Ken is sitting in his pants, sprawling out of the armchair, his long arms and legs pointing east, west, south east, south west, as startling to look at as a giant species of starfish unexpectedly brought up in the nets.
‘Hot, in’t it?’ he says, just managing to lift a hand to acknowledge me as I come in. ‘I think I might actually be melting…’
At least he has a fan, though. It rattles away on a nearby table, surprisingly little air moving despite the racket, just enough to tease a few strands of hair from the top of his balding head.
‘Take a seat,’ he says. ‘Yellow folder’s just there.’
I’ve come to give his daily Tinzaparin injection.
‘They showed me how to do it,’ he says, struggling to sit up, ‘…but when it came to it, y’know, to actually putting the needle in, I just couldn’t. My nerve completely went. So I’m sorry you’ve been dragged out to take care of business.’
‘Don’t worry about it, Ken. It was good of you to try.’
I chat to him as I get things ready.
‘I know what you’re doing,’ he says, tapping a finger on the side of his nose. ‘You’re taking my mind off what’s coming next. I know all the tricks.’
‘Yeah – but the other thing is I’m actually quite nosy.’
‘You’re in the right line of work, then.’
‘I suppose so.’
He tells me he’s originally from Warwickshire.
‘That’s a beautiful county,’ I say. ‘Sharp scratch.’
‘It is,’ he says. ‘Ouch.’
‘No need to apologise. You’re doing a grand job.’
‘There! All done!’
‘Not too bad,’ he says, a little subdued, rubbing the spot on his abdomen. ‘These days I feel like a bloody pin cushion.’
‘I went to Statford-upon-Avon for the first time a couple of years ago,’ I tell him, popping the used needle into the sharps bin. ‘I thought it was an amazing place.’
‘It is an amazing place,’ he says. ‘It’s where Shakespeare was born.’
‘Yep. We did the usual things. Went round the house. Saw a play at the theatre.’
‘He was definitely what you might call a genius,’ says Ken. ‘I don’t think that’s too strong a word. Some people are clever, like, but he was in a whole other league. Have you seen pictures of him, with his forehead bulging out like that, like a bloody balloon? That must’ve been the pressure of all them brains. And the thing was, it all come from nowhere. His dad was some kind of businessman. I don’t know what his mum did. And suddenly they have this kid who’s writing all these poems and plays all over the place. Amazing, when you think of it.’
Ken laces his fingers across his belly and watches me write in silence for a while.
‘What would-a happened to me, in the past, like?,’ he says eventually. ‘Before all these injections?’
‘I don’t know, Ken. Maybe nothing. But I suppose people didn’t tend to live so long in the past, did they? I mean – look at Shakespeare. He was dead by the time he was fifty-two.’
‘I ‘spose. I’m not sure how much good it does any of us, all this jabbing and poking, all these whatnots, these pills. It’s just dragging it out. I mean, take my old mate, Bill. Not the Bill you’re thinking of, another one. He weren’t that old when his kidneys packed up. So every other day he had to go to the hospital to be plugged in to a big machine that rinsed ‘em out and kept him going a while longer. I said to him, I said Bill! Is it worth it, mate? Wouldn’t it be better to let nature take its course? So he came off the machine and he was dead by the weekend. I said to the doctor, I said Did you give him a kick, to make sure? And the doctor give me a look like this…’
He widens his eyes, straightens his mouth and leans towards me out of the chair. Then after a funny kind of pause, relaxes back again.
‘Didn’t bother me,’ he says. ‘Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But by Christ! It ain’t half ‘ot today…’