how to make an impression

‘To begin with, I’m not Cedric. I know it says Cedric on my birth certificate and all those official places, but it’s really a terrible mistake. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to be a Cedric. I think my parents must have lost at cards or had some kind of fit or something. So although it says Cedric, please feel free to ignore it and call me Bill. Everyone else does.’
He settles back in his armchair.
‘The bathroom’s through there if you’d like to wash your hands,’ he says.
‘It’s okay. I’ve got a bottle of hand cleanser here.’
‘As you wish.’
I take a small bottle out of my bag and pull the cap off. I’m a little heavy-handed, though. When I squirt some foam onto my left palm, a gob flies over and lands on the leather pad of an antique writing desk.
‘Oops,’ I say. ‘Sorry.’
‘Will it stain?’
‘I shouldn’t think so.’
‘Here. Give it a dab, would you?’
He passes me a pressed cotton handkerchief and I gently pat the area. It doesn’t look great, but I’m hoping the difference in colour is due to the wetness rather than any damage caused by the antiseptic soap.
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Have you got any polish? I’m sure that’ll sort it out.’
‘Hm’ he says. He takes the handkerchief back from me, folds it up and puts it on the little table next to him.
Bill is so immaculately dressed – hair oiled and combed to one side, silver moustache trimmed to an even millimetre around his mouth, a precisely knotted tie just visible at the V-neck of a treacle-coloured jumper, an ironed crease running mid-leg down to a pair of monogrammed slippers – he hardly looks real. In fact, he’s so perfect I wouldn’t be surprised if, when he stood up and turned sideways, he revealed that he was in fact a tall, beautifully illustrated, two-dimensional bookmark.
Funnily enough, Bill used to be an antiquarian bookseller, a job he strode into when his frigate docked for the last time after the war. It’s easy to imagine him, sitting at the back of the shop, reverentially turning the pages of a rare book, then swiping off his glasses and getting down to business.
‘One thing I do want you to do is look at my back,’ he says.
‘Because of the fall?’
‘Yes.’
‘So what happened, Bill? I read the ambulance report but I wouldn’t mind hearing it from you.’
‘Would you? Very well. It happened about a week ago now. I was getting out of bed to visit the bathroom in the early hours, as one does. Especially at this age. Several times. So anyway, I sat there a moment on the edge of the bed, collecting my thoughts, berating my fate and so on, and I thought – I wonder what the time actually is? So I reached forward to look at the watch I keep on the dressing table. Well – for some reason that I cannot account for, that simple gesture extended, and extended, and the critical point came and I just couldn’t help myself. I think as I rolled forwards I must have turned and caught my back on the dressing table, because apparently I have a mark there that rather supports the supposition.’
‘Okay. Let’s have a look, then.’
He stands up, and then holds on to his zimmer frame whilst I untuck him and expose his back. As well as a livid, generalised bruise across the upper left side, there’s the impression of one half of a dressing table drawer – the corner of it, mostly, with some of the ornamental handle – everything picked out in a livid red line.
‘Ouch!’ I say. ‘That’s pretty harsh! It’s so clear I could almost read you the name of the cabinet maker.’
‘Yes. Well – it is a fine piece. I bought it at auction fifty years ago. Probably paid a little over the odds but what can I say? It rather made an impression on me.’
And he gives me a perfect, stage wink as he begins the painstakingly slow process of gathering together his many layers and tucking himself back in.

almost done

Eric used to work at Battersea Power Station.
‘I was so tall they used me as a crane, off-loading the trucks,’ he says. ‘Only kidding. I was an electrician.’
‘That’s a cool place to work’ I say, immediately thinking how hot it must’ve been. ‘Iconic. I think it’s luxury flats now.’
‘Well…’ he says, unlacing his huge fingers and holding his hands apart, illustrating with that one, broad gesture the way things go in the world.
Eric’s wife, Georgie, carefully pushes a wheelchair into the room. Even though she’s a few years younger than Eric she’s still in her nineties.
‘Old bones run in the family,’ she says, getting the wheelchair ready. ‘If you can call it running. C’mon, Eric. Chop chop. He wants you on the bed.’
I’ve come to redress Eric’s pressure sore and generally give him the once over. He’s so stiff and frail now it’s like manoeuvring an old longcase clock. It doesn’t help that we’re surrounded by tables of photo frames and ornaments, souvenirs and trophies, the random accumulation of a long and busy life.
‘There!’ says Georgie. ‘Nothing to it!’
Georgie’s tells me as brightly as she can about the nursing homes they’ve been looking at. Eric rolls onto his side and puts the flat of his right hand over his forehead. I can see how painful this is for him, the indignity of strangers coming into the house to perform such intimate functions, the prospect of moving to a nursing home where he’ll be even more dependent.
Suddenly, the light seems to dim in the room, as if there’s been a momentary interruption to the power supply.
‘Oops,’ says Georgie, and then, when it comes back up again: ‘There we are!’
I try to distract him from the task at hand.
‘Were you born here, Eric?’
‘America,’ he says.
‘America? Wow! What happened?’
‘My father was a soldier in the Great War. He fought with the Americans and ended up going over there. To see what it was like. My mother went too of course and that’s where I was born. They did alright I think, but she missed home too much and we all came back. I was only little. And now here we are.’
I’m conscious of the jump he’s just made, and how maybe I should say something about it, about the sudden and dizzying vistas that can open up between the past and the present sometimes. But I can’t think how to put it into words, and anyway, I’ve got to concentrate on the dressing. So all I end up saying is: ‘Almost done.’
Georgie squeezes me on the shoulder.
‘I’ll be out back if you need me,’ she says. ‘I like it when the nurses come. It means I get five minutes to myself.’
And she hurries out of the room.

the band

Normally you can judge how expensive the nursing home fees are by how quiet it is. Today, though, Shaftesbury Manor is positively rowdy. There’s a birthday party in the dining room, and a sea cadet’s brass band putting on a show for the other residents in the lounge.

I’m waiting to take blood from birthday girl (awkward, but the GP was insistent). The party’s just breaking up, so to pass the time I loiter in the doorway watching the band. The conductor is sweating so much her cap is sliding off, her tunic so tight she can barely lift her arms. It’s quite a racket they’re making. Handheld xylophones, trumpets, a drum. I’m guessing the residents slumped in the armchairs are either dead or have their hearing aids turned off, because they look remarkably unmoved, given the volume. Right at the front is a tiny kid on a tuba, blowing so enthusiastically every third bar he’s at risk of putting himself through the window. The band looks confined, antsy, on the verge of something desperate. Any minute now, despite the conductor, they’ll simply have to start marching – over chairs, residents, whatever – down the corridor, out the front door, and off into the free world.

All the party guests have started making their goodbyes, putting on coats, clapping each other on the shoulders, shaking hands, kissing, laughing. I stand back but even so I’m almost drawn in to it. Maybe they think I’m the long-lost great great nephew or something, wearing a backpack because I’ve come from the airport.
‘No, no!’ I say to one of them coming out. ‘I’m a nursing assistant. I’m here to take blood.’
He does a comedy double-take, holds his hands out to the side, turns round and shouts to the others: ‘Who ordered the vampire?’
One of the carers taps me on the shoulder.
‘I’ll get Luciana and wheel her through’ she says. ‘I’m guessing you want a little privacy.’
I nod at the band.
‘I don’t know. At least you won’t hear her scream,’ I say.
The carer frowns, and hurries on.

panopticon

If it’s hard to understand the present, the past is almost impossible.

Take Jeremy Bentham, for instance. Jeremy Bentham was an eighteenth century philosopher and social reformer. He was famous for practising ‘utilitarianism’, based on the principle that it’s the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong. Which sounds okay – until you read about one of his public works, something so nightmarish George Orwell would’ve been proud.

He designed a prison called The Panopticon – an architectural principle he wanted to roll-out into hospitals, schools and other public institutions. The Panopticon was a hexagonal building with a central observation tower and cells radiating out like the petals of a monstrous concrete and iron flower. The idea was that the guards in the tower would be able to keep an eye on the prisoners the whole time. The prisoners wouldn’t know when the guards were looking at them, so they’d be encouraged to toe the line. It was an early experiment in Big Brother culture, the state as an all-seeing, ever-present eye. Maximum compliance, minimum effort.

A prison like this was built on the mudflats at Milbank, London in 1816, a pestilential spot that almost guaranteed the majority of the prisoners would never live long enough to be transported. Added to the fact that anyone who entered the prison quickly became lost in the labyrinthine corridors, and that by some acoustic quirk the prisoners could pretty much whisper and be heard right the way round the block, it meant that the experiment failed and the prison was closed just seventy years later.

I’ve come to visit a patient in a new-build Jeremy Bentham would’ve appreciated. The only difference between Calypso Court and The Panopticon is that on the ground floor here, instead of infirmaries, laundries and mortuaries, there are shops selling candles, bikes and remaindered clothing; instead of bars on the windows there are blinds; and instead of an observation tower in the centre there’s a fountain and public seating, where a bored looking guy flicks crumbs from his baguette to a squabble of pigeons.

Not a great place to live for a paranoid schizophrenic.

Paul is dressed entirely in black, like one of those puppeteers who want to merge into the background so you only focus on the puppet. Paul is in his forties, a reserved, watchful man who stands behind the door when he invites me in. He’s lived here a while but it looks like he just moved in, things in bags and boxes, things drying over chairs.
‘Sorry about the mess’ he says, moving a stack of letters, then putting a magazine over them as a disguise.
‘That’s okay,’ I tell him. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt and I promise I won’t keep you long. It’s just the doctor wanted us to pop by for a couple of days to see how the medication change is going.’
He shrugs.
‘It’s going fine,’ he says.
He picks a grape from a bunch in a plastic tray and nibbles at it whilst I set my things out.
‘Fruit!’ I say. ‘That’s a healthy snack!’
He stops nibbling and frowns.
‘I should eat more fruit,’ I say. ‘It’s so tempting to eat crap all day.’
He finishes the grape then wipes his hands dry on the back pockets of his jeans.
‘Where do you want me?’ he says.

* * *

When I leave, the guy and the pigeons are gone.

fifi the owl

Jeremy is busy marching through the house. He has such a neutral style of movement, and his face is so slack and empty, it’s hard not to think of him as some kind of ultra-realistic, domesticated robot. Except, if he was a robot, it would be one that had a serious neural problem, maintaining the impulse to go from A to B, but utterly lacking the ability to make sense of anything when he got there. He marches up to my chair and stands looking down at me. Then without any change of expression he marches back across the room again, opens the door to the kitchen, goes through, and then shuts the door quietly behind him.
‘He’s like this the whole time,’ says Sheila, smiling the kind of resilient smile I imagine her beating from a metal she mined from her soul.
‘It’s really quite exhausting,’ she says, perching on the arm of the sofa, ready to go if needed. ‘It’s alright for Jeremy. He can switch off at three and have a good sleep. I try to get some time in, too, but it’s not the same as proper bedrest. Then you see he’s on the go again through the night. And I must admit I’m starting to feel the strain.’

Jeremy had a fall the other day. The ambulance came and found it was only a minor injury, so he didn’t need to go to hospital.
‘Thank goodness,’ says Sheila. ‘Jeremy in a hospital! Imagine the chaos!’
But the fall seems to have precipitated a realisation that things can’t go on as they have been.
‘I’ve done my best,’ she says. ‘I have two sons, and they’ve both been telling me I’ve got to put him in a home. And – well, I don’t know – it just hasn’t felt right for me. The son in Australia can’t do much to help, of course, but the other one comes down regularly and does what he can to give me a break. We haven’t had carers because – as you can see – he’s perfectly mobile and there’s not much for them to do. I shower him once a week and the rest of the time I’m just chasing him round the house with a sponge. He wears pads, because he’s doubly incontinent, and that’s a terrible problem. But carers? Up until recently I couldn’t see what they could do for us. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time…’

The kitchen door opens and Jeremy walks back through, straight up to the coffee table, where he picks up a magazine, flicks through it urgently, puts it down again, turns, heads back to the kitchen and slowly shuts the door.
‘But now I know I have to put Jeremy in a home,’ she carries on. ‘He’s not safe here, and I’m completely exhausted. I can feel my health beginning to go.’
‘I’m not surprised. I think you’ve done amazingly well to cope this long.’
‘Do you?’ she says. ‘I don’t know. You see – I feel so wretchedly guilty all the time. And the funny thing is, I know that if the situation was reversed, he wouldn’t hesitate. If it was me marching around the place like this, Jeremy would be outside waiting for the ambulance.’
‘Oh. Sorry to hear that.’
She shrugs.
‘You can only ever do what feels right for you,’ she says.

On the other side of the room is a large, red brick fireplace and black slate hearth. All along the mantelpiece, and standing around the hearth, are dozens of stone and ceramic owls. The largest is to the right of the fireplace – a cat-sized modern sculpture, where the owl has been reduced to the minimum details you need to identify it: plump body, pointy ears, engraved lines for the wings, and two deep-drilled and perfectly round holes for the eyes.
‘Do you like my owls?’ says Sheila.
‘I do,’ I tell her. ‘Especially that one.’
‘Fifi?’ says Sheila. ‘Yes. She’s my favourite, too. She keeps an eye on us. She doesn’t miss a trick.’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I can see that.’

mr n.

Mr Norrington has a long history of disappearing. When he goes, he goes suddenly, ‘Marie Celeste’ style, flat door open, television blaring, lights on, mug of tea cooling on the table. And where he goes? No-one has the faintest idea.

Reading his notes, it seems that things just build up. He gets agitated by the number of health professionals calling round, becomes increasingly non-compliant, combative, even aggressive. The last notes on his file are succinct.
At this point Mr Norrington decided to become angry and order us out of the flat, slamming the door behind us and banging on the glass with his fist. Double-up visits only, please.

That evening he was gone. And – following the protocol for any patient that vanishes whilst under our care, and especially with someone with so many health problems – we were obliged to do the usual ring-arounds, the hospital, next of kin, scheme manager, drunken friend, all of whom had pretty much the same thing to say, which was that basically this was what he did, and to try not to worry too much. The same protocol was clear that we should register his disappearance to the police, who (I imagine) took down the details with the same level of enthusiasm as the person giving them.

We can’t discharge the space on our case list where a patient used to be. So the consequence was that over the next few weeks Mr Norrington kept cropping up, albeit in an oblique, third-hand kind of way. You’d overhear someone mention his name on the phone, or two people talking about him in the kitchen, or see that someone had been tasked to go round and see if he’d come back, or liaise with the police again. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see a gang of nurses wearing t-shirts with his face on them climb out onto the roof of the old hospital and set off a flare. Monitor the radio. Stakeout his flat with coffee cups on the dashboard, doughnuts, cigarettes.

It’s the last hour of my shift. I’ve finished my visits, all the follow-up admin. I’ve put in a mileage claim, looked over my workload for the following day, organised my files. I’m so bored, I’ve even cleaned up the kitchen and put the dishwasher on. But there’s still an hour to go.
‘Shall I pop round and see if Mr N’s back?’ I say to Anna, the co-ordinator.
‘Yes but he is double-up, darklink,’ she says. ‘It’s too dangerous for you to go on your own.’
‘I’m fine with it,’ I say, yawning. ‘I promise I’ll be careful. And if anything happens, I accept full responsibility.’
‘It’s not that – it’s just we worry about you. I would hate for something to happen to you.’
‘Me too.’
‘You know what I mean. This Mr N he is very difficult and has very sharp teeth like wolf. Did you read his notes? He sounds to me quite an angry person.’
‘He does. But I won’t go inside. I’ll just pop round and see he’s alright. Then I’ll go. I don’t suppose he’ll want me to hang around.’
‘No. Only if he hungry and need somethink to roast for dinner. Oh my goodness! I’m scaring myself! Okay, Jim. You go and knock on the door. But keep us updated – okay? – and don’t take any unnecessary risk. We care very much about you, and anyway, tomorrow is busy day. We’ll be screwed if you not here.’
‘I promise I won’t take any risks. Back in a minute.’
‘Okay, darlink. Take care.’

I know this block well. I’ve been to any number of patients here, both in my time in the ambulance and latterly the rapid response community team. During the day the car park is crowded and impossible to get in; now, the lights in the corner cast their lights like ghostly nets across the empty lot. I strap my rucksack firmly on my back, being careful to take the torch out and put it easily to hand in my side pocket. I zip up my computer bag and carry it firmly in my left hand. If there’s any dodging or running or defending to do, it’s best to be zipped-up, well-balanced and ready to go. I remote-lock the car, and set off.

At the main entrance to the block I buzz Mr N’s flat, and wait. The only response I get is the barking of a fox somewhere off behind me in the communal gardens, a lonely, desperate sound, like someone being murdered.

I buzz the remote manager, aware of the security camera, ringed in tiny white halogen lights, monitoring me from high up in the canopy. When they answer I explain who I am and who I’ve come to see. They let me in.

I take the lift, even though it’s only three floors. Just before the lift door opens, I wonder if Mr N has been so enraged by his flat being buzzed he’s standing waiting for me in front of the doors with a cheese grater or worse, so I take a step back. The lift doors slide open; the hallway lights click on automatically, and then flicker in a cliche but appropriate manner.

I wait a moment. Peer round. Nothing. No-one.

Mr N’s flat door is shut. There’s a single panel of safety glass in the centre of the upper half. No lights visible within. I ring his flat bell, which has a slightly fried tone, no doubt exhausted by the number of fingers that have pressed it over the months and years.
No answer.
Because I’m not sure he would have heard the doorbell, I knock on the safety glass.
Almost immediately, there’s a voice from the other side.
Who is it? Who’s there?
‘Oh! Hi! My name’s Jim. I’m a nursing assistant. From the hospital. Sorry to disturb you, Mr Norrington, but I’ve just popped round to see you’re okay.’
There’s a significant pause – just enough time to take a deep breath or grind some teeth, or both – and then a blurry face slides into view from the right and presses its cheek and eye against the glass. It’s an eerie, other-worldly effect, a splodge of approximate flesh, like a painting by Francis Bacon – the dark of the eye, the white of the teeth – sectioned into grids by the wire of the safety glass, the whole painting fitfully illuminated by the flickering hall lights.
When will you people leave me ALONE? I told them I didn’t want anyone coming round! It upsets me!
‘I’m sorry it upsets you, Mr Norrington. We don’t want to do that. We’re just worried about you and want to make sure you’re okay.’
Of course I’m okay? Why wouldn’t I be okay?
‘The last nurse who visited found your flat door open, the lights and everything on, you know. They just thought – they WORRIED – something had happened.’
So I like to go for a walk sometimes. Is that against the law?
‘No. Of course not.’
I can leave my front door open if I want to. It’s a free country.
‘It’s not very safe.’
I don’t care if it’s safe or not. It’s my flat. I can do what I want.
‘It’s more than that, though, Mr Norrington. They’re worried you’re not taking your medication and you might become very unwell.’
So what are you going to do? Force the pills down my throat? I’d like to see you try…
‘Absolutely, not. Look, Mr Norrington. I’m sorry to have disturbed you. I’ll tell them back at the hospital not to bother you anymore.
You called the police on me, didn’t you?
‘Well – not me, personally. But one of us did, yes. We’re obliged to do it when someone under our care goes missing.’
They came round and caused me all kinds of problems. YOU did that.
‘I’m sorry you found it upsetting. But y’know – the easiest way to avoid all this is to answer the phone or talk to someone calmly when they come round to see you. When you explain what it is you want – or don’t want – they’ll leave you alone. How does that sound?’
He doesn’t say anything.
Suddenly his face turns, draws back from the glass, there’s a swift flash of white, and the door resounds with a punch.
‘Okay, Mr Norrington. Okay. I’ll say goodbye then.’
He punches the door again, followed by a kick.
‘I’m glad you’re back safe and well, though.’
He presses his face back against the glass, not so much to see if I’ve gone, but to sense if I have, in a nightmarishly animal way.

I take the stairs. It’s quicker.

stand by me

It’s Fifties karaoke at the Eventide Residential Care Home – so loud the care assistant who answers the door has to lean in to hear who it is I’ve come to see.
‘In the conservatory!’ she shouts, laying a hand on my shoulder. ‘Are you alright to give the injection there? I’ll put a screen round.’
‘Fine!’
She hurries off to fetch it, and I wait with my bags in the hallway. I don’t want to add to the chaos in the lounge. They’ve set the chairs back around the edge of the room to make space, but even so it’s looking pretty busy. There are residents dancing with the staff, relatives slumped on chairs next to sleeping residents, a handyman struggling through with a box of tools (who decides that doing a restrained kind of jive is the easiest way to make any progress); a kitchen assistant keeping everyone topped up with tea and biscuits, the whole scene dominated by a gigantic, floor-to-ceiling plastic christmas tree flashing its lights in and out of time to the music, and a giant plasma TV screen on the wall, scrolling through the lyrics of the current song.

It strikes me you could take any Fifties hit and find a poignant match with the scene in a home for people suffering from advanced dementia.

Now playing?
There Goes My Baby – The Drifters.

I decide to sit down on a padded bench to keep out of the way until the assistant returns.
An elderly woman in an electric blue dress and pure white hair swept up in a bun comes and sits next to me.
‘How are you today?’ I ask her.
She smiles in a non-committal away and shakes her head from side to side.
‘Love the decorations!’ I say, glancing around. The truth is – they make me feel a little scratchy. We’re not even done with November, and here we are in a thorough-going grotto, surrounded by strobing lights, silver lanterns, baubles, tinsel – as thickly applied as if someone had been given a box of tack and told to empty it in five minutes or else. What makes the effect even more dizzying is the number of mirrors around the place, one behind the bench, and one behind the reception counter opposite, so that whichever way I look, the decorations, my reflection and the reflection of the woman sitting next to me are replicated over and over and over, smaller and smaller, all the way to infinity.
‘Lovely to have the music!’ I say to the woman.
She shakes her head, smiling coyly. And then – just as I think she’s happy not to speak but just to sit there, she suddenly leans in and starts an intense monologue, so random I struggle to follow the logic of it.
‘Oh!’ I say – and then, tapping my ear – ‘Sorry! It’s really hard to hear with everything going on!’
The woman laughs and slaps my knee, as if I’d said something shocking, just as the assistant comes back, pushing the kind of hospital screen you might see in a Carry On film.
‘Alright?’ she says. ‘Put him down, Samantha! This way!’

The assistant uses the screen ruthlessly, like a kind of snow plough, but even so, getting through is a tricky business. I end up jigging about in her wake with a couple of residents. One of the relatives slumped in the chairs gives me a sad kind of smile.

Now playing?
Ain’t That A Shame – Fats Domino.

The conservatory is obviously being used as a refuge for any resident who doesn’t care for rock n’roll. Margaret, the patient I’ve come to see, has a blanket over her head. Her daughter Leonie is sitting next to her, looking as washed-out as the mug of tea she cradles.
‘Margaret?’ says the assistant, gently stroking her hand and then slowly pulling the blanket clear. ‘The nurse is here to give you an injection.’
‘Lucky you!’ says Leonie, looking at me with a smile that segues into a grimace.
Margaret looks outraged.
I kneel down in front of her.
‘I’m so sorry to disturb you, Margaret! It’s a real nuisance, I know – but I’ve been asked to give you another one of those injections? Is that alright?’
‘It goes in your tummy,’ says Leonie. ‘It’s not so bad, mum. D’you remember? From yesterday?’
If Margaret does remember she makes no sign, looking down at me in horror.

Another assistant comes through with Margaret’s yellow nursing folder and a box of Enoxaparin. There’s nowhere to set the folder down and fill out the scrip, so I do my best to do it all in mid-air whilst the assistants negotiate enough space to put the screen around Margaret’s chair. I’m on the outside of it for the moment, which is fine – except I’m immediately accosted by a tiny woman as fierce and pointy as a vole in a twinset. She stands by the screen and starts picking ineffectually at the fabric whilst muttering bitterly about something.
‘Are you okay?’ I say to her. ‘We won’t be long.’
She comes right up to me and starts talking quickly and severely – about what it’s impossible to know.
‘I love this music!’ I say at an opportune moment. ‘What d’you think? Do you like rock n’roll?’
She starts back, frowning in such an angry way I think I might have touched on exactly the wrong thing.
‘Classical? Maybe they’ll have a classical session next week…?’
Luckily the assistants have finished setting up the screen. The second assistant leads the angry woman away whilst I duck behind the screen and prepare to give the injection. It all goes smoothly, thank goodness. Leonie kisses her mum and puts the blanket back over her head whilst I clear up and the assistant folds the screen away.
‘I’ll just take this back then I’ll let you out,’ she says, pushing it through the lounge.
‘Okay. Won’t be a second.’
As I’m writing a brief note in the yellow folder, the resident in the chair next to Margaret, a large, slack-faced man in a business suit two sizes too big, holds out a Ribena carton to me.
‘No thanks!’ I say. ‘I’m fine!’
But then he shakes it, I realise it’s empty and he wants me to take it away.
‘Yep! Okay!’ I say, balancing it on the folder with the rest of my rubbish.
It’s easier getting through the lounge, thank goodness. The music is slower and the floor has cleared, apart from the angry woman doing a slow foxtrot with the second assistant.

Now playing?
Stand by Me – Ben E. King