calamity june

I ring Albert to ask if it’s okay to come round and see him. When he picks up I wait for him to say hello or something; when he doesn’t, I say hello instead – but then he talks over me, pretending to be an answer machine:
I’m sorry we’re not here to take your call, but quite frankly, we couldn’t be arsed. So if you’d like to leave your name and number and what you had for breakfast, then – please – do that, but don’t hold your breath for a reply, because quite honestly you’re not going to get one. Thank you very much, and goodbye…
I hear his wife June in the background saying Who is it, Albert? – a scuffling sound as the phone gets handed over – then: Hello? Who IS this?
‘Hi June. It’s Jim, from the hospital. I came round to see Albert the other day.’
‘Yes. Hello. Sorry about that. Albert does like to muck about.’
‘He probably thought it was a nuisance call. The number comes up as private.’
‘We get a lot of that.’
‘Me too.’
‘So what do you want?’
‘Is it alright if I come over and do Albert’s blood pressure again? The GP wanted a few days’ worth…’
‘That’s fine. Come over. It’s not as if we’re going anywhere.’

*

‘Sorry about earlier,’ says Albert, answering the door and shaking my hand. ‘I get a bit carried away sometimes.’
June is standing behind him, leaning against the doorway to the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea towel.
‘I wish you would get carried away,’ she says.
‘Hark at that’ says Albert.
‘Well I thought it was great!’ I tell them both. ‘I always swear I’ll say something clever or weird next time we get a nuisance call, but of course I never do. I always end up saying Please don’t ring here again. Which is so pathetic it practically guarantees they will.’
‘I’ve had a lot of practice,’ says Albert. ‘I’ve always been a bit of a clown.’
‘Is that what you call it?’ says June.
Albert shakes his head, then turns and walks unsteadily to his favourite chair, lowering himself into it with exaggerated care. June follows behind, perching herself on the arm of the settee opposite, whipping the tea towel over her shoulder, then folding her arms. It’s difficult to figure June out. She doesn’t smile easily, and when she speaks it’s clipped and to the point. It’s understandable, though. The strain must be awful.
Albert and June are a retired couple in their late seventies. June is as fit as you could hope to be – as rootin’ tootin’ as Doris Day in Calamity Jane – but Albert looks twenty years older. He has a palliative cancer diagnosis, and he’s becoming frailer day by day. Symptomatically Albert’s steady, functioning at a reasonable level, the pain controlled pretty well, but the prognosis is bleak. It’s impossible to say when he’ll enter the End of Life phase. One month, six months, a year, two…. I’m not surprised June has her pistols drawn.

I run through the observations. At every point, Albert makes a joke. When I put the tympanic thermometer in his ear (The light’ll come straight out the other side); when I count his pulse (So I’m not dead yet?); when I pump up the cuff to do his blood pressure (Jesus Christ! You’ll have my arm off at this rate); when I scratch his finger for his blood sugar (That’s very nearly an armful).
June sighs heavily each time.
‘Just let him do his job,’ she says.
‘There! All done!’ I say, packing my stuff away.
‘A-one back to the front!’ says Albert.
June fold the tea towel into a square and smooths it flat on her knee.

When I’m ready to go, Albert insists on seeing me to the door. When he gets there, he turns and leans against it.
‘Can you give me some advice?’ he says.
‘Of course. What about?’
‘I don’t want my family coming round any more.’
‘Why?’
His chin starts to tremble. He takes a breath to steady himself, then raps his stick on the carpet a couple of times, summoning the will to speak.
‘I don’t want them seeing me go like this,’ he says. ‘I want them to remember me as I was. So what would you suggest I do about that, hmm?’
‘It’s hard,’ I say. ‘I know what you mean. But I think anyone who loves you would want to see as much of you as they could. I know I would. I think they’d find it hard staying away.’
‘Well. There we are,’ he says. ‘Thank you.’
I give his shoulder a squeeze.
‘Come and sit back down, Albert. I worry about you.’
‘I’ll be alright. I’ll keep on my feet if you don’t mind.’
‘Okay then. You take care. I’ll let the GP know what your facts and figures are.’
‘Thirty-eight, twenty-four, thirty-six,’ he says, then takes out a hankie and blows his nose.
June comes over and leads him back to his chair.
‘Close the door on your way out,’ she says.

the works

There’s a builder’s truck blocking the mews. It’s up on hydraulic stabilisers as the driver operates the winch, dropping off enormous bags of sand and gravel, the engine labouring as the next load gets taken up, the back of the truck lurching with the sudden change of weight. I can’t imagine what building project would require such a massive delivery – maybe one of those basement excavations you read about, an underground pool and cinema and gym, perhaps. A lift shaft to a cocktail bar and viewing platform at the earth’s core. Whatever the reason, the contrast with the ancient backstreet couldn’t be more extreme. Two hundred years ago these would have been a row of stables with offices, lofts and basic accommodation above; now they’re a mixture of chi-chi businesses, full-scale conversions, and the cobbled street curves down right and left not to straw and manure-heaped gutters but expensive planters, artisanal signs and cutely painted old bikes with geraniums in the basket.

We’ve had to park at the far end by the equipment van that’s here to deliver a hospital bed. They could only have beaten us by fifteen minutes and yet they’re already half-way through. Once again I’m in awe of their efficiency and sheer work ethic, like scaled-up ants in yellow jackets. A hospital bed is no light thing. It comes in sections, of course, but the main frame is pretty heavy. A feature of the flats in these mews is a steep and narrow staircase running straight up from the front door – no doubt originally to a hay loft. To make things even more awkward, the house we’re visiting has a stair lift, so really there’s hardly any room at all to get the bed in. When we stroll up, though, they’ve already got the frame delivered, and all that’s left are the mattress, a cantilever table and a few other bits and pieces.
‘What did you do – commandeer the truck?’ I say to one of them, who is so red-faced I want to lean in and loosen his collar.
He laughs, slicks his antennae back.
‘Maybe you could take the table?’ he says.

The whole thing is something of a rush job. The GP had visited George late last night. George is a ninety-five year old man with a recent palliative diagnosis who has declined rapidly and unexpectedly straight into an End of Life scenario. He was refusing hospital, so the GP had prescribed anticipatory meds, made referrals to the District Nurse and Palliative teams, and to us for urgent review first thing in the morning. Katrina had gone straight there from home and was busy by eight. By nine she’d phoned in to make her report: it was bed care only, so George needed a hospital bed with pressure mattress and slide sheet to be delivered the same day, with someone to be there to help with a pat slide; George needed care support four times a day, double-up; he needed pads, pressure cream, foam lollipops for mouth care – the works. I said I could meet Katrina there at lunchtime to get the whole thing done.

George’s wife Valerie greets us at the top of the stairs.
‘Forgive my hair,’ she says, patting it. ‘I must look a fright. But as you can imagine I’ve had quite a night.’
Both Valerie and the flat have the shocked look of something hit by lightning. Everything is essentially as it was – the pictures, the chairs, the collections of antique pill boxes and books, the Moroccan rugs and tables and lamps, the family pictures on the walls – everything so perfectly placed and orderly the housekeeper must have a tape measure in their pocket. But the furthest end of the flat – the main bedroom end – has a sprawled, disrupted appearance, with a wreckage of discarded packaging, plastic strapping and so on spilling across the hallway, whilst through the open door the sound of construction and the movement of heavy furniture adds to the feeling of emergency. The noise from the builder’s truck outside sounds like a fire engine.
‘What a business!’ says Valerie. ‘But you know, everyone’s been so kind. We really are most grateful.’

There’s a large tabby cat staring at me from the middle of the living room rug. It’s as perfectly groomed as Valerie, and I half-expect it to reach up with a paw and pat itself delicately on the head, as she did.
‘Grammaticus is very put out,’ says Valerie, walking over to him. ‘He’s nineteen, you know? Like us – old and worn out. He can’t tolerate the fuss.’
She bends down stiffly and painfully, scooping him up to cradle him in her arms, just exactly as you would a baby, pressing her nose to the top of his head, rocking him up and down, swinging her hips a little from side to side. He maintains his stare, making little adjustments to accommodate the motion.
‘He looks good for his age,’ I say.
‘Do you think?’ she says. Then – still rocking the cat – she looks off towards the window. Down in the street, the noise from the builder’s lorry has eased. It sounds as if all the deliveries might have finished, and instead there are shouts and raucous laughter, the plaintive whining of hydraulic legs being lifted, the off-kilter clattering of a concrete mixer.
‘Good God,’ says Valerie. ‘When will it all end?’

large caliber

‘Shall I take my shoes off?’
‘Oh no!’ says Rita. ‘This is a real home – not a show home!’
I’m conscious that my shoes are sopping wet, though, so I slip them off anyway.
‘I do it at home’ I say. ‘I’d feel bad otherwise.’
‘This is a real home, not a show home!’ she says, repeating herself – whether because it’s a catchphrase of hers, or because she likes the sound of it, I’m not sure.
‘Follow me!’ she says, and leads me through the house.
It certainly has the feel of a show home. Or even a gallery, given the number of paintings of stags on snowy crags and jugged hares lying among bunches of grapes, all in heavy gilt frames. Ernest, Rita’s husband, sits in a chair at the far end of the house, like a decrepit attendant who dozed through his lunch break and on into his nineties.
‘Darling? There’s a nurse to see you!’ says Rita. She waves me over to him, then lowers herself very correctly, debutante-style, into a Louis Quinze chair, her legs angled to the right, her hands folded in her lap.
‘What happened to your shoes?’ says Ernie, peering at me over his glasses.
‘They were soaking wet. I didn’t want to make a mess on your carpet.’
‘I said to him, darling,’ says Rita. ‘I said to him: This is a real home. Not a show home!’
‘Hear that?’ he says. ‘So now you know.’

* * *

All Ernest’s observations are within normal range – his blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and so on..
‘What were you expecting?’ he says. ‘I’m perfectly fine. It’s this damned back.’
‘Let the gentleman do his job, darling,’ says Rita, absentmindedly playing with her wedding ring, slipping it off, then on, then off again. ‘He used to be a sniper, you know. In the war, of course,’ she adds, hurriedly, to clear up any misunderstanding.
‘A sniper?’
‘What of it?’ he snaps.
‘No. Nothing. It sounds fascinating.’
‘Hmm,’ he says, and watches me closely as I fill out his obs chart. To cover the silence – and to find out more about his sniper years – I dig deep for some personal story I could use.
‘I had a go at skeet shooting once,’ I say. ‘It was a work’s outing. I really liked it.’
‘Skeet shooting?’
‘Yes. Clay pigeons.’
‘I know what skeet shooting is.’
‘It was really good! That bit where they chuck the clays along the ground, and they bounce around all over the place. That was fun. You know. Picking them off.’
‘Fun?’ says Ernest, horrified. ‘Fun? If by fun you mean waving your weapon around like a lunatic, blasting in the general direction of where you think something’s going to end up, well, then, perhaps. But I’m not talking about some random spread of pellets. I’m talking about the precise placing of a single, large caliber bullet. I’m talking about controlling one’s breathing, slowing one’s pulse. Taking a clean shot.’
And he glares at me over his glasses again, eyebrows quivering, drawing a bead.
‘It’s my second marriage’ says Rita. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

the white handkerchief

As diagnoses go, it sounds pretty gentle. Mixed Dementia. Like a mixed fruit salad. Mixed bathing. A bag of mixed nuts. Casual, essentially benign.

There’s nothing benign about Mixed Dementia, though. Its devastating effects would be more aptly described as Dementia Plus, or maybe Dementia: Perfect Storm.

Joe has Mixed Dementia. To date he hasn’t been too bad, functioning at a reasonable level. Although he’s permanently confused, he tends not to get agitated. Most of the time he sits neutrally and quietly in his favourite armchair, going along with whatever his wife Joan wants him to do. He’s been able to mobilise reasonably well, steady enough on his pins for Joan to manage washing and dressing him on her own. He’s barely on any medication, so that’s not been too much of a problem either.

Unfortunately – for Joe, Joan and the rest of the family – his condition has taken a downturn, particularly his mobility. There’s a Parkinsonian aspect to it these last few weeks. He lists alarmingly to the left when he stands up, leans back to compensate, and if that wasn’t enough, his left leg gets stuck when he tries to move forwards. The result is that Joe’s been falling every day. Luckily for Joe he’s avoided hurting himself; unluckily for Joan, he landed on her a couple of weeks back and fractured some ribs.

The last fall was this morning. An ambulance attended, checked him over. His obs were as steady as ever. (‘He’s fitter than me’ says Joan, dabbing at her eyes with the white handkerchief embroidered with flowers she’s been playing with all this time. ‘Aren’t you darling?’ – Joe directs his grey-blue vacancy in her general direction; they share a hesitant smile; she loses herself in the handkerchief again). There wasn’t anything acute that needed hospital admission. The ambulance crew liaised with the GP, and then the GP referred Joe to us to see what we could do.

The obvious and most immediate thing is to get Joe a respite bed in a nursing home. The trouble is (always the rider these days), he needs an assessment by social workers first. They’re short-staffed, so a delay of a few days even for priority cases is unavoidable. Then, as Claire the duty social worker explains to me, there may not be any beds available. ‘Not much capacity in the system at the moment,’ she says. ‘Best case scenario – a week, maybe two.’
She sounds exhausted.

I’ve spoken to the GP. He tells me there’s been a multi-disciplinary meeting (the outcome of which hasn’t been communicated to the family yet, helpfully). The consensus is that Joe’s mobility problems are symptomatic of his worsening dementia. ‘It’s a palliative scenario,’ says the doctor. ‘And really, if his care is no longer tenable at home, we’ll have to start looking for a residential placement somewhere. We just need time to make that happen.’ We agree that our service can try setting up a micro environment to minimise the falls risk; to send in carers four times a day – for moral support if nothing else; a night-sitter at night to give Joan a break; nurses to keep an eye on things, and generally case-manage until the social workers can come up with a placement.

I’ve put this plan to the family. It hasn’t gone down well.

‘Look at us! We’re at breaking point. Honestly – this is hell,’ says Emma, the daughter. Her face is puffy and her eyes red. She’s struggling not to cry, especially now that Joan has her face buried in the handkerchief. ‘Look at her!’ she says. ‘She’s done her best but she’s at her wits’ end! We can’t go on like this.’

As gently as I can I go over the options, which at this point seem to boil down to two: stay at home with whatever support we can offer, buying the social workers time to find a residential placement, or go to hospital.

‘And sit around in A and E for hours?’
‘I’m afraid so. That’s where everything’s triaged.’
Emma looks at her mum.
‘This is what you get,’ she says, bitterly. ‘You struggle through. You take care of things as best you can. And no-one cares. No-one’s there for you. Maybe Dad needs to have a bad fall and really hurt himself, and then maybe someone’ll listen.’
‘I don’t want Joe to go to hospital, but I can’t cope with him anymore at home,’ says Joan. She gives me a despairing look. ‘What would you do if this was your dad?’
‘I don’t know. I’d try to think what was best. It’s hard to say.’
She sighs, then directs her attention back to the handkerchief.
‘What would you like to happen, Joe?’ I say, leaning forward and stroking his hand. He says a few random words, but it’s impossible to know what he means. His tone is light and disengaged. At least he’s spared the emotional trauma of all this.

I’ve been here two hours already. I’ve spoken to the social workers, the GP, the nurse in charge back at the hospital, but despite all the facts, all the reassurances and negotiations, the essential problem remains.
‘Okay,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry this has been so difficult for you. Something needs to happen now, so let me make the decision for you. Joe isn’t safe here at home. He’s highly likely to fall again, regardless of the things we might manage to put in place. I can see how exhausted you both are. It’s a terribly stressful time and I think you’ve done a wonderful job. Going to hospital isn’t ideal, but it’s the safest option. I’m going to call for an ambulance to take Joe to hospital on a four hour response. At the very least that’ll buy everyone some time to rest and get things sorted. Okay?’
I pick the phone up to dial.
‘Is the patient conscious and breathing?’ says the call taker.
‘Yes,’ I say, smiling at Joe.

Joan buries her face in the handkerchief again.

a tough gig

Turns out, Miriam’s down to Assist the Co-ordinator this morning. She waves me over as I pass through the office, scattering good mornings as methodically and benignly as an Amish farmer sowing corn.
‘They’ve put me down to do an early care call as well,’ she says, looking flushed. ‘I mean – I’m good, but I’m not that good. I can’t be in two places at once! Everyone else is full, so it looks like only me or you that can do it. I’m more than happy to go if you want to hold the fort here a couple of hours… just as happy if you want to take the job… totally up to you. What do you think?’

The truth? I don’t need to think, but I make a polite show of it. Assisting the Co-ordinator sounds easy enough but it’s actually a pretty tough gig. It doesn’t matter how resolved you are at the start to be organised and Zen Master about the whole thing, barely half an hour later you’ll find yourself with a mobile clamped to one ear, a landline playing loud psycho-electro on-hold music in the other, three people hovering close by, checking their watches, stress-paddling foot to foot, someone else waving a piece of paper over in the Hub…. and then you’ll sigh, and hang up the landline, take a swig of coffee instead, and find it’s grown a skin.
‘It’s okay. I’ll do it,’ I tell her.
‘Are you sure?’ Miriam says, a desperate look in her eye.
‘Don’t worry. Happy to help.’
I take the details.

It sounds straightforward. Charles is an elderly patient who’s going into respite for a few weeks to give his wife June a break. He needs a care call first thing to help him get ready for collection by ambulance. As soon as I’ve picked up my other jobs for the morning, I ring their number. It goes to voicemail. I leave a message to apologise for the early call, and to say not to worry because I’m on my way and I’ll be there by half past eight at the latest.

It’s a bright, zesty drive out to their address, a neat red-bricked block on the outskirts of town. There’s a truck parked outside. Three workmen are busy putting scaffolding up, making a stunning amount of noise – pneumatic drills, banging, shouting, laughing, a radio on full volume in the cab. The workman at the top of the scaffolding, hanging on by one hand, actually throws back his head and howls. It’s all so loud and violent, even though I press my ear to the intercom I can’t hear what June says. The door clicks regardless. I go in.

The thickly carpeted hallway is so quiet by comparison with the racket outside my ears actually whine. I walk up three flights of stairs, then knock. After a long pause, June opens it. She’s tiny, frail as an old sparrow in a housecoat and slippers, blinking at me with her head slightly to one side whilst still holding on to the door.
‘Can I help you?’ she says.
‘Oh!’ I say. ‘Good morning. I hope I’ve got the right address. I’m Jim, from the Rapid Response team. I’ve come to see Charles.’
‘Charles?’
She stiffens even more, glances down at my ID badge.
‘To get him ready,’ I say.
‘What do you mean? Get him ready? What for? Who are you again?’
‘Jim. I’m a nursing assistant. From the Rapid Response.’
‘I’m sorry but I think there’s been some mistake.’
‘They asked me to come and help Charles get dressed. Before the ambulance arrives.’
‘I don’t think the ambulance will be coming,’ she says.
‘No?’
‘No. I wouldn’t think so. I’m sorry, but I think you’ve had a wasted journey. Did the nurses not tell you?’
‘What nurses?’
‘The nurses who were with us all last night. When Charles died.’
‘I’m so sorry.’
She stares at me, blinking rapidly.
‘Yes. Well,’ she says.
‘And – how are you – bearing up?’ I say, pathetically.
‘It’s early yet,’ she says. ‘But I’ll be fine. I’m sorry you came all this way.’
‘No, no! I’m sorry to turn up like this. That’s awful. I’ll make sure everyone else knows.’
‘Could you?’ she says. ‘That would be kind. Well – goodbye, then.’
And she quietly closes the door.

Outside the workmen are as furious as before. The one who was howling at the top on my way in is now leaning right out, shouting for a particular clamp.
‘Not the three four, you wingnut! The five n’alf! Ye-es! That one, Rodney! That one! Jesus Christ!’
It gets chucked up to him, and he catches it just as it slows, ready to fall back to earth.
‘Halle-fucken-lujah!’ he says, then swinging round again, gets back to his hammering.

bibi the bird

Melvin is as landed and unfortunate in his armchair as a hippo in the dry season. An affable hippo, though, in a taut, custard yellow, California Dreamin’ t-shirt and grey jogging bottoms, his enormous hands restlessly picking at the padding of the arm rests, as if he’s gauging the right moment to tear them off and throw them.
‘What were you saying?’ he says. ‘I lost the thread.’
He laughs, exposing a few raw and stumpy teeth. If I had a head of cabbage I’d chuck it, watch him crunch it down, waggle his ears.
‘He does that a lot,’ says Bibi, Melvin’s wife. ‘Lose the thread, I mean.’
If Melvin is the hippo in this relationship, Bibi is the little bird that rides on his head. A trim, quick figure, she’s constantly up and down, repositioning cushions, fetching beakers of juice, a towel, a diary, a snack, another beaker of juice. She smiles at me and surreptitiously touches the side of her head, turning the gesture into an innocent scratch of her eyebrow when Melvin unexpectedly glances her way.
‘So what’s the plan, chief?’ says Melvin. ‘What’re you going to do with me? Drag me off to the knackers yard, I ‘spect. I’d make a lot of glue. ’
‘Don’t say that!’ says Bibi, jumping up again to move the stool so he can reposition his feet.
‘Ahh!’ he booms. ‘Thanks Beebs.’

The situation has been a long time coming and it’s hard to know where to start. Diabetes, joint damage, skin infections, kidney and liver issues – the list neatly packaged-up in the phrase comorbidities. Things were difficult enough before his latest fall, but he’s been discharged from hospital with a bandaged foot and the results of an MRI confirming mixed dementia. There’s a lot to think about.
‘Today’s a good day,’ says Bibi. ‘Isn’t it darling?’
‘Every day’s a good day,’ says Melvin.
‘Well,’ says Bibi. ‘Mostly.’

She’s doing her best to cope, but it’s a struggle. She’s already told me about his mood swings, how he’ll be fine one minute and raging the next. There’s a shine to her eyes that’s so brittle I don’t know if she’s ready to sob, scream or laugh out loud.
‘But where are my manners?’ she says. ‘Can I get you anything?’
‘No, no! That’s kind of you but I’m fine, thanks.’
‘Just let me know. It’s no trouble.’

Melvin is sitting in front of a large white blind. The blind has been pulled down to shield him from the midday sun. Now and again the shadow of a seagull glides across the blind, so clearly you can even see the toes of its webbed feet and the way it flicks its head from side to side. Down in the street some workmen have finished lunch. They’re shouting and swearing, starting up the mixer, tapping off bricks for a new wall.
‘Hear that?’ says Melvin. ‘I expect that’s the seagull, building his nest.’
We all laugh.
He clasps his hands across his belly, waggles his ears.

careful

The three of us are sitting at the kitchen table. Charles is leaning forwards, propped up on his right hand, his fingers splayed on the magnificent bald dome of his head.
‘I know what it looks like,’ he says. ‘I know I look like a man in despair. But I’m happy. And honestly? I don’t care. It’s comfortable. That’s it.’
His wife Irene sits opposite, methodically working her way through a fat file of notes.
‘Charles!’ she says, without looking at him, licking a finger, turning a page.
‘Like I said. I don’t care.’
Behind us, two patio doors open out onto a garden saturated with colour: a fierce yellow cloud of forsythia, vivid red splodges of tulip, diminishing dots of daisies, and in the middle of it all, like the richest and most exuberantly white wedding dress, an old apple tree in full bloom.
‘Don’t even look at it,’ says Charles. ‘It’s shameful.’
‘It’s beautiful.’
‘Are you a gardener?’
‘We’ve got a garden. I get out sometimes.’
‘Hmm,’ he says. ‘As soon as I’ve finished this cycle of chemo I’ll be back. You’ll see.’
‘You rest, hun,’ says Irene. ‘That’s your job. Now look – here’s that list you wanted.’ She hands me a list of medications. ‘Good luck with the spelling,’ she says.
There’s a radio up on the counter playing classical music. The second movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
‘I don’t mind telling you – this is far and away the loveliest consultation I’ve had in a long while,’ I say, listening to the music. ‘The last one, I was in this smoky, super heated flat, all the windows shut, curtains drawn. And the patient was wearing a fluffy red dressing gown, sitting on a sofa surrounded by all these creepy porcelain dolls. And she was puffing away on this fag. And they were all staring at me with the same expression, just waiting for me to faint.’
‘You poor thing!’ laughs Irene. ‘I think you had a touch of fever. But you know what? Some people just like it hot. She must be one of those. A hothouse flower.’
‘I like it hot. But not that hot. When I came back outside it actually felt cold. For a while, anyway.’
‘Do you remember when we had all that snow?’ says Charles, still propped up on his hand.
‘When was that, darling?’ says Irene.
‘Years ago. When we first came here. Or maybe not so long. It was snowing anyway. And I was walking down the street. And I lost my footing or something and I just flipped, straight up in the air, and then straight down again – flat! – on my back. So I was lying there, properly winded, and groaning and so on. And these two old woman came waddling over. They’d been chatting on the street corner, all bundled up, you know? And they came over, and they looked down at me. I can see them now, clear as I can see you. And they said: Careful. Just like that. Careful, they said.’
‘Oh darling!’ says Irene. ‘How funny!’
Careful! they said. Just like that.’
‘And what did you say?’
‘I said: Why – thank you. I’ll be sure to take your advice.’