A lovely terraced house, pots of herbs following the line of steps up to the front door, an antique boot scraper, a lion’s head knocker. Inside it’s quite another matter. The place looks ransacked. Even the kitty litter is scattered about.
Ray lives here. He’s forty-eight. He has a bowel condition, but he copes. What’s more difficult to manage are his recurrent bouts of severe depression. At its worst, he doesn’t even get out of bed to go to the toilet. He’s been sectioned in the past. It’s looking likely it’ll happen again.
I’ve been sent round last thing in the evening to see he’s okay, and administer his medication with some sandwiches and a cup of tea. I know the tea-time carers had a job cleaning him up, changing his bed clothes and so on. I’m hoping he won’t need more of the same; luckily for me, all he needs is food and meds.
Whilst I’m in the kitchen preparing everything, Ray’s lodger comes back from work. A young guy in a dry-marker goatee, rumpled suit, tie down a notch, work bag over his shoulder, lopes in. It’s quite a shock, seeing someone so urbane in such chaotic circumstances, like an IT consultant blithely wandering onto the set of an intense police drama.
How can he bear to live here? How is he managing?
Of course I don’t say any of this. Instead I make the usual chit-chat. How was his day? The weather. This n’that. He gets something out of the fridge whilst I carry on making the sandwich. I have my back to him, so I’m not sure what he’s doing. I hear the clicking of a camera. When I glance round, he’s holding a small tin of something in front of him, taking pictures of it.
Is it something mouldy from the fridge? Is he building a dossier of his dreadful surroundings, to make some kind of claim?
I can’t help being more direct.
‘What on earth are you doing?’
‘Chestnut pate,’ he says, holding it out to me.
‘Yep. A friend bought it – ooh, must be well over a year now. I’ve only just got round to opening it. But – uhm…you know…’
He sniffs it, turns it round speculatively.
‘…it’s a bit sweet for my taste. I wanted to tell him, but I thought I’d better send a picture as well. So he’d know what the hell I was talking about.’