Mrs Waring has been diagnosed with BPPV – Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. One of those conditions that’s as difficult to pronounce as it is to treat.
‘Her husband’s been admitted with a stroke,’ says the Coordinator, ‘so the stress of all that isn’t helping matters. I think she has a good network of friends, but she’s eighty-odd and vulnerable.’ She hands me the paperwork. ‘Retired district nurse,’ she says. ‘Watch out.’
If the bungalow is quiet when I walk up to the door, it changes the moment I ring the bell. A dog starts barking somewhere deep within the house, and a second later hurls itself against the door, repeatedly impacting the frosted pane like a hairy brown and white football being kicked against the glass.
Larry! Larry! says a woman’s voice, but the dog only interprets that as an instruction to try harder. He changes tactic and starts trying to rip out the letterbox, presumably to make a hole big enough to squeeze through and reach my throat.
Just come straight in! the woman calls. He’ll be alright.
It’s an act of faith to do it, but Larry’s obviously a small dog, and even though I know the smallest dogs have the biggest complexes, I’m reasonably confident I can handle anything he throws at me. Still, mindful of the sharpness of little teeth, I slide the rucksack off my back and hold it low in front of me as I slowly open the door.
‘Good boy! There’s a good boy!’
Larry backs up, adding a few apoplectic sneezes to his barks, and starts turning wild circles on the spot, like he’s winding himself up to helicopter the distance between his jaws and my throat.
Mrs Waring appears round the sitting room door on all fours.
‘Oh! Hello!’ I say, putting my bag to one side (Larry jumps on it, grabs hold of one of the straps and begins shaking it from side to side, flipping me looks between each thrashing, as if to say: You’re next). ‘Are you alright?’
‘Yes, I’m fine’ she says, in a clipped tone, as if there’s absolutely nothing in her behaviour to suggest otherwise.
‘Have you fallen? Are you hurt?’
‘Not at all,’ she says. ‘Larry! Will you stop that, please?’
Amazingly, Larry lets go of the bag, looks at Mrs Waring for a moment, then trots over to sniff around my trousers.
‘He likes you,’ she says. ‘That’s a start.’
I kneel down on the carpet.
‘So tell me how you ended up on the floor,’ I say.
‘It’s very dull,’ she says. ‘I had another dizzy episode so I lowered myself down before I fell. I’ve done it before.’
‘Are you in pain?’
‘No. Just a little woozy. Now look, could I ask you to do something for me?’
‘It’s a bit cheeky, I know, but you see – Larry needs his breakfast and I think that’s why he’s being such a pest. If he doesn’t get his breakfast he won’t leave us alone. So if you wouldn’t mind, could you give him some of the meat that’s on the top of the fridge? You’ll find a pink bowl on the draining board and a fork with a broken handle. He doesn’t need much. His stomach’s the size of a mouse.’
Larry has obviously recognised some of the keywords here, because he stops sniffing and sits on his haunches to stare up at me. He’s a funny-looking dog, a cross between a Chihuahua and a Jack Russell, with a few chromosomes of Fruit Bat sprinkled on top for good measure. He’s obviously as elderly as Mrs Waring, a wiry, lopsided sneer to his muzzle, like a grizzled old gunslinger deludedly thinking he can still outdraw anything that rings the bell.
‘He’ll be in a better mood when he’s had some breakfast,’ says Mrs Waring.
As if to demonstrate, Larry starts barking again when I stand up to go into the kitchen, and doesn’t stop until I’ve finished scraping some meat out into the bowl.
Meanwhile, Mrs Waring has crawled into the kitchen, too.
‘Show me how much you’ve given him,’ she says.
I bend down to show her the bowl.
‘Too much,’ she says. ‘He’ll be sick.’
I scrape out a portion and present the bowl to her again, acutely aware that if anyone took a photograph of this scene through the kitchen window, it wouldn’t read well in the press. (Broken Britain: Nurse treats elderly woman like a dog).
‘Still too much!’ she says. ‘Lose a third and you might be right.’
I do as she says, and finally get the go-ahead.
Larry clears the bowl in three furious snaps, then starts barking again.
‘I don’t think it’s worked,’ I say.
‘Nonsense,’ says Mrs Waring, turning round to crawl out of the kitchen and into the living room. ‘He just doesn’t like strangers watching him eat.’