I’m wearing overshoes, an apron and a pair of gloves, and still it doesn’t feel enough. Mind you, Gladys and Henry’s house is so dreadful, I’d probably feel twitchy in a biochem suit.
Henry is supposed to be looking after Gladys, but his health has taken a turn for the worse and nothing’s been done for a good long while. They’ve been referred to social services in the past, but each time they’ve declined any interventions or meaningful packages of care. They have full mental capacity, so of course they’re entitled to live how they want. And if that means repeated ambulance call-outs for falls amongst the clutter, or acute episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting, well that’s just the price the wider community has to pay for their refusal to accept help in the longer term. They’re trying to be independent, and that’s a good thing. Except, they’re not succeeding. And not only is it harder to put things right when they’ve gone so wrong, the cost of providing acute interventions is higher than if they’d accepted more timely help.
To hear Henry talk, you’d think there wasn’t anything particularly amiss.
‘Things ‘ave gone a bit to cock,’ he says, scratching his head. ‘I can usually make it on the bus to go down the supermarket for the ready meals and whatnot, but I ‘int been able to do that lately what with my hip and everything. And then the neighbour who sometimes brings stuff in has gone on holiday. And so has my son! So we’re up the creek without a paddle.’
He lies back on the bed.
‘You couldn’t get me some toast or something, could you? I’m starving.’
Which is why I’m heading to the fridge.
My overshoes are almost pulled off step by step as I walk across the kitchen floor. There are mounds of unwashed crockery, exposed food in dishes that were probably microwaved weeks ago and then abandoned. Decrepit salads partially covered in tin foil. Half a can of chicken in white sauce, chuckling with bacteria. And there, standing in the corner of all this horror, the crowned Prince of Carnage, Glady and Henry’s fridge.
Even the flies don’t seem confident. They fly towards it, cut a ninety degree turn, head towards it again, cut back…
I bat them away, reach out a hand, and open the fridge door.
I remember reading about the labours of Hercules. One was to kill a particular lion, one was to kill the Hydra, one was to stop the NHS from being privatised, I think – and one was to clean out a gigantic stables filled with horses and cows and so on. But Hercules was smart as well as strong. He used his lion-hatted head, and diverted a nearby river to run through the stables, flushing them out.
Well. It sounds like that was pretty effective.
But standing here, gacking in front of this fridge, I’m here to tell you, Herk. You’re going to need a bigger river.