Mrs Vine and I could easily be on first name terms by now, except that she's very much old-school. I learnt that very quickly the first time we met on what was supposedly a "Breathing Problems" call. Control called me on the radio and let me know that she'd already called half a dozen times in the past few hours, each time claiming to have a serious problem, each turning out to be nothing of the sort.
With the key to her front door locked away in a coded key-safe, she never had to leave her room to let anyone in. She would just tell the control room the number we need to crack the safe, and they send it down the computer screen in the car. I'd hardly set foot in the house and was looking for somewhere to put the key so I wouldn't forget to replace it, when a shrill yell cascaded down the stairs.
"Close that bloody door already! I'm getting cold up here!" An ominous start.
Her voice reflected the night - cold and miserable. I tried to be a little more cheerful.
"Good morning, Miss. What's made you call the ambulance out tonight?"
"Don't call me Miss. I have a name!"
I didn't expect to have to ask the question, having been already chastised, but as she seemed to be waiting for it, I obliged.
"And what is your name?"
"My name is Mrs Margaret Vine and as we're not related, I'll expect you to address me as Mrs Vine."
"Right then, Mrs Vine. I understand you've been having some problems with your breathing?"
"There's nothing wrong with my breathing. It's just what I told that woman on the phone, because she kept banging on with these stupid questions and I just wanted to make sure that I got one of you here." The contempt in her voice almost made me want to leave, or at least explain the reasons behind all the so called stupid questions, but in the end I decided that both plans were futile. In the first instance she'd call again, and in the second, any explanation would probably go in one ear and straight out the other.
"Well, first of all, my carer's left me." She was still shouting as if I was stood downstairs by the front door, despite the fact that there was no more than a metre between us. I'm a little ashamed to admit that the idea of her home help abandoning her didn't surprise me in the least. "And then, the cleaners don't come when they're meant to, and my doctor's completely useless and won't do what I tell him to!"
"I see." I wasn't sure that I did, but I was trying. "And how can I help?"
"You can pass me the newspaper and a pen, and sort these pillows out for me.Then I'll be able to do the crossword and hopefully fall asleep!"
"You called an ambulance to pass you your newspaper?"
"Yes. And to sort out these pillows. I shan't ask again."
"And then you're going to sleep?"
"As soon as I finish the crossword."
As I found the paper and the pen, and fixed the pillows, I thought about offering to help with the missing crossword clues just to hurry the process along, but decided to leave her to it. I found the key, and as I stepped out across the threshold, Mrs Vine's voice once again filled the night air.
"Close that bloody door already! I'm getting cold up here."
I left the house and hoped she finished the crossword before I finished my shift.