Sunday, September 28, 2014

charlotte's dinner

What little light the moon might have given us is lost behind a spread of low cloud. Even the street lamps are struggling, their muted orange glow lending a kind of hectic, orange sweat to everything. The houses are set back from the road; that and the poor light make it difficult to read any of the numbers. We cruise along slowly, me with my window down, prodding about with a torch.
Just up ahead there’s a man standing underneath a porch light, smoking.
I turn off my torch as we draw alongside.
‘Are you thirty-nine?’ I ask him.
He scratches his bare chest but doesn’t say anything.
Does he think I’ve asked him his age?
‘No,’ he says, then flicks the cigarette away, steps back inside and firmly closes the door.
But at least I can see his number – from that we count to the house we want, and I hit At Scene.

A house just like any other in this road, except a security light snaps on the moment we open the front gate. Artificial flowers in a gravel enclosure, with plastic dragonflies and butterflies on sticks. The crick-croak of a frog – plastic, motion sensor. A black and yellow notice on the front door: CCTV in operation.
‘Not the most welcoming house front,’ says Rae. ‘Oh – look!’
A black cat has hopped down from its perch on some recycling bins and begun wrapping itself around her legs.
‘Yep’ she says, stroking its back. ‘I can feel batteries.’
The house is as dark as any of its neighbours. Certainly no indication that a male, overdose is inside. The call came from a mental health line, so it could be they’ve confused the address. After knocking and ringing for a while, we let Control know. They tell us to wait until they can find out some more information.
We look round the back. Another blinding security light.
A side door, as secure as the front, with a patch of intense smoke damage, as if someone had tried to break in with an oxy-acetylene torch. Beyond that, a high and solid gate, with barbed wire along the top.
‘Breaking in won’t be easy.’
Just then we hear the  plastic frog speak again. Crick-Croak. Crick-Croak. Someone coming down the steps from the road. We go round the side to meet them, saying Hello. Ambulance, ahead of us, just to underline the fact that we’re not burglars and good for shooting or something.
The back-lit silhouette of a doughy, hunched man in his forties.
‘Oh God!’ he says. ‘Don’t tell me! He’s done it again.’
The cat has wrapped itself round his legs now, in an ecstasy of greeting.
‘Hello pud-pud!’ he says, bending down and tickling her sides. ‘Who’s a clever pud-pud?’
‘We haven’t been told much’ I say to the man. ‘Just that someone at this address may have taken an overdose.’
‘Well I can tell you now that’s a lot of …’ He mimes the word bullshit fully and emphatically, turning sideways slightly and  leaning forwards like a pantomime dame sharing a naughty confidence across the footlights.  ‘I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s done this. The police know all about it. It’s been going on for years and quite frankly I’ve had enough. But look – where are my manners? Would you like to come inside like civilised adults? I can tell you the whole sorry saga in comfort.’
He double, triple, quadruple unlocks the front door with a bunch of keys on an extendable chain.
‘Better safe than sorry’ he simpers.

It’s like stepping into a pet shop. There are vivariums, fish tanks, scratching posts and bird cages in every corner of the place.
‘My weakness’ he says. ‘Just call me Saint Francis. Aren’t I, Charlotte? Hey? Now then! Who’s got a delicious mousie-wowsie for Schnucka-Lucka?’
He picks up a silvery packet of something and goes over to a red-lit glass tank with a curving branch of wood and a large, plastic skull. Coiling out of the skull’s eye sockets is a long, dusty-coloured snake, who lifts its head and tastes the air as the man walks over with the packet. ‘Din-dins’ says the man, tearing the packet open. A tail flops out of the top as he puts the strip on the table. ‘Daddy’s got you something fur-licious.’
The man grips the tail and pulls out a dead, white mouse.
‘Would you like to see how Charlotte eats?’ he says, the mouse swinging between his pinched fingers as he puts the empty packet on the table along with the strip.
We line up on the other side of the table and watch as the man reaches into the vivarium and carefully places the mouse upside down between a V in the branch.
‘Charlotte’s such a clever little thing’ he breathes. ‘She has to take the mouse head first, and I can’t resist teasing her a little. Watch how she moves.’
At first the snake is slow to get going – so slow I’m tempted to ask whatever questions we need to ask and clear off. But I’m fascinated to watch the snake eat the mouse, and probably more than that, to watch the man watch the snake eat the mouse.
He leans forward as the snake finally gets going, sliding forwards without any discernible effort, its sinuous body flexing and pulsing, instinctively making exactly the required level of accommodation to negotiate the wood and the gravel, the water dish and the foliage, sliding closer and closer to the mouse. Without any hesitation it cuts underneath the branch.
‘See? Now watch!’ says the man.
The snake has decided to approach from above, the tail end. I can’t understand how this is a good idea. Surely it would’ve been better to take it from underneath? But the snake is up on the limb of the branch now, its head angled down to take in the full prospect of the mouse beneath it. After a few, delicate flickerings of its tongue – flickerings that the man himself seems to copy – and in one clean and easy movement, it grips the mouse by a paw, swivels it around, and then unhinging its jaw with a convulsive jerk, begins to thread itself over the mouse, the V of the branch acting as a kind of brace.  
‘There!’ he says. ‘Isn’t that the best? She won’t need to eat again for ten days.’
We ask the man about the overdose. He tells us there’s a long history. ‘For attention. It’s pathetic really.’
‘Is he here now?’
‘No. God knows where he’ll be. Your guess is as good as mine. Up to no good, though, you can count on that.’
‘Would you do us a favour and just check upstairs?’ says Rae. ‘Maybe he came back while you were out.’
‘Okay. But I know he’s not in.’
We stay in the kitchen whilst the man goes upstairs.
The snake has fully engulfed the mouse by the time he comes back down. Just a fat lump, back of the head.
‘No. Just as I thought. There’s nobody in.’
We thank the man and then turn to go.
Suddenly there’s a crash from upstairs.
The man smiles at us. Doesn’t even blink.
‘The cat’ he says.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Three o’clock in the morning. Outside one of the nightclubs down on the promenade, a crowd of clubbers is reaching critical mass; shifting, breaking at the margins, reforming, drawn by the thumping beats to one small gap in a safety barrier. A luminous cloud hangs above the crowd, the smoke and heat and animal press of it all rising up into the night beneath a bank of halogen spots.
 We make our way through as best we can, resting hands on shoulders, ambulance, excuse me, mind your backs, until we’re far enough forward to catch the bouncer’s eye. Without any change of expression he sweeps a few people aside, unhooks the rope behind him, nods us through. Another bouncer is waiting at an open fire exit off to the right; he waves us to go that way, and we enter a corridor at the side of the club.
Vittorio is sitting on a chair with his head tipped back, whilst a bouncer dabs at his eye with a wet gauze.
‘Oh, hi chaps,’ says the bouncer, stepping back, hands crooked up in front, the artist interrupted. He looks like a rockabilly on steroids, his quiff shiny and black in the harsh emergency lighting, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up over great ropes of muscle intricately covered in tattoos. ‘What you see in front of you is a twenty-year-old fella, took a punch to the right eye, no loss of consciousness, neck pain or so on, no vomiting, neurological deficit or other concerns. GCS fifteen throughout. Small but deep laceration lower orbital region, no damage to the eye as far as I can see. Needs a trip up the hospital for further assessment and some max-fax, but I’ll leave that up to you. Shall I continue?’
‘Fine. Good job.’
‘Okay then, fella. Tip your head back.’
Throughout all this Vittorio chats excitedly to a guy called Sam, standing off to his left. At first I think Sam’s simply a friend giving him support, but it gradually becomes apparent that Sam is the one who punched Vittorio in the first place.
‘Here’s twenty quid’ says Sam, trying to press the notes into Vittorio’s hand. ‘I’m so, so sorry.’
‘I wasn’t looking at her like that. You know I wouldn’t,’ says Vittorio. He turns to look at me, and when the bouncer corrects him with a knuckle to the chin, he slides his eyes sideways instead.
‘I ducked when I should’ve dodged’ he says. ‘I’ve done martial arts. But let me tell you – it’s always the ones you don’t see that do you the most damage. I’m fine, really. It’s nothing. A few stitches and I’ll be good as new.’
‘Mate! Let me know when you get out and I’ll come pick you up,’ says Sam, texting something at the same time.
‘No worries,’ says Vittorio, standing up when the bouncer lets him, and grasping the bloody shirt that Sam passes to him. ‘Okay. Ready? Let’s go!’ 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

the forgetful spy

At first I completely miss the house, taking a right turn into an uneven, unadopted road, thickly overhung with trees and shrubs, the ditches either side threatening to turn the ambulance over if I misjudge the width. But the road runs out with nothing more beyond than wild and open country. I struggle to turn round, come back out onto the main road, park up on the left as close to the wall as I can. It’s only then we notice there’s an old house set back from the corner of the junction. We go to take a look.
The Clutterby residence must once have been a fine and imposing Georgian country house. The arc of its gravel drive is thickly overgrown now, so the feeling is one of walking into some dark and elliptical cave. The house rises up in front of us, the main door reached by a series of steeply-banked steps whose terracotta tiles are patchily green with moss now, weeds struggling up through the cracked joints. An elegant porch at the top, a wide front door, whose leaded windows are protected behind a delicate filigree of fleur de lys.
We’ve just reached the very top step when the door opens.
‘Can I help you?’ says Mr Clutterby.
‘Hello. It’s the ambulance.’
‘Yes. May I ask what this is concerning?’
‘Did you call for help?’
‘No. I did not.’
‘We had a call to this address. An eighty-seven-year-old man with chest pain.’
‘Who did?’
‘We did. The ambulance.’
He raises his eyebrows and shakes his head sadly.
‘I hardly see how this concerns me.’
‘Is there anyone else who lives here?’
‘No. I live alone. Who did you say called you?’
‘Well – if it’s not you, then... we’re sorry to have troubled you.’
‘Please. Do come in. I’m curious to know what all this is about.’
‘Are you unwell? Do you have chest pain?’
‘Look. Please – do come inside and sit down. I’m fascinated to know more about this. You say somebody called you?’
‘It could be a mistake. Have you had the ambulance out to you before?’
‘No. Why would I? Please – do come inside and let’s discuss this further.’
He shuffles back into the gloom.
There’s something vague about Mr Clutterby, beyond the usual distractions of old age. Something indistinct, drifting, poorly-held, like smoke in a sealed jar. If it wasn’t for his beautifully pressed three-piece suit and tie, he might not be there at all.  
We follow him inside.
The house is cavernous. A long hallway leading off into darkly shuttered rooms, draped chandeliers, the dull glimmer of gilt frames on walls. Cobwebs in unreachable corners. And a grand staircase that over the centuries must have resounded with a thousand buckled shoes, riding boots, school slippers and polished brogues; now, the only sound it knows is the hum of Mr Clutterby’s stair-lift, slowly following the curving rail to the silent rooms on the first floor.
Mr Clutterby has established himself in the drawing room, in a plush, scallop-backed chair, his legs folded, his elbows planted on the armrests and his liver-spotted hands linked together in a pensive arch beneath his nose. Through the window behind him the leaves of great shrubs crowd up against the glass; the room is furnished with ancient, elegantly veneered furniture; above the grand fireplace, the oval portrait of a lady in a plump silk dress and a floppy hat, a closed fan in her lap, a spaniel sitting at her feet looking up at her whilst she stares back at the painter with a languorous smile. There’s a resemblance between her and Mr Clutterby. I can imagine him putting out his hand, helping the woman out of the picture, and the two of them walking slowly out to the empty ballroom across the hall.
‘Now, tell me again what this is all about,’ he says.
The situation is suddenly clear to us, though. On a bow-legged table in the middle of the room is a yellow folder, stuffed full of ambulance report forms and ECGs.
‘May I?’
‘Of course. Be my guest. Now – I’m slightly confused by all this, but I have to say it’s nice to have a bit of company.’
The forms are all dated this year, some thirty or forty, all reporting the same thing. STML: short term memory loss, along with vascular dementia and some other, more minor ailments. Some of the forms describe the personal situation in great detail – how the family have been trying to persuade Mr Clutterby to move, the different care arrangements they’ve tried, none particularly effective or long-lasting. He’s at risk, of course. They’ve set up a CCTV camera in the hall, pointing at the door. Alarm buttons, carefully worded notices pinned up here and there.
‘This is the family home,’ says Mr Clutterby, unlacing his fingers to gesture around him. ‘We brought the children up here – when we weren’t travelling, of course. I was in the diplomatic service and we lived abroad a good deal. The middle east and so on. I used my contacts to gather information for the government, which of course is another way of saying I was a spy. An unlikely one, it has to be said. Six feet two in broad moustaches, suits from Savile Row. But there you are. My wife helped considerably. She was much less conspicuous. She looked more Germanic.’
 We run through some obs and take an ECG, all of which Mr Clutterby accepts with a slightly sad,  saintly passivity.
‘If you think it necessary’ he says. ‘It’s awfully good of you to bother. But as you can see, I’m on my own here. Ever since my wife died. We brought the children up here – when we weren’t abroad, of course. The diplomatic service,’ he says. ‘Six feet two in broad moustaches, suits from Savile Row, gathering information for the government. A spy, if you will. My wife helped, behind the scenes. She had a more Germanic look to her, you see. We met when I was a simple gunner.’
‘A gunner?’
‘Yes. In the artillery. We met at some sort of dance. In Kensington. But then I transferred over to military intelligence, learned a spot of Arabic. Enough to get by, and so on. I was in the diplomatic service. Six feet two in broad moustaches. Suits from Savile Row.’
Rae interrupts him to ask some medical questions; he waves them away impatiently.
‘Yes, yes, this is all very well,’ he sniffs. ‘But what I really want to know is – who sent you? Why are you here? It’s awfully nice of you to come and see me, and of course I do appreciate your company. But I fail to see what the problem is.’
‘It says in your records you suffer from short term memory loss.’
‘Well, my dear girl,’ he laughs. ‘When one has lived as long as I have, one tends to be a little forgetful. I’ve always prided myself on my powers of recall. I worked for the diplomatic service, gathering information for the government. A spy, to put it rather baldly....’
‘It looks like you called for help because you had chest pain, but then forgot about it. Do you think that sounds likely?’
‘No. I think it sounds highly unlikely.’
‘Do you have chest pain at the moment?’
‘No. I’m quite all right, thank you. Now look. What’s this all about?’
‘You see – I think people are worried about you living here all on your own, Mr Clutterby. If you can’t remember things from moment to moment, you’re at risk from unscrupulous people coming to the door and taking advantage of you.’
‘There was a chap the other day.’
‘What chap?’
‘I don’t know who he was. I certainly hadn’t called him. A sallow, shifty-looking individual. When I asked him what he wanted he said he’d come to see that the carpets matched. I said I wasn’t interested. He said he was coming in anyway. I said not a chance and I closed the door. He swore at me. He called me a fucking old dinosaur or some such, and sloped off down the drive. But you see, I’m not afraid of these people. I had training in self-defence.’
‘In the diplomatic service?’
‘Yes. They taught me how to stop a fellow in his tracks. Like this...’
He makes a palsied karate chop in the air.
‘Hah! Across the throat. Most effective, because they don’t see it coming, d’you see?’
‘You shouldn’t look so surprised. I was in the diplomatic service, you know. A spy, if you will. Gathering information for the government. Six feet two in broad moustaches. My wife helped, too. She looked more Germanic.’

Monday, September 22, 2014

the worst thing

When Vera tripped over the pavement and pitched head-first into the road – narrowly avoiding a passing taxi – the only thing she broke was the wrist of the hand she put out to save herself. A few people stopped, helping her up, fetching a chair, gathering her shopping together, calling for an ambulance. And now she sits on the truck cradling her arm, as frail and tremulous as a mouse that’s been rescued from a hawk.
‘Why do these things happen?’ she says, her voice breaking with emotion. ‘Ted’s due back from the day centre in half an hour and I won’t be there to meet him.’
A rummage through her handbag produces a scrunched up piece of paper with a couple of emergency numbers. I ring her son Keith to let him know what’s happened, and to organise something for Ted.
‘Keith’s had his problems, too. This is the last thing he needs. His wife left him the other day and ran off with his best friend. Oh, why do these things have to happen?’
‘You’ve got a lot going on, Vera. Let’s just take it one step at a time and take care of you for now. We can think about the rest in a minute.’
I put her arm in a sling along with a cool pack to reduce the swelling, and we set off for hospital.
After crying for a few minutes, she seems to settle down.
‘I’m seventy-eight,’ she says. ‘My husband’s got dementia and he’s going into a home for respite care. It’s all so unfair. These things shouldn’t happen to you when you get old. They just shouldn’t. I don’t have the energy anymore.’
I pass her some fresh tissues. She dabs at her nose.
‘What do you think?’ she says.
‘I think it’s a stressful time, Vera. And then breaking your wrist like that. It’s no wonder you’re upset.’
‘It is stressful,’ she says.
She looks down at her injured arm, and wiggles the fingers a little. ‘
How long do you think it’ll be in plaster?’
‘It’s hard to say. It depends what they find with the x-ray. I should think at least three weeks, though.’
She clicks her tongue, and then blows her nose again.
‘It’s just so unfair. I’m seventy-eight, you know.’
‘It’s a hard thing to say, but fairness doesn’t really come into it. Don’t you think? Bad things happen, young, old, who knows why? It’s just chance, I suppose. It never gets any easier. I mean, I heard this thing on the news the other day, about all the refugees crossing over into Turkey from Syria because of all the fighting. And this journalist said one of them was an old woman of a hundred. Imagine that! A hundred years old and running for your life.’
‘That’s terrible!’
‘It is terrible. So I suppose there’s always someone worse off. Not that it helps your situation, of course. You’ve still got a lot on your plate. But it’s worth thinking about from time to time.’
‘She was a hundred?’
‘A refugee.’
‘It’s a cruel world.’
‘Can be.’
‘I just don’t understand it.’
‘Anyway, let’s think about you for now. Let’s get a doctor to examine your wrist and see what needs doing. Keith’s taking care of things at home. And you’ve got a few weeks coming up with your husband in respite to rest and recover from your accident. Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.’
We ride to the hospital in silence for a while.
Eventually she looks at me again, a little more brightly.
‘Will it be busy up there? Will I have to wait a long time?’
‘There may be a little bit of a wait, it’s hard to say. The hospital’s been pretty hectic lately. Not just here – all over the country. It’s a national problem.’
‘All us old crocks,’ she says.
I laugh and shake my head.
‘It’s a number of things. But they’re working on it.’
‘I was up there a few months ago. With something else. I was waiting for hours in the waiting room.’
‘Sorry to hear it.’
‘Hours, it was. And then this pregnant lady came and sat down, and they called her straight in. Five minutes later she was walking out the door!’
‘I know. It’s confusing sometimes. But what happens is they triage the patients, so the ones who are potentially more serious get seen first. I don’t know about that pregnant lady, but it could be they referred her on to maternity.’
‘The worst thing is, she was black.’

I’ve come across this casual racism before, of course, quite often in older patients. It’s a chilling, disorienting experience. You think things are one way, suddenly they’re completely reversed. And all the empathetic feeling you’d built up vanishes, with as much of a lurch as if the floor had fallen away taking everything with it, and you’re left struggling to hold on to anything but the barest social nicety.
‘I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it,’ I say. ‘We’re all people, Vera.’
She detects a shift in the air, and wipes her nose on the tissue again.
‘It’s not right,’ she says after a moment or two. ‘I’m seventy-eight, you know.’
The ambulance rocks from side to side.
‘We’ll be there in a minute’ I say, and start gathering things together for a quick exit.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

dear stan

There’s a statue in the centre of town, some minor nobility, a seventeenth century general perhaps, dressed in robes, the garland on his head counterbalanced by the substantial nose, one hand at his side with a scroll, the other outstretched – pointing in the direction of something important, glory, perhaps, or maybe a greater allowance from the public purse. The statue has a rich patina of copper green, supplemented by generous splashes of white; the hand and the nose and the garland are an ideal perches for gulls, keeping watch on the human traffic that flows beneath them right and left along the pavement.
Today, just after twelve, they’re watching an elderly man slumped on the shallow steps around the plinth, a sports bag off to the side, and a younger, cleaner looking guy on a mobile phone glancing up and down the street. Their attention is drawn not so much to the man or the young guy (although you never know what might come of these things), more to the scattering of liquorice allsorts around the old man. There’s too much activity at the moment to jump down and claim the sweets, but they know how to wait.

I’ve met Stanley before. Ex-army. Street drinker. Punchy, creatively obnoxious. I’ve always been struck by the tidiness of his moustache. His coat and trousers may be shiny from sleeping rough, his hands scuffed and filthy, but his moustache still has a parade-ground clip to it.
‘He says he needs help,’ says the young guy, putting his phone away. ‘I don’t know what’s the matter, but he looks in a bad way. I think he’s wet himself.’
‘Okay. Thanks for calling. We’ll be fine now.’
‘Did I do the right thing? I wasn’t sure...’
‘You absolutely did the right thing. It’s kind of you. Thanks for your help.’
He walks off.
‘Hello, Stanley. What’s going on with you today? Do you have any pain?’
We help him sit upright.
‘Yah fuppin’ conks. Ah’ll punch yah fuppin’ brains out. Ah’ll...’
‘Now, now, Stanley. There’s no need for that. We’re here to help you. We’re the ambulance – do you see? The ambulance. Now try to relax your fists and tell me what’s wrong today.’
‘Yah mutha-fuppin’ conk. Ah’ll cut yah. Ah’ll eat yah fuppin’ eyeballs.’
‘Stanley? Look at me? We’re not going to help you if you behave like this. Do you understand? Do not swear at us, please. Just tell us what’s wrong.’
He starts to cry.  
‘Mah boys’ he sobs. ‘Mah boys r’all dead. DEAD, yah fuppin’ bandstand. Yah don’ undersand. D’yous? D’yous?’
‘I’m sorry to hear it, Stanley. First things, first, though. It’s all a bit public here. Why don’t we get you on the ambulance and have a chat about it there? Yes? Come on. We’ll carry your bag.’
We help him up. He walks heavily, dragging his feet and pitching forwards, so we have to take a firm hold of his arms and shoulders. People make way for us, some of them looking horrified, some of them laughing. I know it must look as if we’re arresting the guy, but we can’t help it. He needs firm handling or he’ll have us all in the flowerbed.
‘Three steps up.’
Rae just has time to put a couple of inco pads down on the trolley before Stanley lands himself there. He seems to fall asleep instantly, and gives me an evil look when I prod him awake again.
‘Tell us what’s going on today, Stanley.’
He stares at me without talking.
‘Come on, Stanley. Enough with the Paddington Bear act. How are you feeling?’
He starts to laugh, a phony, pantomime-villain chuckle.
‘Don’t mess about, Stanley. Let’s have your arm out of your coat and we’ll do your blood pressure at least. Sit forwards for me.’
It’s a struggle. We’re both conscious of his fists as we work.
‘There. Thank you. Now then. Tell me what’s wrong.’
‘Yah fuppin’ conk. Yah think yah sah brave, doncha? Yah mutha-fuppin’ conk. Ahm gonna rip yah heart out an’ feed it ta ma dog.’
‘What dog? Look – do you need our help, Stanley? If not, we’ll just release you back into the wild. Is that what you want? Do you want to get off the ambulance?’
‘Fine. Let me go.’
We undo the cuff and help him to sit up. He starts to fumble around in the pockets of his coat, eventually pulling out a wad of old letters, bus tickets and about thirty pounds cash.
‘Is tha’ enough to get some food?’ he says, holding it out.
‘Yes. You’ve got plenty there. So off you go and get yourself something nice.’
‘Fine. Okay. Yah fuppin’ conks, yous.’
We help him back down the steps and watch as he staggers back in the direction of the statue.

Five minutes later, the back of the ambulance cleaned up, we’re just about to climb in the cab and drive off when we see a young couple with a husky dog standing over Stanley at the foot of the statue. He’s sprawled there again, one arm raised up to the foot of the statue in a heroic attitude of suffering.
We go over to see what’s happening.
‘Oh! Hello! That was quick!’ says the young guy, taking the phone away from his ear. His girlfriend, the one with the dog, smiles at us. They’re both so incredibly cool – the dog, too, who pants and smiles benignly and seems ready to offer whatever help it can.
‘I think he’s having a heart attack or something. He said for me to call,’ says the young guy. ‘I hope I did the right thing.’
‘Yep. Absolutely. It’s kind of you to stop like this. We’ll sort things out from here.’
‘Thanks guys,’ he says.
‘We should totally work for the ambulance’ says the girl. ‘We made a call yesterday, too.’
‘I’ll give you a cut of my wages’ I tell her. ‘I think that’s only fair.’
She laughs, and they all wander off.
I pull on some fresh gloves and lean over Stanley. The gulls have cleaned up most of the liquorice allsorts.
I reach out and squeeze his shoulder, and say his name in a weary, sing-song kind of way: ‘Stanley, Stanley, Stanley’
He turns and squints up at me.
‘Yah fuppin conk’ he says.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

the truth about john wayne

Even though it’s only half past six in the morning, Eloise is outside waiting to meet us. Immaculately dressed in a floral print jacket and tweed skirt, sensible leather flats, and a mustard yellow handbag hung with geometric precision over her left arm, she is as bright and neat and pressed as any picture you’d find in a catalogue.
She waves as we turn into the drive.
‘Are you the patient?’ says Rae, winding in the window down. It hardly seems possible – a ninety-four year old female with chest pain.
‘Yes’ she says, giving a little shrug, and turning the corners of her mouth down. ‘It’s probably nothing. I hope I’m not wasting your time.’
She steps up onto the ambulance with a neat little bob of the shoulders, and settles down on the trolley.
We set about taking a history, recording her obs, doing an ECG.  Eloise tells us the chest pain started yesterday, a niggly feeling in the centre of her chest. She thought it would ease off by itself so she didn’t do anything about it. Last night was uncomfortable though. She didn’t get any sleep, restlessly alternating between the bed and the chair. By dawn she was sure something was seriously wrong. She got herself ready, and made the call.
‘I tried talking to the pain. In my mind. D’you know? I do that where I can and it often does the trick. But unfortunately it wouldn’t let me go, so eventually I had to admit defeat and call on your good selves. Thank you for coming so promptly. I hope I haven’t disturbed your morning.’
I tell her it’s a pleasure.
Rae tears off the ECG strip.
‘Fast AF’ she says. ‘No wonder you’ve been having these niggles.’
‘I’m afraid it’s a trip up the hospital, Eloise,’ I tell her. ‘Do you have everything you need?’
‘My bag, my medications,’ she says, reaching out, touching each in turn. ‘Everything else,’ tapping the side of her head. ‘all the most important things, I keep up here.’
We set off.

* * *

‘I’m fascinated by birds,’ says Eloise. ‘Big ones, little ones. Birds of prey. In fact, I’m writing a story about a bird. A falcon.’
‘That sounds great. What happens to this falcon?’
‘Oh – I’ve no idea. I’ve got to do some research. Follow him around and see what he does, where he goes. But I read another book just yesterday about the stars and planets and so on. By that young professor, you know the one? Who’s lovely and enthusiastic and throws his arms about? Apparently he says there are two universes now. No doubt they’ll find more. Everything changes so quickly it’s difficult to keep up. Before that I was reading quite a trashy book about films. Do you like films?’
‘Yes. I love films.’
‘Do you know John Wayne? The cowboy? You know he’s very tall and wobbles about quite a bit? Well, do you know why he wobbles?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Tiny feet! Size six!’
‘My god! I’m amazed he could stay upright at all’
‘And do you know what they used to say about Paul Newman?’
‘I can guess.’
‘They said he was the perfect salesman. He could sell you anything. But despite that, he wasn’t able to talk himself into the navy as a young man. And do you know why?’
‘Small hands?’
‘Colour blind! But I like reading lots of different things. I must admit I was a bit disappointed in the last novel I read. Jilly Cooper. Quite a racy thing about horses. Oh – it was all right for a while, but then I turned one particular page and – goodness! I couldn’t possibly tell you what I read there, it was just too disgusting for words. So do you know what I did?’
‘Marked the page?’
‘No. I chucked the whole thing in the bin. Even though it was a hardback and cost me nine pounds ninety-nine. I know these things go on. I just don’t know why anyone would see fit to write about it. The next book was better, though.’
‘Jilly Cooper?’
‘No. James Patterson. Now he’s a writer. A few grisly murders, but not so many it gets you down. Most of the time he’s actually quite funny.’

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I was chatting to my sister Ellie on the phone. She told me how things were with her, how her husband John was still having problems at work, passed over for promotion in favour of a younger crowd, anxious he was being excluded from the inner management team, maybe they’d be better off emigrating somewhere, the US perhaps? But then, how would that affect the kids? And Ellie’s feeling pressurised at work. A big move would probably do her good. She’s taught for twenty years, but whether it’s because the bureaucracy’s increased, the children are more difficult, she’s less energetic, or all of the above – whatever the reason, something’s got to give.
‘I don’t know’ she says. ‘I should probably do something else. But what? I don’t actively hate my job. I can’t say I love it, either, though. Maybe I could retrain. Be a midwife.’
We mull over the pros and cons. I tell her I’m in the same boat. I want to change jobs, but it’s a tough environment out there. It’s expensive to fund a course independently, and then there are all the stresses jumping ship. You get into a routine. Time passes. It’s easier to stay put.
‘It’s not like I dread going to work’ I tell her. ‘There are plenty of things I like about the ambulance. But working nights is bad for your health, all the heavy lifting. And the constant exposure to social problems. It gets to you after a few years. I was thinking about training as a counsellor, but I don’t know.’
‘It’s definitely an age thing’ she says. ‘It suddenly struck me the other day that a lot of the people we used to look up to are dead now. Do you think that? It’s scary, isn’t it? I get scared. Everyone seems to be dying. Do you worry about it?’
‘Yeah. Now and again.’
‘I mean – what do you think? You must see a lot of it.’
‘I do. A fair bit. But I suppose I’ve got to the point where I differentiate the business of dying with the idea of being dead. Dying is just a physical process like anything else. Pain and suffering, being alone, they’re the things that scare me about dying. But being dead? I think about it now and again. If it makes me scared I try to use that feeling to spur me on to write a bit more, or live a little better. But I don’t know. I’ve no idea.’
We move on to the trickier subject of organising a big family get-together in a few weeks. The politics of who said what and who to, travel arrangements, dogs and trains, can we bring a pasta salad etc. We finalise the date and say goodbye.

* * *

The cohort area in A&E is filling up. It hasn’t reached overflow yet, but that can’t be far off. I’ve been working on the car. There were so many emergency calls outstanding, Control couldn’t spare a truck to transport my patient. Luckily her stroke symptoms had resolved, she was fairly steady on her pins, so I helped her into the front seat and drove her in myself.
There’s no cohort nurse allocated. Crews are having to wait with their patients and there are already long delays. The crew just ahead of me in the cohort area finished their shift ten minutes ago. I’ve still got over an hour left, so I take their patient and set them free. I make sure my patient is comfortable and has everything she needs, then I introduce myself to my new charge.
Mr Rogers seems a little road-worn, a battered old rolator stacked-up behind him on the back of the trolley, along with an assortment of carrier bags and a waterproof coat. In his black suit and collarless shirt, his shoes flapping a bit at the sole, I can imagine him as an itinerant preacher, looking at the chaos around him with his light grey eyes, about to jump to his feet and address the crowd.
‘I’d just checked into the B&B and was going for a walk when the chest pain came on. The spray didn’t help so I ended up calling the ambulance. I’m all right now, though. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’
I fetch him a cup of water and re-arrange his pillow.
‘You could have a nap,’ I tell him. ‘If you don’t, I will.’
I ask him if he’s visiting the area.
‘Moving,’ he says. ‘I had to leave the council flat I was in, so I’ve come down here to have a look.’
I don’t say anything, but it strikes me as odd – a man in his eighties, poor mobility, heart problems, hitting the road.
‘Sounds pretty tough,’ I say. ‘How are you managing?’
He shrugs.
‘I do what I can’ he says. ‘What else is there?’

Monday, September 15, 2014


Carter probably had much the same experience, gingerly stepping through the doorway into Tutankhamen’s tomb – except here, instead of a jumble of gilded leopards, ebony cats and intricately decorated canopic jars, there are shelves of dusty video tapes, a sink full of washing-up, and bag after bag of empty bottles. And instead of a mummified king lying over in the corner, there’s Dot.
But actually, if you were to take King Tut, unwrap him, lie him on the floor and stick a fag in his mouth, you wouldn’t be far off.
‘Ooh – hello love!’ she says, ash falling back into her hair. ‘Who’ve we got here?’
Dot’s husband, Ron, waves his stick in his wife’s direction.
‘I couldn’t get her up’ he says. ‘She’s been there since Christmas.’
‘I have not!’ says Dot, then laughs with a noise like a ceiling collapse in an adjoining chamber.
She’s obviously been here a while, though. Incontinent, cold, her skin an awful grey colour. She seems happy though.
‘Do you know where you are?’ I ask her, swapping fingers with the pulse ox; for all the vital signs it’s showing I may as well have clipped it on the hand of that yellowing Cabbage Patch doll.
‘In bed,’ she says, smiling. ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re actually on the floor, Dot. Can you remember how you got there?’
‘How did I get here?’ she says in Ron’s direction.
‘You lay down,’ he says. ‘How d’you think?’
‘I’m afraid it’s a trip up the hospital, Dot.’
‘Nah!’ she says. ‘Why would I want to go there? I’d rather just stay in bed.’
‘You’re on the floor, Dot.’
‘Am I?’
‘Can we help you up?’
She laces her withered fingers together over her tummy, shakes her head.
‘I’m fine, thank you’ she says.
‘Are you going to shift her or what?’ says Ron, rapping his stick twice on the ruined carpet.
If Dot feels the petulant vibrations through the ruined carpet she doesn’t show it. She carries on smiling to herself, looking past my shoulder up at the ceiling, at the half dozen flies cutting hieroglyphs in the murky zone between the lampshade and the ceiling.
Rae sets the carry chair up in the only clear space available, next to Ron. We start to excavate a path through the bin bags of wine bottles, which clonk and rattle noisily alarmingly.
‘That’s all you, that is,’ says Dot.
‘So? I like my wine!’ says Ron, thumping his stick on the carpet again, a sigh whistling through the bristles of the great, graven grump of his moustache. ‘Everyone needs a vice.’ 

man down

Terry is lying where he fell sometime in the night, wedged in the corner of the bedroom, his cadaverous arms and legs crooked up like some giant, woebegone crane fly. His only covering is the curtains he pulled down on top of him, hooks, track, plaster and all. Luckily it’s been warm and the radiator stayed off, otherwise he’d have suffered burns to his side. All in all, though, he seems to have escaped any fractures, cuts or scrapes. The carer tells us that Terry’s ninety-two and pretty fit. A little underweight, perhaps, increasingly reliant on the carers first thing in the morning, last thing at night, but other than that, rubbing along pretty well. Unfortunately he’s not been able to throw off a chest infection that’s been bothering him the last few months. He spent some weeks in a home to help him over it, was discharged just the other day. But his situation has deteriorated. And now here he is, stuffed up on the floor in the corner of the bedroom, confused, distressed, his withered buttocks and legs encrusted with faeces.
I fetch a selection of cleaning materials from the ambulance and together we set to cleaning him up. He’s so light I can lift him at the hip on my own, giving Rae and the carer just enough room to make a quick scoop of the worst of the mess, and slide an inco pad underneath so we can get busy with a bowl of soapy water. In fact, I’m tempted to clean him up like I used to clean the girls when they were babies: left hand / ankles; right hand / wipes.
The whole time we’re working, Terry mutters incomprehensibly. We make reassuring noises. None of it connects.
Terry’s daughter, Margaret comes in. A brisk elderly woman with brisk elderly hair, she harrumphs into the room, dumps her bag and keys on the bed, and immediately sets about getting in the way as efficiently as if it the whole thing was scripted.
‘I’ll change that water’ she says. She takes the bowl of suds, misjudging the weight and slopping it everywhere, then comes back with clear cold water and a bar of soap.
‘Thanks’ I say. ‘Watch out for the curtains. They’re quite badly soiled.’
She dumps them on the floor, right in the middle of the route Rae had cleared for the carry chair.
‘I knew he wasn’t ready to come back,’ she says, wiping globs of faeces from her hands on an old towel then tossing it onto the bed right by my shoulder. ‘I’ve never seen him as bad as this’
Even though the carer has told us a fair bit of information, she’s new to this address and doesn’t know the whole story. Whilst we work, I ask Margaret a few more questions about Terry, to get a clearer picture of what might be wrong – his past medical history, medication regime and so on. It’s impossible to get much sense from her, though. Even a simple question about when he last saw the doctor only acts as a door through which she hurries down another long avenue of stress and complication.
Meanwhile, the carer finds a clean pair of pyjama bottoms.
‘I don’t suppose you have all this written down somewhere, do you?’ I ask Margaret, feeding Terry’s legs through.
‘Why? I’m telling you now!’ she says, then turns away, throwing up her hands in frustration.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Lily and Geoffrey’s garden is the same, tiny courtyard affair as all the others in this street. You get to it via the kitchen, bathroom extension and a crooked dog-leg of hallway. All this is on the ground floor, below street level. To get to it you have to come down a flight of stairs so steep you need crampons and a coil of rope.
Geoffrey and Lily are both in their late eighties. Lily was out in the garden when her slipper came off, she stumbled and crashed backwards through a rotten pergola of roses. Her hip is obviously fractured.
‘Lily? Listen to me. What we’re going to do is give you some morphine for your pain, a little something to help with feeling sick, and then when that’s started to work we’re going to think about how to get you up to the ambulance. Okay?’
Lily’s husband Geoffrey is standing over her, leaning on a walking stick at a dangerous angle. We want him there for reassurance, but in all other respects – registered blind, as physically precarious as the ruins  of that pergola – he’s another problem to add to the mix.
‘I’ll fetch your dressing gown’ he says. ‘Shall I? Shall I fetch your dressing gown?’
‘Please! Oh! What can I do?’
‘I’ll go and fetch your dressing gown. Just a minute.’
He turns round – would have pitched head first into the dustbins if Rae hadn’t been there to stop him – and then begins a slow and painful shuffle into the kitchen. A few moments later he shuffles back out again.
‘Where is your dressing gown?’ he says.
 Meanwhile we put a blanket roll between Lily’s legs and tie one off against the other for stability. A second crew arrives to help. We use a scoop stretcher and vacuum mattress and strap her up as securely as we can. She panics and keeps grabbing out, almost bringing a shelf of geraniums down on top of us all.
‘Lily? I know this is a horrible thing for you, but it’s very important you try to stay as calm as you can. We’re going to carry you upstairs in a minute, but it’s very steep and we’re going to be turning this way and that. You’re perfectly safe though. We’ve got you strapped up, there’s four of us, and you’re absolutely not going to fall. Okay? You’ve got to help us, Lily. You’ve got to keep your arms inside, and stay as calm as you can. I know it’s difficult, but just try your best.’
We sit Geoffrey on a chair in the kitchen out of the way. Callum, the paramedic from the other crew, has managed to take a panel from the side of the stairs away, giving us a little, crucial room to manoeuvre.
‘Okay? Ready, set, lift.’

There’s an acronym for everything in the ambulance service. The acronym associated with manual handling is T.I.L.E: Task, Individual, Load, Environment. As soon as we start to move Lily, that acronym starts to bend and shake under the stress of it all until the dots between each letter fly apart and the whole, articulated sense flies apart under the strain.
We bend and twist and stoop and stretch. Even though there are four of us, the cramped conditions prevent us from distributing the work load evenly, so at times just two of us are carrying the weight, at unhealthy angles. At one point I find myself at the head end hauling back up the steps with my legs spread apart. It’s an ungainly, improvisational muddle, and Lily calls out and cries through it all. But she’s safe, we make progress, and once we reach the hallway we have a little more room and things ease up.
Outside and the late afternoon air is wonderfully refreshing. We lift her onto the trolley, and wheel her over to the ramp. High fives and back-slaps, slamming doors, like an exultant removal company.
Geoffrey had said he wanted to come with Lily to the hospital, so I go back inside to fetch him. I find him walking up the stairs, and honestly, if you’d asked him to climb the Blackpool Tower it couldn’t have been more of a challenge.
‘Nearly there’ he wheezes.
‘How long have you lived here?’ I ask as I take his hand at the top.
‘Fifty years,’ he says. ‘And I have to say, these stairs don’t get any easier.’

Thursday, September 11, 2014

kindred spirits

The tomatoes in the nursing home garden were glossy and plump. Mr Cranshaw had almost filled his modest Tupperware container, but then either because he overreached himself, or because the weight of all those tomatoes proved too much, he pitched forwards and ended up sprawled on the path. The staff put a pillow under his head and a rug over his shoulders, and then called for us.

Although he is shaken up a fair bit, a little scuffed and bruised here and there, Mr Cranshaw is otherwise unhurt. We help him back to his feet, and then after a pause for him to get his bearings, lead him arm-in-arm back to his room.

It’s one of the nicest rooms I’ve seen. Small but comfortably proportioned, at the far end is a large square window overlooking a garden full of colour and interest. A striped awning has been partially lowered outside the window giving just the right amount of shade from the late afternoon sun without obscuring the view, and in the margin of this shade is an old armchair, the plush a little rubbed, the varnish on the wooden armrests worn a little black – but a loved and comfortable thing, one of those chairs that seems to resonate with the dreams of the occupant it’s absorbed over the years. Opposite the chair is an equally venerable walnut writing desk and Windsor chair, whilst above it, a selection of books and ceramic figures on a half dozen oak shelves. Beneath the shelves, a single bed, neatly made up with a forest green chenille bedspread. And then all around the walls, a display of family photographs that would seem from here to cover every generation and every national drama since the Edwardian era.

‘What a lovely room’ I say to Mr Cranshaw as we help him to his seat by the window.
He nods graciously.
‘Thank you. It was all by chance, of course. It just happened to be available when I came.’
One of the care assistants brings him a cup of tea. He thanks her affectionately.

Amongst the photos on the wall, wearing his black and white stripes with as much savoir faire as any of the uniformed and medalled relatives around him, is a badger.
‘What’s the story?’ I ask.
‘Oh him?’ says Mr Cranshaw. ‘One of the carers was kind enough to take that picture for me. It’s most peculiar. You see, I like to sit in my chair and look out over the garden and think about this and that. And I suppose over the years the animals have come to recognise me to some degree. I have all sorts coming up to me now. Squirrels, birds, foxes – and the badger you see there. He swings by most evenings. He comes up to the window and waits for me to bring him something back from the dining room. And d’you know? If I show the slightest hesitation in opening the window, he raps on the glass with his claw as if to say: Would you mind hurrying up? A chap can’t wait around all day! He’s a curious fellow, in many ways.’
Mr Cranshaw pauses to take a sip of tea, shakily replaces the cup on the saucer again, sniffs deeply, then brushes his moustache dry with the crooked knuckle of his index finger.
‘P’raps he recognises a kindred spirit,’ he says.

the chute

Agnes has been dumped at the plug-end of the bath by the sudden and catastrophic failure of her new hydraulic chair. Maggie, the carer, couldn’t possibly lift her out on her own, so she drained the water, helped Agnes’ straighten her legs as best she could around the taps, then, after covering Agnes with a few towels to keep her warm, called for help.

We try the remote control, but although the seat grinds and clonks, it stays in the down position.
‘Steady on’ says Agnes, looking alarmed.
There’s no room for the inflatable cushions, so we set about lifting her manually.
‘Let’s just move these towels so we can see what’s what,’ I tell Agnes, climbing up onto one side of the bath. Rae climbs up on the other, bracing herself against a strategically placed chair.
‘I don’t mind. We’re all made the same. Well, maybe not you, love, but honestly, I’m past caring.’
We roll up the largest towel and pass it underneath her arms, then, once we’ve helped place her feet as flat as she can get them back on the bottom of the bath, we take up the slack in the beach towel and ready ourselves.
Ready, set – lift!
Agnes paddles backwards with her feet and stands up.
After adjusting our positions, we help her lift her legs over the side of the bath.
Maggie puts a towel on the toilet seat. Agnes sits on it.
‘Blimey O’Reilly’ says Maggie, wrapping Agnes in a dressing gown.
‘I’m not using that thing again,’ says Agnes.
‘God, no. It’s an instrument of bleedin’ torture’ says Maggie.
Rae picks up the remote control and tries the up button again. This time the chair gives an obedient shiver, then begins to rise up with a powerful hydraulic hum. Two hinged wings either side of the seat slide up the enamelled sides of the bath, unfolding flat as the seat comes level with the edge, forming a wide platform.
‘So far, so good.’
‘You see, what’s supposed to happen is - I walk with my zimmer to the side there, then turn and sit on that seat,’ says Agnes. ‘Now see what happens when you lower it.’
‘Here we go’
Rae presses the down arrow. The chair immediately starts to sink, the sides gently folding up again. It reaches about halfway, when suddenly there’s a loud crack and the chair lurches forwards, as violently as a mechanised bucket tossing its cargo into a dumpster.
‘Blimey! Look at that!’
‘You poor thing!’
‘Maybe they sent you the wrong package’ says Rae, putting the remote control back in its holster. ‘Maybe this is for a water park.’ 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

a quick getaway

As a finisher, it couldn’t be better. Man, 30. OD. Brother on scene for access.
‘Load n’go’ says Rae, howling through the traffic.
‘Snatch n’ grab’
‘Hump n’dump’
It’s been a busy day. Hot, busy, difficult. Finishing on time has become our only goal, the tape across the road we’re desperate to crash through, collect our winners medal, and be heading home covered in glory and a foil blanket.
Rae parks up outside the block and we both hurry in, past a group of teenage free-runners practising on the forecourt. One of them covers railings, steps, railings in three giant strides, balancing on the last rail with his arms out, before casually stepping off. I’m feeling so energised and focused I’m tempted to join in. How hard could it be?
And so much quicker.
They nod at us as we pass through the main entrance and into the block.

Luckily the door is on the first landing; we won’t have far to walk him out.
I knock.
No-one comes.
I knock again.
We check the address.
I bend down and look through the letterbox – guarded with brushes.
Rae sighs and folds her arms.
Just as I’m about to knock again, the door opens. A young woman, hastily dressed, frowning at me over folded arms.
‘What?’ she says. Then it sinks in we’re ambulance, and she suddenly looks worried.
‘I’m fine’ she says. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘We had a call to someone at this address. A thirty-year-old male?’
Thirty?’ she says. ‘I don’t think so.’
Rae taps me on the shoulder.
‘It’s street, not court’ she says. Then to the woman: ‘Sorry to have bothered you.’
I pick up my bag and we head for the stairs whilst the woman watches us from the doorway.
Rae checks her watch.
‘Still time’ she says.
Back outside, and the free-runners are making one-armed cartwheels over a metal bin.
‘No worries,’ says Rae. ‘It’s only a little way back up the street.’
I feel like cartwheeling all the way there.


James is waiting outside the house for us.
‘I waved as you went past but you didn’t see me’ he says.
‘We went to court, not street,’ says Rae. ‘Sorry.’
‘That’s okay,’ says James. ‘Sorry to have called you. He’s just upstairs. I think he really meant it this time. He left a note.’
He hands me a scrappy piece of lined paper torn from a pad. A confusing scrawl in different coloured pens, with a bunch of childlike flowers – circles, stems, leaves – just after the apology and signature.
James leads us up a series of bare boards to the first floor. It’s a narrow, cluttered house, oppressively airless. If I walked further along this landing I’d probably end up crouching as I reached the vanishing point, but as it is, James pushes open a battered door to the right, and shows us into Gerry’s bedroom.
Gerry is naked on the bed, his vast torso swelling like the crest of an unexpectedly steep hill we’re suddenly expected to climb. When I lay hands on him he rears up and starts flailing his arms about. Then he vomits, a noxious fluorescent outflow of tablets and Gatorade. We struggle to get him on his side. We call for back-up.
Control tell us that they have several outstanding emergency calls and can only spare us someone on a car. We know that Gerry is at least a four-man lift, but even that doesn’t address the difficulty of getting him in the chair to begin with.
‘Send a crew on a truck as soon as you can’ I tell Control. ‘We’ll keep you updated.’
Even putting a mask on Gerry is impossible. He wrenches it off his face, rolling around, grabbing sheets, thrashing about – all without making more than a few deep, diaphragmatic grunts. His eyes bulge; I’m sure if he sees us at all we’re simply tormenting creatures in a terrible dream.

The paramedic on the car arrives, followed soon after by another truck.

After a quick conference we decide to get a specialist search and rescue team running. They have the equipment and skills to manage a patient like this: a large, wrap-around vacmat with straps and carrying handles for eight.
‘We’re all on nights,’ says Callum, the paramedic on the car. ‘We’re happy to sit on this one if you want to get away.’
We thank them, collect our kit together and leave.
We pass James in the hallway, looking bleak and thoughtful, his arms folded.
‘Thanks for all you’ve done,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry it’s so difficult. Gerry’s had a few – problems.
We shake his hand and then hurry back out to the truck.
We’re only three-quarters of an hour late.


A couple of days later I run into Callum at the hospital. He tells me how the job panned out. How the rescue team arrived in three vehicles, one a massive truck with chunky wheels and a daunting array of lights. They had to call in another specialist team to RSI Gerry as he was too combative to move. Then once he was chilled out they had to pretty well dismantle the house to get the angles they needed to manoeuvre him down the stairs.
He hands me his phone, some pictures he took of the scene in the road outside, all the vehicles lined up, even a police car for crowd control.
‘I tell you what – it was a major incident’ he says, looking over my shoulder as I scroll through. ‘It  looked like the end of the world. It’s a good job you got away when you did. We were there a couple of hours or more.’
I hand the phone back to Callum. Nowhere in any of the pictures could I make out Gerry’s brother, but I had a sudden, strong image of him, standing discretely somewhere, the other side of the police tape, perhaps, his arms folded, watching the scene.
‘Were you very late?’ says Callum.
I shake my head.
‘Nope. Well – forty-five minutes. The way it panned out, we were happy with that.’