You wouldn’t need the commemorative display on the sideboard (whistle & chain, stripes, badge, photograph, certificate) to know that Ray is a retired copper. Despite his great age and his various ailments, he still has that Dixon of Dock Green posture, that certain way of looking at you with his hooded eyes that’s both warm and sad at the same time. And when he sniffs – which he does, frequently, bunching-up his lips and twisting them off to the right along with the tip of his aquiline nose – you wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull a notebook from his pyjama pocket, lick the end of a pencil and say Right, then.
‘Shame you didn’t have your whistle when you got stuck behind the bed,’ I say, nodding at the sideboard.
‘Yes!’ he says. ‘They’d have come running, all right.’
He waits patiently as I unpack all my stuff, then adds:
‘But you know – everyone’s been so good. I can’t fault them. The ambulance girl who showed up. On that rapid response car. She was wonderful. Just a little scrap of a thing. But fiery! A real pocket rocket. She couldn’t get me out on her own but she made me comfortable, and then called for back-up. Yes – I’ve had such good attention. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for more.’
‘So what happened when you fell?’
‘We-ell. It was just one of them things. I’d been feeling a little – shall we say – under the weather? Completely lacking in oomph. I don’t know why. My daughter Jenny had just gone off to work. I went to go to the bathroom, toppled over backwards and ended up wedged between the bed and the wall. I was like that for ages. I called out for help but o’course, no one could hear me. I cried with the pain, at one point. In my shoulder. Thank God Jenny rang midday to ask what I wanted for lunch, and when I didn’t answer, she came over. That’s when she called the ambulance. And they got me up and carted me off to hospital. So what with one thing and another, you could say I’ve been in the wars, poor old sod.’
We carry on chatting as I run through the tests.
‘I don’t want her to worry,’ he says, offering out his arm. ‘I tell her, I say Jenny – I’ve had my life. You can’t hang around here. You’ve got to go out and live yours. But I suppose it can’t be helped.’
‘How long were you a policeman?’
‘Forty years. I did pretty much all of it. Beat bobby, CID, crime scene, fingerprints and all that. Ye-es, I had a wonderful life. Mind you, you get to see the other side of things. I’d go to the most appalling crime scenes, murders, every conceivable abomination. People can be wonderful, but they can be dreadful, too. It makes you think. Post mortems. I lost count of the post mortems I went to. And it’s hard to put that lot behind you. You can’t help carrying it round. It gets to be a bit them and us. One minute it was Good evening, constable – how are you? would you like a cup of tea? The next minute they’re jumping on your back trying to cut your throat. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I enjoyed my work. And I always had my family to come back to.’
After I’ve finished taking his blood pressure and packed my gear away, I write up the notes and then pause to talk some more.
‘Here’s something you might be interested in,’ I say.
‘My mum doesn’t have any fingerprints!’
‘No? Why’s that then?’
‘Well – my youngest sister was convicted of fraud and did some time in prison, unfortunately. Eighteen months – although she didn’t serve all of that.’
‘Anyway, when mum went to visit her in prison, they went to take her fingerprints, as part of their protocol.’
‘They couldn’t get them! It caused a hell of a fuss.’
‘I bet it did.’
‘No-one had ever heard of it. Apparently it’s quite a rare genetic disorder.’
‘Is that so?’ he says. ‘Well – she missed her calling, then. She could’ve been a world famous cat burglar.’
He smiles, then sniffs, with that brilliant, sideways twist of the lower half of his face. And then vigorously rubbing his index finger under his nose like a violinist energetically working his bow, he settles himself again, and adds: ‘Although – I’d have still made the collar.’