Henry is surrounded by paintings of owls. An owl on a branch, an owl staring out from the hollow of a tree, an owl with a mouse in its beak, an owl silhouetted against the moon.
‘I paint other things’ he says, nodding to a cheetah. ‘But there’s something about owls…’
The paintings aren’t all that good, it has to be said (not out loud, obviously). They’re over-coloured and a bit flat. I get the impression Henry learned to paint owls in the same way Walt Disney learned to draw Mickey: one circle for the head, and two smaller circles for the ears, perfectly round whichever way the mouse was pointing.
‘Great!’ I tell him. ‘You’re quite an artist.’
‘It’s good to have a skill,’ he says. ‘I’m lucky. I’ve always been good at art.’
He rolls up his sleeve so I can put on the blood pressure cuff.
‘You know, when Susan was in hospital I was pretty much living there. I used to tuck myself away in a corner, and I’d make drawings of everything – you know, the drip stands, the beds, all the comings and goings. The nurses would come over, and they’d say What are you up to there, Henry? And I’d say: Well, I forgot the camera, so I thought I’d try drawing instead. And they’d look at the drawings, and they’d say: You don’t need a camera, Henry! These are as good as any photograph…’
He smiles at me as I take the cuff off and he rolls his sleeve back down.
‘All right?’ he says.
‘Fine. Everything’s fine.’
‘Good!’ he says. ‘I feel fine, I must say. Everyone’s made such a fuss of me. It really is quite lovely.’
‘You’re worth it – as the advert says.’
‘That make-up one. Loreal. I think.’
‘Oh,’ he says, and watches me for a moment as I write down his observations.
‘What do you think of my paintings?’ he says.
‘Yeah! They’re great! Did you do that cheetah, as well?’
‘I did. But owls are mostly what I do.’
He folds his arms and proudly surveys the room, left to right, as smoothly and comprehensively as – well – an owl.
‘You know – when Susan was in hospital I was practically living up there,’ he says looking straight at me again. ‘I used to tuck myself away in a corner, and I’d make drawings of everything, all the drip stands and the beds and all the people coming and going. And the nurses, they’d come over and stand around me, and they’d say: What are you doing there, Henry? And I’d say: Well, I forgot the camera, so I thought I’d try drawing instead. So they’d look at my drawings, and they’d say: You don’t need a camera, Henry! These are as good as any photograph!’
‘They sound like a nice bunch of nurses.’
‘Oh they were!’ he says. ‘They really were.’
I sign off the sheet and put my things away.
‘Well – that’s me finished, Henry. Do you have any questions before I go?’
He raises his eyebrows, takes the tiniest beakful of water from the glass by his side, carefully puts it back, and then smiles at me. And I just know what he’s going to say.