Mrs Hornchurch had an episode of fast AF last week, was rushed to hospital by ambulance, cardioverted in resus, kept in a couple of days and discharged home yesterday. She has a blown, slightly startled look to her, and holds a handkerchief in her hands, turning it over and over.
She’s taken me through to her front room. It’s as hot as an orchid house in there, with the sun blazing through the patio windows, the radiators on.
‘This is a nice spot,’ I say, immediately sweating.
‘I like it toasty,’ she says.
Just the other side of the glass is a timber walkway leading down to the garden, and a small, black café-style table with a single chair.
‘My great grand nephew Josh built that,’ she says. ‘He’s a carpenter.’
‘Looks like he did a good job.’
‘He did a very good job. He’s a very good boy. He did it when he came back from Thailand. He came straight over from the airport and hardly stopped for tea.’
‘It must make it easier getting down to the garden.’
‘It wasn’t for me. He built it for Ralph, when his hips started going off.’
‘My lovely dog.’ She nods over to a framed portrait on the wall, a Border Collie. ‘He died last month.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
I clip the SATS probe on her finger and count her pulse at the wrist.
‘Collies – I think they’re the most intelligent breed,’ I say. ‘I mean, we’ve got a lurcher, Lola, and she’s pretty fast, although she’s slowing down a bit now. And you know, the only thing that’s ever been able to catch her is a Collie.’
‘Yep. What he’d do, this Collie, he’d sit down and watch her go racing off in the distance. And he’d take his time, figuring out all the angles. Then he’d stroll over to cut her off at the nearest point. And she’d pull up short, you know. She’d dig her paws in, like one of those cartoon stops. And she’d look up at me in disgust. What am I supposed to do with this?
‘They are smart,’ says Mrs Hornchurch. ‘Poor old Ralphie.’
I unclip the probe, write the figures down, and wrap the blood pressure cuff round her arm.
‘The only thing that uses the ramp these days are next door’s cats,’ she says.
‘How many cats?’
‘Four or five. I think it’s four. I think one of them just goes round again. It’s like they take it in turns, up and down, up and down, tails in the air, like models on er…on a catwalk.’
‘And what do you think about that?’
‘I don’t mind. I’ve never been one of those I’m a dog person or I’m a cat person. I’m just an animal person. They’re all different, aren’t they? They’ve all got their thing. I even like watching birds on the bird table.’
‘I bet the cats, do, too.’
‘Oh – they’re interested all right, but they never seem to do much about it. There’s this one bird, a wood pigeon. A big old item. I’m surprised the table’s still upright. He comes down and he just sits there, and he eats and eats and eats. Clears the whole table. I call him Henry.’
‘The Eighth?’
‘No. The Hoover.’

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