
She goes back into the bedroom to superintend the bed people. We exchange a look, then follow.

The bed people are hot and exhausted. But despite all this, they still manage to be scrupulously polite. Mrs Chastain responds with glacial suspicion.
‘Make sure it’s all properly connected,’ she says. ‘All the bolts tightened up.’
‘No worries. Oh – by the way. Don’t use a fitted sheet on the mattress,’ says the Leader of the Bed People. ‘It interferes with the action.’
‘I don’t use fitted sheets. I used to be a nurse. I know all this.’
‘Lovely. There. Now. All set up. Just got to wait for the mattress to fill.’
He gives us a wild look, the kind of thing you might see in a wrecked sailor struggling ashore.
‘We’ll just be outside getting some air,’ he says.

Mr Chastain is asleep in the old bed. None of the activity has roused him at all, a combination of his medication and general infirmity. He’s propped up on a dozen cushions, his swollen arms out on the coverlet. Mrs Chastain sighs, and ushers us back out into the lobby.
‘I can make you tea if you’d like?’ she says.
That would be great.
Whilst she goes into the kitchen, Rae radios Control to ask if there’s a more local crew who could take this job on. They tell her that things are so busy, if we clear up now we’d only cop something else and be late off. Our fate is sealed.

We wait for our tea, and for the mattress to fill.

There’s a large porcelain figurine on an ornate stand in the lobby – a Twenties flapper struggling to hold her hat on with one hand and the lead of an Afghan hound in the other. I copy the pose just as Mrs Chastain comes back in with the tea. I pretend to be stretching my back. She frowns, then hands me a delicate china cup. The handle is so small I have to pinch it between my index finger and thumb.
‘There are some coffee grounds in there, too. They fell in accidentally. Anyway. This is most important. Whatever you do, do not disturb Mr Chastain,’ she says. ‘He’s in a very delicate state and I don’t want him upset in any way.’
‘No harsh moves. Nothing sudden or rough.’
‘Okay. We’ll do our best. Thanks for the tea.’
‘No shouting.’
There’s a knock on the door.
Mrs Chastain starts, then smoothes her skirt and goes to answer it.

It’s Bunny and Deidre, come to help.
‘We saw the Bed People outside. Anything needs doing?’
‘No, dear, thank you. Although – I might need a hand moving some furniture from the front room.’
They smile at us; we raise our cups to them.
‘I’ve just had a thought,’ says Mrs Chastain. ‘Have you still got the sliding sheet William had?’
‘Yes, I think I do.’
‘You couldn’t fetch it across, could you? Only we’ll be moving him soon.’
‘We’ve got all that stuff,’ I say to her, but Mrs Chastain doesn’t seem to hear, turning on the spot and swishing back into the bedroom again. But just as she reaches the bedroom door, she suddenly turns and strides back into the lobby again, sticking both fingers in her mouth and giving a piercing whistle, right by Rae’s ear, who almost throws her tea in the air.

‘Found one!’ says Mrs Chastain. ‘Don’t worry!’

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

glamour shoot

Into the hallway of the flat, two doors closed left and ahead, one door open to the right.

We go through.

Mr Crosier is naked, lying on his side on a bed of soiled, green satin sheets. On the wall behind him is a poster for a burlesque show. The dancer is striking a sensuous pose in her corset and suspenders, one gloved hand on her hip, one held flat beneath her chin as she blows a kiss. It passes over Mr Crosier’s head, missing his clumps of ash gray hair, bumping uncaught against the large plasma screen on the opposite side of the room. Mr Crosier has other, more desperate concerns, though, utterly focused as he is on the meagre trail of oxygen trickling up through his nasal specs. The great slope of his chest sinks and pulls with the effort of each breath.

It’s an appalling scene. The place looks more like a culture grown from a dirty carpet rather than a place anyone could live. Everything glistens beneath a white crust, as if Mr Crosier was a giant species of slug that spent the night crawling over it all. Especially the DVD player, which rests on a little pine table just in front of him, along with a bank of remote controls and a carelink button. In fact, a pattern becomes apparent. All Mr Crosier’s necessaries are within easy reach: a catering pack of Maltesers, a crate of weissbier, a packet of baby wipes, an encrusted plastic pitcher to piss in.

A large floor fan spins just in front of the table. It stirs up the noisome atmosphere, a-wisher-wisher-wisher.

We put him on our oxygen, then Rae takes some obs whilst I investigate our options. Would a trolley fit? Perhaps if this door were open...?

A dark room, a mattress with a throw, a lighting rig, a tripod and camera.

I close the door, and hurry outside for the carry chair.