undercover

Staff always joke about the Q word. It’s the community health team equivalent of saying Macbeth in the theatre – a witchy guarantee things will go wrong. But you don’t need to say it’s Q. It’s so Q you can see it. Q has settled over the office like a snow drift, a fog, a magic spell. It’s so Q I can hear the birds outside – although that’s not saying much; the seagulls are lined up on the roof opposite, a raucous, white-throated Chorus of the Apocalypse.

I’m helping the coordinator again, but it’s so Q I’ve even got time to catch up on my e-learning. Unfortunately there’s quite a backlog. I yawn, scrolling through the ones remaining: Adult Safeguarding Level 2; Fire Safety Level 1; Record Keeping; Information Governance… not attempted; not attempted; not attempted… a Sisyphean task, except Sisyphus has been taken off boulders and sat in front of a laptop instead. Immediately nostalgic for boulders.

Grace is suddenly standing next to me, in a diffident, two-metreish kind of way.

Grace is well-named. She’s one of the senior OTs, a therapist whose skill and experience is only exceeded by her great poise and humanity. I’ve never seen her cross or grumpy or out of sorts. She has such an unassuming strength about her it’s positively saintly. I can imagine her standing in the path of a tornado, holding her hair out of her face, smiling so sweetly and directly at the funnel it would immediately pipe down and wander off to kick through some leaves.

‘Sorry to interrupt,’ she says. ‘I just need to book a follow-up visit for that patient I went to see.’
‘Who’s that?’
‘Well – he’s down on the system as John Smith, but he likes to be called Frank Brandenburg.’
‘Wow!’
‘I know! It’s quite strange, but there you are.’
‘Frank Brandenburg? Sounds like a seventies detective. Brandenburg? You’re off the case. I want your badge and your gun.’
‘I think I’d rather be a Frank Brandenburg than a John Smith. Although John Smith is quite anonymous, I suppose.’
She waits with her papers.
‘What’s the story with the name, then, Grace?’ I ask her as I finish off the booking.
‘I’m not sure. His friend was there and they were both – how can I put this? – a bit unusual. I get the impression there’s some kind of street history there that might be interesting to go into if you had the time. He’s got a lovely dog, though.’
‘Oh yeah? What sort?’
‘A lab-collie cross. Although – who knows? It’s probably really a chihuahua.’