me & the feet

It’s inconceivable that a ninety-six year old man should live four flights up, without a lift.
‘That’s why I’ve cut down on the gin,’ says Lionel. ‘Otherwise I get a bit giddy on the top step.’
It’s a lovely Georgian flat, though. No doubt the nursery or servants quarters or something when the house was first built. It has a shonky, out-of-line feel, as if centuries of high winds and direct sunlight have warped the beams and brickwork.
‘None of the windows shuts properly,’ he sniffs. ‘All very beautiful from the outside, but just try spending a winter here. The Georgians had a great flair for composition, but I wouldn’t give tuppence for their craftsmanship. Would you like a seat?’
He gestures to a worn leather armchair that looks dangerously comfortable. ‘Can I get you anything?’ he says. ‘A coffee or tea perhaps?’
‘No, I’m good thanks, Lionel.’
He laughs.
‘They all say that! I’m good. Now – what does that mean, exactly? I asked you if you wanted a coffee. I wasn’t questioning your morals.’
Lionel is so charming it’s hard to focus on the purpose of the visit – the basic health screen to see how he’s doing after a recent exacerbation of gout.
‘Damned feet!’ he says, stretching both his bandaged legs out straight. ‘But I had to laugh when the doctor said gout. I told him I didn’t touch port. Far too sweet. Or cheese. Or nuts. I’m quite circumspect when it comes to food. Which is probably just as well, given the altitude.’
As I work through his obs he entertains me with a benign commentary on the world.
‘Do you have children?’ he says.
‘Two girls.’
‘Two! Ah! A happy number! Now – you know – the odd thing is, I never used to have time for children. They were just a sort of incidental nuisance. Something one saw in the background, like pets. Most of my friends seemed to be sufficiently motivated to have a couple, but I never did. I have to confess to you, though, that just recently I find them quite amusing. Watching them jump about the place. They seem so unencumbered by life, so fresh. Just like dogs, actually. Now, dogs are also quite amusing to watch. Except dogs keep their charm. Children grow up into such hulking great brutes. I remember chatting to Harry, a good friend of mine, and I couldn’t help noticing this young woman of quite alarming proportions smoking a cigarette on the corner. And when I asked Harry who it was he told me it was Milly, Arnold’s eldest. Is it? I said. Little Millicent? Good gracious me! What on earth went wrong?
He rubs his arm as I take the blood pressure cuff off.
‘Dogs are different in that respect,’ he says. ‘They keep their charm as they get older.’
‘Well, gout withstanding, everything seems fine, Lionel. You’re in amazing shape. What’s your secret?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he says, re-buttoning his shirt. ‘Just luck and sheer bloody-mindedness, I suppose. If you can call it luck. I seem to have outlasted everyone. I had the most wonderful parents you could imagine. The house was filled with light and music. Do you like music? And then my younger brother, Merv. So funny and charming. All gone now. All gone. And now it’s just me, stuck up here, sitting around like a chump.’
He stretches his legs out again.
‘Me and the feet.’

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