It’s hard on the streets where a grimace is so often mistaken for a smile. I became homeless after a row with my father about his lifelong obsessive love of football. I describe my father as a professor of stupid to the young lad in the green uniform seeing to me as I lay here dying of alcoholism in the spring sunlight. I tell him that the last words I spoke to my father where “Football is mental slavery for the mob minded. Followed by the tribal minded.”.
I had gained my green clad angels’ ear and started my story with, “The second relationship to get right from the start is this one with you, and my Mary was the first”.
The day I left I told my father he was an obnoxious fool and it was at this point he threw the first piece of china (his expensive dinner plate) across the expanse of his antique and Hugh dining table, his face becoming the colour of an over ripe plum, purple with rage. The worst thing he could bellow at me was “Any more of that shit and you’re out of my will.”
“Do you think that matters to me? Your money is worthless to me due to the baggage that you attach to it.”
“Ok, ok, I’ll leave it to the football academy of your choice.”
“What are you stupid? you know I don’t give a shit about that laughable game.” As I threw a full gravy boat at him scolding both the polished table top and his legs as I pick up piece after piece of the tableware launching them at my father with my mother getting hysterical. My much younger twin brothers pulling themselves away from the food they normally wolfed down in their greed stopped eating and tried to stop me. I saw them coming and outpaced them running for the stairs, their short and obese frames struggling to get moving in order to follow. I ran straight for my room were waiting for me was a back pack with coat waiting (I knew this was coming and had packed before dinner). By the time my slow moving younger brothers got to my room my bedroom key would be snapped in the lock and me long gone from the house, only for them to find a note written by me before dinner telling my father I no longer lived in his world of greed and over powering rules.
As I left my home town along the tow path of the local canal at night I discovered my inner poet. What follows may be the only poem I ever write and was left on the underside of a canal bridge.
DARK TOW PATH
Along the lonely
Tow path in the dark
Escaping reality for a while
The smell of burning coal
Keeping me company
Barge windows lit by fire light
Undisturbed solitude upon the water
Unnoticed is my passing
On the dirt path
Lit only by my cycle lamp
Brightly lit trains over head
Carries warm passengers to a distant time
Fox eyes watching me pas from the dark
Smelling my scent afraid of death
The death my kind will bring
Knowing my kind
Will finish this paradise
For him and all his kin.
The tow path led to a large park where I spent a couple of days with Scarlet and Rose. The ginger twins living in what they called the cavern of ST hoard a pile of rubbish bags piled high around an old pine tree. Inside the pile of bags hides a tepee shaped sleeping space the twins us as home. The rich and wasteful of London have donated a lot to this camp of worship to the queens of recycling. Scarlet and Rose were fast becoming a legend among the homeless by staying put for so long only being tolerated because of their recycling efforts. They told me of a community living in an abandoned Victorian market in Central London, Causing grief for the rich and aristocracy of London.
About a week after leaving my Optus and offensive father I find my way to London. Sitting in an old Victorian market place with rusty iron columns supporting rusty mesh walkways above my head and mangled spiral staircases opposite my position in one of the old stalls. With sleeping feral pigeons perched on the faded and rust flaked iron beams supporting the enormous iron and glass roof riddled with holes. The smoke from the dozens of fires that keep hundreds of homeless warm, drifts up into the ancient roof space mixing with the early winter sunshine to create a comforting home like feel for those that call this place home. My fertile imagination gives me more satisfaction than I would get from living in the sterile environment of the tower blokes that soar over our place of abode with menace.
I view wealth in terms of the correct perceptions to satisfy the mind not in the constraints of economic gain. Here in this Smokey rat invested damp place there is great happiness with a simple way of barter that once created the rat race of mankind’s present monetary system so much loved by my father. It was in the company of these wonderful rejects of society that I first met my wonderful Mary, both of us lost in a haze of cheap cider and dope, her hair glowing red in the dull light of the market stealing my heart forever. My Mary’s state of mind had once belonged to her aggressive and controlling parents with their foul and archaic ways, which led her to rebel against them and find her way eventually to my side. Her words and wisdom were like the brightly tinted crayon drawn images of a child with a hint of unique intellect and perspective.
I hadn’t eaten or slept for the first week on the streets after leaving my limp minded father to the ways of the lemming and having his mind controlled for him by the media, when Mary found me slurping dirty water from an upturned market bin lid. It was an instant attraction to her mind that saved me that day as she brought me to the old market and found me some food, and set about teaching me the ways of the street as part of the markets’ society. The following day she asked me to join her in an evening raid on a supermarket bin where we got food for our tight little group as well as enough alcohol to sink a cruise liner all left over from the obscenely rich of this country’s southern county. That first night we were joined by a group of Irish folk musicians who played to our group their versions of “dirty old town” and “a place called England” to which me and my Mary danced cheek to cheek while a thunder storm broke overhead. The rain from which filled the floor of the market creating puddles of rusty water through which we all danced in with glee while cheap cider and joints were passed around our group. The rust filled drip of water that rolled down her face that evening leaving behind its oxide mark will live in my mind for as long as I do. We regularly encounter groups of youngsters out on the town in the early hours when we are out on the food run, a normal chorus of something venomous and irrelevant is normally hurled at us by these rich and types.
Are we so wrong for being the cockroaches of society? Cleaning up the waste and left-over food thrown out by the large supermarkets. Through the haze and fog of greed induced normality of my childhood, my view of those where I am now on the streets was influenced by my father’s belief that all the homeless where the lazy dregs of humanity without any dignity. Now that I’ve shed the mask of greed and can see our world without bias I’m truly a happy person for the first time in my life. Mary was an unusual person in that she could make anything suit her needs from turning used tyres into chairs to making me love her and myself for being homeless and getting me past my father’s views, we got on so well that she and I fitted together like a pair of gloves being worn on a frosty morning. We always discussed our views from hating football to loving using waste from supermarkets with much gusto and always ended both agreeing. Mary had this saying that she would shout at those who turned their noses up at us on the streets as if we were dirt “I wish you were as fairy as us, as we are so unsanitary”.
I spent two blissful years watching starlings roost and dancing to their song with Mary in that market before it fell down with the help of a bulldozer one night. The local council wanted to build high end flats for all the good little rich boys and girls who still lived with their mummy and daddy. I was with Mary when one of the rusty iron beams crashed down onto her chest crushing her ribs and driving the last breath from lungs with such sudden force that I kept talking for a few seconds before my drunk and fuzzy mind registered what was happening around me and I ran screaming for help and never found any. By the time I came round it was all over I had tripped over a fallen iron beam and landed unconscious in a ditch on the waste ground behind the market where I was missed by the team cleaning up around the market. The neon lights of the night clubs stabbed the eyes of the rich kiddies out at play as I passed aimless into darkness.
It was 8.30am when they found me wondering aimlessly and confused with tears in my eyes and darkness in my heart at the loss of my beloved Mary. I was gently escorted by the local policeman to a refuge for the mentally ill as they did not realise it was grief of losing Mary that assailed me not illness. I was to spend two weeks within the toxic noise and smell of the asylum where I was helped with my loss but they had no reason to keep me and I was released back to wondering the streets of wet and cold in the dark of another winter’s night. It wasn’t long before I spoke to another from the market (Buddy by name)and found out half those living in the market were the children of rich daddies just out to upset daddy and it was their fathers who had got together to have it demolished by bribing a local councillor.
My new found companion Buddy, his two dogs and I drifted out to the coast over the bitterly cold winter and wonderfully green spring months until we found a nice spot. On that journey we met many wonderful people including Doug an unconventional man of means leaving the city life behind after the loss of his daughter. Me and Doug chatted all night whilst Buddy normally introverted sat and played harmonica on the roof of a deserted barge called the Clara Bow his feet dangling above a sign reading let the rats have their race, while me and Doug were Seated on an abandoned sofa cooking our supermarket bin dived dinner over a fire in a litter bin. We settled into a sand dune with a tarpaulin and sleeping bag each donated by a local builder and instantly gained the attention of the local press. Doug briefly told them this story “I’m nought but a lonely and penny less freak and my story is thus. I awoke one woefully bright spring morning with a head full of rusty nails and a mouth like sandpaper with my wallet empty. The previous night of goodbyes to the rat race still in my mind, happy about leaving the limited thinking society behind me. Where you live in brick boxes, travel to work in motorised tin cans to spend the day with those you can’t stand in order to pay with little bits of paper for the brick box and the tin can. I’ve left this for a life under the stars”.
“I’m sorry young paramedic let me breath and I’ll continue in a bit” I tell the guy taking care of me as a cough up more blood from my alcohol damaged internals. The wonderful young chap looking after to my surprise shouted Mary’s saying of “OH I WISH YOU WERE A FAIRY AS THEY ARE SO UNSANITARY” at a couple walking past and whispering with disgust at me and the paramedic for giving me treatment. “Thank you” I say “that means a lot to know that saying has been used else were.” My beloved Mary had made my short life worth living for a while. The time I had with her was the best of my life; our connection was as sweet as treacle and twice as sticky. Do you know I wear a body cam for the protection of us all I might need to borrow my college’s body cam if we run out of room for your story on this one? So, I said to his camera, be the perfect human by excepting your imperfections
Doug was with us for one more stop on the way to the coast before our parting of our ways on 26th December of that year. That Christmas day the three of us woke in a brick-built bus shelter with an open front three benches and an open front facing a large frayed looking block of flats. The litter bin fire pit Doug had brought with him and we soon found some fire wood to get it started with the two dogs of buddy warming themselves at its side. A young couple had seen us arrive on the 24th and our presence was not shunned as she had convinced her feller and neighbours to drop us some food down a table with three plates of Christmas dinner and three bowls of Christmas pudding were placed in front of us that wonderful day. A wonderful community of young couples just trying to get started in their lives I wish them happiness in their lives. The evening came with the community feeding us again then our fire was fed while they sang Christmas carols with us what a beautiful bunch they were. As they sang a murder of crows flocked in to roost on the bank of trees behind the bus shelter and a skulk of foxes walked past towards the bins outside the local supermarket to find some dinner.
Later in the following spring, the night before me and buddy made it to the coast with the help of a brick kissing a supermarket window we had looted three bottles of whisky each. An invitation from the unlocked and ajar door at the rear of a warehouse took us out of the rain. The dogs feel to sleep in the nearest heap of stuffed toys in the light of the moon shining through the sky light as the first burn of whiskey torched our throats to the toast of “beaches in the morn”. One bottle in and Buddy’s thirst is waning and a stuffed toy rolls across the floor I tell buddy its only knocked over by the dogs, at which point the lighting effects from lava lamps placed on shelves above click on as if on a timer, creating many a swirl of colour around us. Another half bottle and buddy’s hat leaps from his head onto the head of a winking teddy bear destined for the grab machines of the seafront arcades. Buddy flips to out cold from either the whiskey or the shock of losing his hat to the stuffed critter I will never know. The more I drank the worse it got the toys telling me tales from within glass boxes by last sessions unwon. The colour of the fur they sported getting brighter in the dawn light as I fell into a drunk sleep with the toys singing in my ears. I awoke in a cold sweat to the sound of glass breaking and the remains of a dream where crows poured from a mirror I was looking into clawing at my face and tearing me to pieces, to find it was just one of his dogs knocking over one of the crane machine cases.
Jaywick sands was the name on the sign before the beach. My companion Buddy both his two dogs Chewy the Great Dane, Polo the Jack Russell and I settled in quickly with donations of drink and cigarettes from the summer folk to our beach home. We even found a cycle each, one with an old tin bath on a trailer great as a mobile bed, with a clear plastic roof and cardboard lining for comfort. We would swap our stories and wisdom for food, drink and cigarettes? One of the tourist’s favourite sayings was “when looking at a person whose body is fitter than yours always ask who has the fitter mind me or them?” Only to have the local press poke fun at us for our beliefs and lack of interest in mass sport. I was to spend time with the simple seaside folk gazing over modern life and why many of them would be like a twig blowing in a storm unable to truly control their own lives. The best of these chats where with the Friday night drinkers and smokers, that were to out of their heads to think straight let alone understand the world in its true form. My favourite chat was when we discussed the use of hedgerows as highways for wildlife with some American tourists who left us a bottle of bourbon whiskey for our time which was still at my side when my friend met his end. The sounds of the sea lapping against the legs of the jetty as I sit with my feet just centimetres above the water, with seagulls shouting and swirling overhead in the breeze and diving for my fish. My companion heads back to camp to collect his fishing rod he has had since I don’t know when and catches mackerel from the same school that the seagulls were eating from. Every night I spent on the beach the sound of the sea soothed my broken heart and damaged mind.
We had been living on the wind swept beach for a year or two when it happened. We heard a profound amount of noise and fuss happening up along the promenade, cars being thrashed back and forth people cheering. My partner in obscurity wondered up to find out what all the fuss was. I watched a young lady running along the beach with her hair blowing behind her like the main of a horse with along flowing skirt acting like a tail which briefly distracted me from my companion. The first I realise he is not with me down on the beach I hear a bellow of brakes and a thud as a car hits a body. I got there to find my friend under the rear axle of a boy racers highly modified car. He was already dead when the paramedics pulled him out pulling skin from his exhaust blackened face with a sound like tearing nylon trousers, a sound which will live with me till I die.
We could hear the rain bouncing from the concrete floors and running down the walls of this underpass below a traffic choked road, as the paramedic caring for me takes a step back as a go into a coughing fit splattering specks of blood all over his uniform, and going into tears at the memory of a friend’s death. When I recover from this I tell my paramedic that this is what happens if you believe that you are allowed to think for yourself. I’m free to think what I want when I want as long as it’s the same as what society wants me to think.
The funeral of my friend was a sad affair I was the only person in attendance. It was paid for by the state who when they contacted his family, they were told good riddance to bad rubbish by the millionaire business man that was his father. I left crematorium alone and heartbroken, leaving the dogs in the care of the staff and straight into the waiting arms of cheap alcohol, from which I had been dry since arriving at the beach. The locals all thought they were helping with their donations of cheap food and alcohol for a little ditty or a piece of advice. My favourite ditty for those wanting to listen was
BOTTLED SAIL written by buddy himself
Here I sail alone,
My mind lost and adrift at sea,
On board the itsy bitsy ship,
Devoured by the sealed demijohn,
Bobbing and hopping on the ocean,
Of others wants and yearnings
Light twinkling and glimmering of the waves,
While fixed upon another,
Glass is my sky,
Enamelled glass my waves,
Littered with tiny messages,
In bottles all their own,
As we in this demijohn,
Float out to sea.
They are all the sort of people who have the personality of pigs, but no matter how good they make themselves up with clothes, haircuts, make up and fancy trinkets they are still pigs on the inside. It was at this point I stopped eating and any food people gave me just piled up in a stinking rotten heap and made the whole camp smell.
“Thank you for listening to my story.” I say to the young green clad paramedic while I stop to cough up more blood. “I wish to pass on another of Doug’s’ proverbs to you may I”. “GO AHEAD” he says “Doug sounds like a wise chap.” He told me as we split up to go our separate ways that “the words of the nutters around me are the bars of my minds prison not allowing the quiet time required for my mind to get beyond a single sentence at a time.”
Just a short while after my friends’ funeral while my head and heart were still thick with grief, the redundant workers from a bankrupt scaffolding company set up home further down the beach. These oafs built themselves 2-meter square cabins on stilts from scaffold poles and boards they had stolen from the company which made them redundant. These went up in a constructed random pattern that was almost natural. The peace and quiet of my existence was destroyed, by their behaviour a boisterous swinging from platform to platform on ropes like Tarzan. These chimps would spend hours discussing politics of an evening getting louder the more they drank believing that they were putting the world to rights because they could shout and make passing folk stop and listen. These chimps and apes also gave out some engineering advice that was even to my untrained mind a bit suspect they just didn’t care anything for a bit of bread and can of lager. Yes, they bought me food and drink but they also bought early morning noise pollution with calls to each other from the top of their platforms and daily police visit to the beach. I was smacked over the head with a truncheon in one of these police visits and have never gotten rid of the head ache it gave me. So, with my head aching and my heart still heavy with grief I leave the beach and join a traveling group of Romanians on their way from the port just up from my beach towards the large city close at hand.
As I sit here with my insides being melted away by my addiction I recall the journey from beach of friendship to this the grey and wet city of my demise. Me and those I travelled with all making light of our sore feet as we head along cow parsley lined lanes with flower filled fields and covers of yellow oil seed rape around us all knowing we head into hopelessness, out from the glorious sunshine of the countryside. My green clad angle wipes tears from my 22-year-old face with a level of experience I will never achieve. I carry on telling my story as he watches me drift deeper into darkness.
With these people around me I realise that they all are like good books no covers left due to wear and tear but full of good stories. Unlike the people we are heading for who have no stories to tell but have wonderfully elaborate covers on. So I understand the best characters to travel with are those who are all book and no cover not those who are all cover and no book. One night me and my travelling group of Romanians came across what used to be a coach park over grown and abandoned with the remains of two coaches stood on rusty wheel rims the glass in the windows unbroken but cracked and covered in moss. We stop to sleep in the dry but smelly atmosphere these old coaches provide. It’s mid-May and humid when we settle down in the coaches with a small camp fire between them for them to cook on but it gave me a certain amount of comfort as well. I awoke just before dawn to the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard, the lightning showing me the sign for Gnome castle farm next door and seconds later the rain started with the sound of a thousand fingers hammering on the roof of the coach and dribbling down the windows distorting the view and making the moss run like a weed choked river. The lightning that accompanied this storm left the countryside around us with black scars and broken trees, a stark difference from the previous morning of bright sunshine and bird song. The following morning, we passed what was left of the estate where me Buddy and Doug had had such a wonderful Christmas now nothing but a pile of rubble with a mechanical beast sat atop it.
A few mornings later I sat down by the canal under a rust stained crumbling concrete bridge, similar to the one I met Doug under, to rain water tickling down the exposed and rusty reinforcing rods trying to decide if I should move on with these people. As I watched a ripple appears on the surface as a fish takes a fly from the surface where it was enjoying the warmth of the sun reflecting from the surface. The sun casts a shadow from an oak tree across the canal and over the tow path where I sit in quiet contemplation with just the sound of magpies and water fowl to keep my thoughts company. A butterfly floats past in the peace of the earl morning before the rest of humanity awakes and pollutes the world with its noise. A fast-moving dart of blue catches my eye as a kingfisher lands on a branch on the opposite bank to fish for its breakfast. I fish a blue carrier bag out from the canal and remove my breakfast, remove the lid and take a long slow drink from the cheap cider that has killed my taste buds and started on many other parts of me. My travelling companions find me and we get moving again through the town centre of another small town and on a wall besides an office full of suited workers is written, “those enclosed within are those lower down the evolutionary scale and hereby kept in this zoo cage being cared for by a zoo keeper of only just above them on the scale.”
The following morning as I sit and listen in the last peaceful mist of the spring that filled the world around me. I’m disturbed by the roar of a huge diesel engine being woken from a lazy slumber, scattering what little bird life there was out into the mist. Then with just as big a disturbance the mighty iron bucket of this rotten beast rears into view above the hoardings its living behind which are advertising yet another ivory tower decorated with plastic flower for the plastic people to live in. I take another mouthful of my cheap liquid breakfast straight from the rim of its three-litre plastic bottle and I’m ready to re-join my traveling companions for the last leg of our journey to the city centre park we intend to make home for a while.
Another coughing fit stops me from continuing my story to this wonderful man in green. I give the guy a piece of advice “remember the only person to really know you is you do not allow anyone else take that away from you”
The smell of breakfast coming from my Romanian friends cooking fire that morning was intoxicating. It was the first time since the death of my close friend under the wheels of a boy racer that I actually felt hungry. They were toasting bread thrown out from a local bakery and frying pigeon eggs some of them had gathered and they all cheered when I asked for a portion as they all knew I had not eaten in over a month. So, I started on the last leg of our journey to this dismal place with a full belly and a glad heart.
I thanked my green clad angle with a spare breath between a coughing fit and the telling of my story and ask him to turn his voice recorder on as I leave him a poem that my Mary wrote.
“SNAP is this poems name.
Slap goes the loose tongue.
Slap goes the loose mind.
Slap goes the loose fist.
Slap goes the loose morality.
Sting goes the tight ears.
Sting goes the tight mind.
Sting goes the flabby stomach.
Sting goes the over sensitive,
SNAP goes the bullied mind.
FEAR finds the bully”
The first morning of my waking in this city park was a noisy experience which I dislike intensely with traffic noise and sirens even as the sun comes up. But despite this a Buddhist monk joins us and I join him sitting under a buddleia tree on the edge of the public park I sit crossed legged trying to find my inner peace watching the butterflies and grass hoppers doing their thing in the early morning sunshine. The peace is once again broke by the sound of a siren mixed with a train clattering past on a nearby line I cannot see. The monk sits to my left with a young Romanian family in front all sat crossed legged and meditating.
I sit and watch through cider hazed eyes as my companions hang a freshly caught pike from a frame. (The green of the grass reflecting from its still wet scales reminding me of Mary’s green eyes). Below which there is a small fire with lots of fresh green pine in order to give lots of smoke and the frame is then covered in a plastic sheet with a few holes. The large fish sits in this very smoky atmosphere until the smoke has penetrated its soft fresh flesh, preserving it for the coming winter.
I awake as two vans pull up curb side, my head fuzzy and unable to comprehend their meaning I find the remains of my last bottle and finish it. The smoke from the camp fires and fish smoker drift and mingle with the morning mist and swirls around the immigration officer stepping out from the front van. Being my father’s brother, he knows me, putting his boot into my ribs with all his strength he tells me to get the hell out of the way. With broken ribs I take cover in the entrance to a subway under the very road the vans are parked on and watch as the vans empty.
Another large van pulls up, the type they use for prisoner transport, and readies it-self to receive. I watch as my father’s brother and his men systematically put out the cooking fires and beating my Romanian traveling companions. One at a time this group of wonderful people are violently rounded up and harshly thrown into the waiting van. Broken bones with cuts and bruises were common among these as they got on board to be removed from the country. My uncle left his men and sauntered on over to where I sat watching and gave me a letter from his brother addressed to me telling me they had seen me here before this raid happened. With a parting punch to my stomach he climbed on board his van leaving me spitting blood and nothing but my letter to read.
My brother told me where to find you he spotted you drinking your poison with the Romanian scum when he had them under surveillance. Since you left your mother has died she threw herself of the local bridge and perished in the river below. Along with this I blame you for the breaking up of my family and my loss of sanity you will not receive any of the family money as it now all goes to my only living sibling.
I hope you die cold and miserable before the lung cancer takes me, and yes this was from the smoking of too many cigars.
GOODBYE AND GOOD RIDDANCE,
As I finish reading this an ambulance pulls up and my green clad angle makes his appearance. Introducing himself and telling me, my father’s brother had phoned to say there was a homeless man injured in a raid by immigration officers. I had been left with a bruised and broken rib cage after the raid and with the state of my body with years of alcoholism I was dying. A green clad figure appears in the entrance to the subway with medical bag in one hand and a look of disgust on his face. Two steps in and from outside comes the loudest clap of thunder in years and the rain starts telling me time’s up. My yellow eyes reflect back at me from the oil slicked puddle growing out from the stairs up to the green clad hero as I say “goodbye and thank you.” You have heard the rest.
The angel in green that watched the young guy die wrote this on the wall of the subway above where he died. Here died Wilfred the traveller, in my care he told me his story, which will never be forgotten and shared among all paramedics. His spirit and mind went further than his feeble body would have ever allowed.