There’s a small enclosed porch at the front of the house, and that’s where Karen goes to smoke, a bit like an air-lock in reverse. The porch only has three things in it (not including Karen): an ashtray, a pack of cigarettes and an enormous plastic pipette. Quite what that’s for I don’t know, but I don’t hang around to ask.
‘Dad’s in the kitchen having his porridge,’ says Karen, taking another deep drag and nodding behind her as she blows out.
Her father Keith is sitting at the kitchen table. A tall, lean man in his seventies, he struggles to his feet to shake my hand and thank me for coming. He’s had a long spell in hospital, discharged home with a summary of his complex health problems and a request to sort out equipment and therapy. His handshake is warm and firm, and despite his illness he still has an air of quiet competency about him.
‘Sorry about Karen’ he says. ‘She’s adopted the porch as her smoko and we can’t persuade her to stop. She’s got learning difficulties,’ he adds. ‘She’s a good girl.’
I set up shop at the table and we go over how things are and what Keith might need.
‘You wouldn’t think to look at me now but I used to be so fit,’ he says. ‘I played football, tennis. Swam in the sea. Built this house, worked full time. There weren’t enough hours in the day. And if you’d have said to me after all that I’d have ended up like this I’d never have believed you.’ He works the porridge around in his bowl a while then adds: ‘Never smoked. Not a one. Mind you – I think Karen’s taking care of that side of things all by herself.’
And as if summoned by her father, Karen strides into the kitchen, bringing with her a palpable cloak of smoke.
‘All right?’ she says.