Even though I’d been given the heads up about Mr Jackson and the reason behind the strictly male only policy on his care plan, it’s still a shock to walk into his kitchen. The walls are covered with a dreadful mural – hundreds of images of naked women, carefully cut-around and arranged, all angles, one on top of the other. I feel like I’ve been black-magicked, miniaturised and dropped by the scruff of my neck into the skull of a pornographer.
Mr Jackson is waiting for me in the kitchen, sitting on a low, fabric and wood armchair, his bony elbows planted on the armrests, his chin resting on his hands, one leg crossed over the other, the top foot patiently tapping.
It’s a basement flat, and the kitchen is only dimly illuminated by whatever light makes it down through the overgrown garden.
I reach for the light switch; he asks me not to.
‘See that little switch there?’ he says. ‘Put that on instead, would you?’
It illuminates two bare bulbs that flicker like candles to the right and left of a long shelf running beneath the largest section of mural.
The kitchen is infernally hot, which makes it all worse.
‘Did you know one of the rings on your cooker’s on?’ I ask him.
‘Of course I fucking know!’ he says. ‘I should do! I’ve lived here forty years!’
But then he separates his hands and lightly claps them together again, smiling with a slick and grey expression that reminds me of Gary Oldman in Dracula.
‘I’m joking, of course!’
Before I do the examination I ask him if he’d like a cup of tea.
‘No,’ he says. ‘It’s not simply a question of dabbling a tea bag in a mug. There’s a complicated ceremony and it’s not worth going through it all now. Could I have a glass of water instead?’
‘Sure. Tap or bottle?’
‘This is England!’ he says. ‘The water’s filtered God knows how many times. Not like other places where you’d be scared to take a piss in it.’
I run the tap a moment and fill him a glass.
‘Not that glass. The other one. No – that one. The decorated one. No – the other decorated one. Thank you.’
He sips the water.
‘What about breakfast?’ I ask him.
‘A little banana, sliced in a bowl,’ he says. ‘I have to watch what I eat.’