There’s an extemporary, Mad Max feel to the front of the house, holes in the concrete forecourt filled in with rubble and crap, a derelict caravan green with mould dumped arse-first, blocking the sitting room windows, missing tiles in the path bridged with scraps of plasterboard, chipboard, whatever. It’s like the occupants started scavenging a skip, then gave up, and went back inside.
I knock on the door.
Immediate, furious barking, shouting.
Eventually, from behind the glass: You alright with dogs, yeah?
‘Yep. Fine. It’s okay.’
The door opens and someone throws an old, brindle-coloured footstool at me – that’s what it feels like, at least – a footstool magically and riotously animated, with a tail and teeth.
‘That’s enough, Nipper! Let him alone, now!’
Nipper springs up and down so enthusiastically you’d think he was on a trampoline.
‘Jes’ ignore ‘im’ says Thomas, waving me inside. ‘He’ll wear himself down eventually.’
Thomas takes his seat on a ruined sofa, in front of a TV showing the Formula One. I put my bag down, and Nipper is all over it. If I’m not careful he’ll be running off down the road with my stethoscope trailing behind him, like a cartoon dog with a string of sausages.
‘I can put him outside if you like.’
‘Nah. He’s alright. It’s nice to have an assistant.’
Thomas turns out to be an easy patient, if by easy you mean someone who doesn’t want any help, and just wants to sit in all day, drinking and smoking himself into oblivion.
‘What’s the use, fella? I appreciate you coming round n’all, but honestly – there are worse people out there. I don’ wanna waste yer time.’
I ask him if he’d like me to make referrals to various people, for equipment and physiotherapy and so on, especially given his recent hospital admission and diagnosis. It all seems a bit pointless, though.
‘Fair enough,’ he says. ‘It might be worth a punt.’
He stares down at his hands, listlessly prods the heel of his right hand with the thumb of his left.
Nipper – who had retreated exhausted to his basket, suddenly leaps up and starts barking again, trampling straight over me in his eagerness to get to the front door. A second later the door opens, and a guy so huge steps into the room the whole house seems to tilt in his direction.
‘I’m Shaun, Thomas’ son,’ rumbles the guy, leaning down to shake my my hand, making a real effort not to pick me up and shake the whole person by mistake. ‘Everything alright with the ol’ fella?’
‘Yep. All good, considering. There are some things we could do to help – if he’ll let us.’
‘Hear that, da? Don’t keep saying no to everything, would ya now?’
Thomas sneers and bats a hand in the air.
‘Yah!’ he says.
Shaun hesitates in the doorway, like he feels he should do more but can’t think what. It’s astonishing to think that Thomas is his father – not just the difference in size, but in vitality and sheer physical presence. I picture one of Thomas’ sperm, scrub-chinned, spitty roll-up in the corner of its mouth, Stan Laurel twist of hair, idly corkscrewing its tail through the vulval gloom, by sheer blind accident driving its head before the thousands of others through the softly yielding wall of a certain egg.
‘If you want me I’ll be in the van,’ says Shaun.
I can’t believe he means the ruin out front, but it’s true. I see the shadow of it rock alarmingly as he goes inside. How it bears his weight I have no idea. Maybe when they go on holiday, he forces his legs through the floor, his arms through the window, and runs them all there.
‘Do you like the ol’ Formula One then?’ says Thomas, nodding at the screen whilst he fishes his tobacco tin out from behind a cushion.
‘I don’t really follow it,’ I tell him. ‘I’d love to have a go, though.’
‘What – driving one of dem things?’ He grimaces, then attends to the business of rolling himself a fag, holding a paper between a thumb and two fingers, and then shakily losing half the tin of tobacco trying to fill it. ‘Nah!’ he says, giving up, rolling the fag ineffectually, running his tongue along the gummy strip. ‘You gotta have nevers of steel for dem things.’