Lionel has the same birthday as me, minus forty years.
‘So you’re the twenty-ninth of December, too?’ he says. ‘How interesting! I don’t know about you, Jim, but one thing I noticed was the tendency to get rather a lot of suspect Christmas and birthday present combinations.’
‘Me too. I was always tempted to ask for the receipt so I could work it out.’
‘But there were consolations. I never used to mind it when I’d finished opening my Christmas presents because I knew I’d be getting some more in a few days’ time.’
‘There was always that consolation. And then it’s New Year’s Eve…’
It’s interesting, meeting patients with the same birthday. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything, though, tempting as it is, especially if the patient shares the same year, too, and hasn’t fared so well. The last patient I met who was my exact astrological twin was an alcoholic whose career had ended, wife run off with his best friend, been made homeless, and fallen down a flight of stairs. I’m pretty safe with Lionel, though. There’s the great age difference, to give us a tactful margin. And then there’s the fact that Lionel is one of the most inspirational ninety-five year olds I’ve ever met.
‘I would never have guessed you were ninety-five,’ I say to him, reflecting on his dates. ‘If you’d have said eighty I’d have said no way.’
‘You’re too kind!’ he says. ‘But carry on…’
Lionel’s been referred to us because he fractured his arm gardening.
‘I’ll tell you what happened,’ he says, shifting awkwardly in the armchair. ‘I was out there pruning back the fuchsia when I took a step back to see what needed to come off next. But the trouble was, you see, I’d forgotten about the laburnum stump. I’d taken the thing down about five or six years ago, something like that, pretty much to ground level, but I’d put off grubbing up the roots. It’s quite a tough job as you know, and I was working up to it. So what happened was I caught my foot and over I went, flailing around like Charlie Chaplin on a bad day, landing on my arm and causing the injury you see before you. An absolute bloody nuisance, but there you are. You make the best of these things.’
He settles back in the chair.
‘I suppose you’d have to say it was revenge,’ he says. ‘That poor tree! I expect it’s been waiting to get me all this time…’