Mr Collingwood knows his flat is cluttered. I’m afraid it happened by degrees, he says, as mournfully as the captain of a ship who had the sextant upside-down and ended up beaching in a strange and unmanageable part of the world.
‘Have a pew,’ he says, although his is the only one not covered with books.
‘That’s okay. I’m happy to stand.’
I put my bag down and look around.
‘Can I have a look at your yellow folder?’
‘Be my guest,’ he says, waving me in the general direction of nowhere in particular. ‘A sorry tale, but no doubt you’ve heard it all before.’
At every stage of the assessment he makes variations on the same, grim joke. When I take a SATS reading he says So there’s air in the old bellows? When I feel for his pulse he says I’ve got a heart? When I take his temperature: I’m not stone cold, then?
As a change of subject, to lighten the tone, I flip the disposable plastic probe cover from the tympanic thermometer and hold it up between my finger tips.
‘See this?’ I say. ‘You see them dotted around patients’ houses all the time. If you didn’t know what it was, you’d think the pixies had been out. The little health pixies.’
‘Let me see…’
I hand it to him.
He places it in the centre of one great, fleshy palm, and holds it up to the light.
I wait for him to say something, but he seems transfixed. After a full minute, I wonder if he’s being incredible mindful, or simply fallen into a cataleptic trance. Suddenly he takes a big, sighing breath, like a whale coming up for air.
‘It reminds me of something,’ he says. ‘A hat, made of straw, that I saw somewhere once…’
‘Wales? Thailand? In a film, was it…?’
‘No-oo. Not that.’
He leans in, moving his great, barnacled snout closer to his palm.
I lean in, too.