Bill is sitting in his lounger, his black velcro support boot up on a stool, one hand draped over a walking stick. He’s watching an old British war film, Dirk Bogarde tapping a map of Europe with his swag stick, laying out the bad news with a ‘look here chaps’ and a ‘jolly decent of you old boy’ whilst the room of bomber crews heckle him respectfully and laugh heartily but fall silent just as quickly because anyone can see the whole thing looks like a bally serious show.
‘I’ve brought you that stuff!’ I say, struggling in with a perching stool, urinal bottle and pressure relieving cushion. ‘Happy Christmas!’
‘That’s very good of you!’ he says. ‘Where you’ll put it all, I don’t know.’
‘Well – the perching stool goes in the bathroom, you sit on the cushion, and the urinal sits by the bed.’
‘It’s not a big bathroom,’ he says. ‘But you’re welcome to have a look.’
He’s right about the bathroom. There’s just enough space to put the stool in front of the sink and still be able to open the door to get in. It’s a bleak but well-ordered room, one toothbrush and one shaver on a single glass shelf, a soap dish, a mirror, a towel. I experiment with a couple of positions, then leave the chair square on to the sink and go back into the living room.
The briefing has ended. Dirk Bogarde is having a chat with one of the lower ranks, a buck-toothed cockney sergeant who screws up his cap as he tells DB he’s married with six kids and how she’ll cope this Christmas without him he don’t know. Dirk Bogarde puts a hand on his shoulder and winces, which doesn’t bode well for the mission. But the cockney sergeant doesn’t seem to pick up on it, thankfully, and the sergeant and the scene move on.
‘See what you think,’ I say to Bill as I go back through. ‘I think you should still be able to get in and out alright. You and your leg.’
‘I’m grateful,’ he says. ‘Sorry to drag you out at Christmas.’
‘I was working anyway. It’s a pleasure. Ho ho ho.’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘And a ho ho ho to you, too.’
Whilst I check Bill over for blood pressure, SATS and so on, the film cuts to a montage of mechanics putting the last touches to the Lancaster bombers, the crews clambering into the cockpits, going through their flight checks, calling out this and that, waving cheero, snapping on their masks.
‘Could be worse,’ I tell him, looping the stethoscope back round my neck.
‘What – my blood pressure?’
‘No. We could be at war. Anyway – your blood pressure’s fine, Bill. Better than mine.’
‘Is that right?’ he says. ‘Well. Something’s working, then.’
‘So how come you fell and broke your ankle? I didn’t get the full story.’
‘Me neither. One minute I was getting out of bed, the next I was lying on the floor with my leg twisted under me.’
‘What did the doctors say about it at the hospital?’
‘I don’t know. And I didn’t care to ask.’
‘Oh? Why not?’
‘Well. They might turn round and tell me.’
‘That’s true enough.’
We both look at the TV. The bombers are leaving, one after the other, a flock of monstrous black birds roaring off into the night.
‘Lock the door on your way out,’ says Bill.