bogie the ghost dog

It doesn’t matter how many times I visit Canterbury Court, I always get lost.

Outside by the keysafes there’s a gravestone to a dog incorporated into the wall. Bogie – Most faithful of animals. Died 1905. I wonder if one of the keysafes is for Bogie, because I’m certain that most faithful of ghosts would be able to take me straight to Beatrice’s flat.

The problem is, Canterbury Court fundamentally and demonstrably does not make sense. It has mezzanine anomalies called -1 or +2. It has one main staircase leading up to the first mezzanine, then other, smaller stairways leading off from that, in ways so random you’d have to think, in the event of fire, the idea was confuse the flames not confine them. I can only imagine it was put together by a team of architects who were at war with each other, or possibly one architect having an existential crisis. Either way, Canterbury Court is a living nightmare to navigate.

A postman passes me on one of the landings. He looks haggard, a marine veteran of the labyrinth, gripping his bag with a thousand-yard stare, marching with a death or glory kind of vigour towards the lift. He must surely know the way to flat fourteen, so I stop him to ask. He pulls the ear buds out of his ear (I think he’s listening to a self-development app: You are a confident and generous human being, afraid of no-one and nothing … ). He frowns, then nods dismissively to the far end of the corridor. ‘Take the stairs’ he says, then screwing the buds back into place, he crosses himself, turns and throws himself into the lift as the doors slide shut.

On the next floor the numbers pass in illogical sequence, like one of those intelligence tests where the answer could be anything from 27 to a chicken on a bike. But luckily enough – before I run out of water and die – I find myself standing outside Beatrice’s door. I knock quickly, in case the magic ends and the door changes again. Beatrice answers. I go inside.

I’m sure if Bogie the ghost dog had been leading the way, he’d collapse down in a grateful heap in front of Lovejoy. (It’s always Lovejoy when I come to see Beatrice – which sounds like a particularly cruel kind of Purgatory, but there’s actually a perfectly rational explanation: Beatrice always has her Tinzaparin injection this time of the morning). Or maybe with one howl of anguish, when he realised what it was he was watching, Bogie would jump up and throw himself through the window. Even if he did stay, though, he wouldn’t be able to help me over the next hurdle. Finding Beatrice is a cinch compared to understanding Beatrice.

The stroke Beatrice suffered a few years ago has affected her speech. That, coupled with a strong Norfolk accent and the fact that Beatrice only has one, large tooth displayed as flagrantly in the middle of her mouth as Bogie’s headstone in the wall outside – all this means that I find it almost impossible to understand what she tries to tell me. It doesn’t help that Beatrice gets irritated with me, too, and speaks more quickly, so that in the end I’m desperately using every sense I have to divine what it is she wants. Mostly I’ll just ask her to speak a little more slowly, or write down what it is she wants. But today for some reason I steam ahead and try to understand by letting the sounds wash over me and the sense filter down by weight.

Beatrice shakes a handful of opened letters at me.
‘You want me to file them?’
– – – – – – – – (shakes the bundle)
‘You want me to throw them away?’
– – – – – – – – (shakes the bundle harder)
‘You want me to recycle them?’
– – – – – – – – (holds the bundle forwards / pulls the bundle back / shakes the bundle)
‘You want me to check the letters to make sure there’s nothing important in them, and THEN recycle them?’
(big sigh / shakes head / hands me the bundle)
‘Okay then.’
I look through the letters. The first one has a marmalade sandwich in it.
‘What do you want me to do with this, Beatrice?’
She raises her eyebrows.

strange dreams in a blue house

To paraphrase a movie tagline from the seventies: Rich means never having to say your address.

‘The Blue House, Ocean Rise’ isn’t much to go on. It sounds distinctive, though, and as I have some time before the appointment, I take a chance and drive straight there, figuring I’ll spot a blue house easily enough, especially on Ocean Rise, where all the houses are a transcendent white, following a brutalist style of architecture that’ll one day be known as ‘bunker chic’.

Ocean Rise is a grand, slow ascent of the cliffs to the east of town, an eclectic throw of old and new money, each house with a panoramic view of the sea, secure gates, and landscaped gravel drives leading to doors wide enough to walk through with a saddlebag of gold over each shoulder.

I’ve driven up and down the road twice when I admit defeat and pull over to call for directions. Even doing this gives me a prickly feeling, security cameras zooming in on the small, suspiciously old car as the driver flips through a diary and glances anxiously through the window. With any luck they’ll see the NHS lanyard and reassuring blue of my uniform and put the phone back on the hook. I mean – this isn’t the US. The worst you see here are signs that say: No Hawkers or Canvassers. In the US it’s Armed Response.

– Who is this?
Hello Mrs Shand. It’s Jim, from the hospital. I’ve come to see Mr Shand, to check his blood pressure and so on.
– Well where are you, then?
I’m on Ocean Rise.
– That’s it. That’s where we live.
I’m afraid I don’t have the number.
– We don’t have a number. We’re The Blue House.
I haven’t seen any blue houses.
– You won’t see it from the road.
No?
– No. We’re set back. On a hill. Behind a hedge.
Where on the road?
– (Oh for goodness sake) You know the new block? Moana Heights?
Yes.
– Turn in there, and then sharp left. It’s not signposted, but that’s where we are. Got it?
Yes. Thanks. See you in five minutes.

She hangs up, saying either Good, or possibly Good God, the ‘god’ part truncated.
I spin the car round and head in that direction, half a dozen outraged CCTV cameras capturing my registration plate.

-oOo-

Luckily, Mrs Shand is sweeter than her phone voice suggests. I can see that the stress of the situation is beginning to tell on her, giving her the alarmed and dangerously taut look of frayed rope.
‘He’s upstairs,’ she says, turning round in the hallway, bending down to pick up the post and in the process dropping half of the clothes and folders she already has in her arms.
‘Here. Allow me,’ I say, helping her sort things out.
‘He’s not well at all and I don’t know what to do,’ she says. ‘He’s leading me a merry dance, I can tell you.’
I follow her upstairs to a bedroom that’s like the deck of a ship, one great window stretching entirely across one end of it, the ceiling low, the only furniture in that vast space a simple double bed, an elderly man with wild, white hair lying placidly on top, both hands behind his head.
‘Hello?’ he says, stiffly pushing himself up on an elbow. ‘Who’d we have here, then?’
‘For goodness sake, Alfred! It’s the nurse!’ says Mrs Shand, trotting round the far side of the bed and fussing with some pillows. ‘You see what I mean?’ she adds, as if I’d just witnessed some outrageous display. ‘You see what I have to put up with?’
‘How are you, Alfred?’ I say, putting my bags down and then reaching out to shake his hand. His fingers are long and cool and frail, with so little pressure to them that if I closed my eyes it would be like shaking hands with a shadow.
‘I was having such a dream!’ he says, laying back down again and lacing his hands across his chest. ‘All those people! Coming out of the walls!’
He closes his eyes, then opens them again with a start, and looks straight at me, as if I was part of the same, ghostly parade.
‘Who did you say you were?’
‘Jim. From the hospital. Come to see how you are.’
‘Ah!’ he says, and then turns his pinched face up to the ceiling again, and closes his eyes.
‘Not good, Jim. Not good at all.