I knew it would be difficult to find. The Beeches, Crossways. The very minimum of information (demonstrating the upper class theorem which states that the amount of words in any particular address is inversely proportional to the amount of money it takes to acquire it). I’m surprised there’s not a family crest on the fax. There’s a postcode, though – a sop to modernity – and my satnav has certainly done its best, but still I need help with the last little stretch, because the flag’s in the middle of an expensive nowhere, and I’m worried that a guy like me in a car like this driving slowly from grand stone gatehouse to grand stone gatehouse will inspire an armed response.
The voice when it answers is as brisk as a knighthood.
‘Oh, hello! My name’s Jim. I’m with the Rapid Response Service. I’ve been asked to visit Mr Bletchley and I was wondering where you were.’
I’m sorry – who did you say you were?
‘Jim. From the Rapid Response. You know. The hospital.’
Who sent you?
‘I think it was Mr Bletchley’s GP.’
I can assure you it wasn’t. I’m a GP.
‘You’re the GP?’
No. I’m A GP. My husband’s GP is Dr Smith. Shouldn’t you know that? And I can assure you I’ll be talking to Dr Smith as a matter of urgency, because this is simply unacceptable. What did you think you were coming here to do?
‘Anyone who gets referred to us has an assessment by two people – a clinician to do the blood pressure and so on, and then a physio or OT to assess mobility issues, the social side of things…’
And you’re a clinician are you?
‘I’m what they call an Assistant Practitioner.’
And what is that? A nurse?
‘No – more like a nursing assistant.’
What nonsense! My husband’s vital signs have been taken already today. Someone called Bartlett.
Yes. Bartlett. He said he was from the Rapid service people or whoever you are. Now look. This is ridiculous…
‘I don’t know anyone called Bartlett.’
I can’t help that. What I can help is my husband being bothered by an endless stream of people traipsing through the house on some fool’s errand. This is absolutely not what I intended. I asked the care agency to refer my husband to an occupational therapist because he’s been struggling with his mobility. And now all of a sudden I have nursing assistants dropping in willy nilly at all times of the day and night to absolutely no purpose.
‘Would it be better if we had this conversation face to face, rather me sitting by the side of the road on the phone?’
Yes. I think it probably would. Just park in the street and I’ll let you in.
‘Could you tell me where you are then?’
What do you mean? Just do what you did before.
‘But I haven’t been before. That’s why I called. To find out where the house is.’
This is absurd. I shall be talking to Dr Smith, you know.
She gives me directions to The Beeches – strict instructions to park out on the road, as ‘the gardeners are in with all their vans and things and there won’t be room’. She’s right about that . A team of gardeners in neon orange safety gear and hard white hats are standing around having coffee, screened from the house by a stand of rhododendron, a giant orange chipper nearby. They nod good morning to me; one of them, the tallest and toughest, tosses the dregs of his coffee off to the side, in a grimly knowing kind of way, like he fully expects to be feeding me head first through the chipper in a couple of minutes.
I walk on up the gravelled drive, rap the lion’s head knocker on the iron-banded door, and step back.
After a long, corridor’s march, Mrs Bletchley appears, an elderly but vividly animated woman, ruthlessly dressed like some kind of debutante samurai, in slacks, polo neck, pearls and earrings, with a phone pressed to her ear.
No. I don’t know who it is. Another Bartlett she snaps into the phone, and after running me through with her eyes, nods for me to go through to the lounge, where Florence, the live-in carer is wringing her hands and waiting.
Luckily for me, Florence is the perfect antidote to her employer, a natural correction, in the same way you often find dock leaves growing next to stinging nettles.
‘Have a seat’ she says, kindly indicating an impressively plump sofa with the flat of a perfectly manicured hand. A great, limestone fireplace dominates the room, a discretely-lit oil painting above it – dawn on a Scottish loch – and then on a low display case to the side, a collection of ceramic bulldogs.
‘Can I get you a tea or anything?’
‘No. It’s okay, thanks.’
She fetches me the folder, tells me everything I need to know. I can see immediately there’s been a duplication. Ricky, one of the other assistant practitioners, has already been in that morning for the clinical assessment. His surname’s Partetto, and I have to admit, when he says it quickly, in his Italian accent, through that trendily thick beard, it’s quite conceivable you might hear it as Bartlett. All that Mr Bletchley needs now is the OT assessment, which should be anytime soon. I tell Florence what’s happened; she smiles with great warmth and understanding.
‘That clears that up!’ she says, and then glances towards the door. ‘Mrs Bletchley will be pleased.’