You could write it out as a theorem:
The actual speed and simplicity of any given last job is inversely proportional to the stated degree of speed and simplicity.
‘Mr Harrison was discharged home late this afternoon, but he desperately needs a commode, zimmer frame, urinal and grabber. It’s on your way home. It’ll be a hi-how-are-you-here-you-are and away. Okay?’
‘Okay! Sounds great.’
I load up from stores and hurry out.
* * *
The quality of any unadopted road surface and street lighting is inversely proportional to the monetary value of the houses either side.
Counter-intuitive, maybe, but I’ve seen it before. An unadopted road requires that every household contributes to its upkeep. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that rich people have access to whole stables of lawyers genetically bred to resist any payment by their clients into anything resembling a social enterprise – a position underwritten by the understanding that everyone who lives here will be driving around in gigantic four-by-fours, as insulated from the craters that pockmark the surface of the road as astronauts in moon buggies. If it tears lesser cars apart, so be it. It won’t be anyone they know, or have any financial exposure to. And it’ll discourage common access as surely as a stone lions and a spiked gate.
The road’s so horribly broken up it’s like I’ve been asked to deliver to a quarry. I find the Harrisons address only after a great deal of grinding and swerving, swearing and cursing. It feels like I should be driving a clown’s car, parping the horn when I finally pull up and all the doors and wheels falling off.
The Harrison’s address, La Repose, is a forbidding, floodlit, hacienda-style building, set back from the road at the top of a steep flight of steps. It’s like ascending to Heaven, if anyone ever made that journey burdened down with mobility and sanitary equipment, which I doubt, given that Heaven is a place where all those problems are taken care of, and the most you might need is a stand for your harp.
I’m out of breath by the time I reach the top. I remember seeing a Laurel & Hardy short once, where the two of them try to deliver a piano to a place very similar to La Repose. I remember one of them – Laurel, no doubt – letting go and the piano rattling all the way to the bottom. I’m tempted out of pure cussedness to do the same, although maybe a comic variation of my own, where I leave the equipment at the top and throw myself down.
I pull on a plaited iron cord. Somewhere deep inside something tinkles. Eventually, after a long pause, either because of the distance to be covered, or because she’s only just realised it’s the butler’s night off, or both, Mrs Harrison comes to the door.
She’s dressed in a bunch of chintzy, flowery wraps, or – if not dressed so much as covered in material that’s magically cinched itself around her as she floated through the boutique. I’m guessing she’s pretty exhausted after the day’s shenanigans, but allowing for that and for the effect of any medications she may or may not have been prescribed, still there’s an unfortunate haughtiness to her that her Romanesque features do nothing to underplay. Mrs Harrison out-Woolfs the Woolfs.
‘Hello. I’m Jim, from the hospital. I’ve brought some equipment for Mr Harrison.’
She sighs and steps aside – which I take as an invitation to enter, or – if not an invitation exactly, more a regretful accession to the barbarous necessities of the situation.
At least the door’s wide, with plenty of room for me to struggle in with my load.
I set it down in the hallway and smile at Mrs Harrison.
‘Okay! Where’’d you want it?’ I say, suddenly sounding like a delivery guy in an Ealing comedy. If I had a flat cap I’d be taking it orf and scratchin’ me ‘ed.
‘You’ll find him upstairs,’ she says, pointing upwards, then turns and ghosts off through an arch.
Even though I want to be quick, I’m worried about knocking stuff over. The staircase is generously proportioned, but there are alcoves on each small landing, each one with a plinth and sculpture or vase. That, and the number of paintings on the walls make me hesitate before going up fully-loaded.
What the hell, though!
Just as I’ve balanced myself as best I can with the zimmer over my shoulders, the commode in front with the urinal, grabber and some other things balanced precariously on the seat, Mrs Harrison appears again.
‘I say! This needs to go, too’ And reaching over, with a fastidiously high-fingered gesture, she places on the very top of everything one small box of Lansoprazole.
‘Thank you very much,’ I say.
And she stands aside to watch as I begin my ascent.