The worst blocks have the loveliest names.
Carnelion House. By rights it should be bold, angular, cut from a solid block of plastic. Not a few, desultory storeys thrown like a bad cap over a huddle of failing shops.
You’d never know it was there. Even the SatNav’s embarrassed, blindly and hurriedly planting its red-button flag somewhere in the general area. The name of the block had fallen away years ago, so even if you parked exactly at that spot, and looked around, you’d never see it. And if you asked someone walking by in the street, no doubt they’d say: ‘Nah mate. Never heard of it. Unless they lived there. In which case they’d say: ‘Who wants to know?’
I only know Carnelion House because I went there once on an ambulance call. It was one of those addresses we tended to know, an ambulance lore of warning, passed from person to person in the way that a knowledge of obscure and dangerous reefs are communicated naturally between sailors. We used to have a lot of calls to Carnelion House, domestic abuse, assaults, overdoses and so on. The last time I was there the patient who’d taken too much heroin threatened us with his needle. I can picture him now, slumped on the edge of the bed, a line of drool shining from his bottom lip as he gripped the needle in his fist, point-down, like a dagger.
‘You come near me an’ I’ll stab yer in the fuckin’ EYE’ he said.
He obviously wasn’t quite as unconscious as reported, so we let the police go ahead of us with their vests and gloves and no-nonsense demeanour.
‘Wow! I’m impressed you knew where to go!’ says Connie, as I park up and lead us both to the discrete front door.
‘I’ve been here before.’
‘In the ambulance?’
‘In my dreams.’
I buzz the buzzer.
It turns out to be the same flat as Mr Stabby. I recognise his flat mate, Paco, an extraordinary guy holding himself painfully, in a semi-crouch. With his haunted eyes and his long greasy hair partially obscuring his face, he reminds me of that drawing of Nebuchadnezzar by Blake.
‘Hello,’ he says, gruffly, then letting go of the door, lurches precariously back towards the bedroom.
It may only have been two or three years, but things have headed south at a pace. These days Paco barely makes it out of bed. He has a bucket by his side for toileting. Someone on the same landing brings him food now and again. Maybe pays his TV licence, rates and so on, I don’t know. He’s been deemed to have capacity to make decisions for himself, so any attempt to engage by various services have met with little or no success. It’s only a recent ambulance call that’s brought him back into focus. And it feels as if maybe things have changed enough to convince him to accept help.
‘I’m sorry it’s such a mess,’ he says, collapsing back on the bed, the same bed Mr Stabby was sitting on when he made his vow to me. ‘But you see, my carer died.’