It’s funny, but when I’m sleeping outside, I am so on the ball, so adrenalised. Even with no sleep, so alert. I swear I could plan and direct the invasion of Belgium or Bhutan before breakfast. Not that I’d particularly want to. But the survival instinct is strong in me. All my instincts are.
When I’m homeless, I become feral again – completely obeying my gut. You become closer to your animal self. At least, I did. I could and can smell danger and disingenuousness. I KNEW the last time I became homeless, that it was about to happen, before it happened. This gift saved my life many times. It’s God given and we all have that ability, we’ve just tuned out of it because of the opium that is the banality of modern life. It saved my life many times and we ignore our instincts at our peril. Sometimes I infuriate the people in my life who still love me, by not doing the ‘logical’ thing. I appear stubborn. But when I feel that ‘punch’ in the gut, which says a big resounding ‘no’, or tells me to get the hell out of somewhere, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people, or myself, I try to go with it. A leap of faith. Once or twice I’ve allowed myself to be emotionally blackmailed into ignoring that ‘tug’ and, of course, it ended in disaster, for everyone concerned. Usually the magnetic pull towards something, or the screaming need to get away from something, is so strong, I really have no choice in the matter.
We should all be like street dogs. My mate, Big Baz, has been on the streets for thirty years, so he knows a thing or two about sussing people out before they even open their mouths. But even he can fall for a sob story, or a pretty face, or one of those people who just instinctively home in on your Achilles heel. Luckily for him, he has a Labradoodle called Reginald. Reg is a leg(end). If he notices a wound or an injury on your skin, he will kiss it better with his antiseptic doggy licks. That’s if he likes the cut of your jib. If a wanker or a charlatan comes along, Reggie’s lovely grey powder puff tail stops wagging. He doesn’t get aggressive. He just turns his back and glances away disdainfully. Reginald can’t be bought with dog biscuits. He is like a guide dog to us blind mere mortals who have undiscovered our innate ability to trust what we feel and see what is right under our noses.
When I sleep inside, as I have been recently – I’m kind of the opposite. I think it’s a reaction to having lived on my nerves for so long. I am usually hyper vigilant these days. But sleeping under a roof allows you to relax a little. I can’t linger in bed, because then anxiety and bad memories start to creep in, so I leap out the door – and sometimes I could forget my head, if it wasn’t screwed on.
I became homeless three times in the last year. Between the first and the second time I lived in a nice house, sharing it with Mick and Michelle. Building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there. Then Waltham Forest Housing and ‘Saint’ Mungo’s intervened, and I was thrown back to square one, only worse. It was deliberate. I’d been blogging about their policies and about how ‘Saint’ Mungo’s aren’t really a charity, but actually a front for the Home Office, deporting people against their will from Gatwick Airport. I nearly lost my life three times in three consecutive days and every single time, ‘Saint’ Mungo’s were directly involved. Of course, I can never prove it, but that’s fairly unlucky by any standards. I should have kept my big mouth shut, huh? I probably should now, too. But I do believe the old adage, tell the truth and shame the devil.
Mick, an ex-Royal Marine, who fought for his country – must have sensed that I wasn’t going to be there for too long, because he kept teaching me survival skills. He knew a LOT having spent a year on the streets himself, with Michelle, who had suffered a stroke and become disabled as a result of their experience. He knew how vindictive the authorities can be. For the first time in my life, he taught me to look after my bodily needs. To listen to what my body was saying.
I’d be rushing out the door, not feeling great and not really sure how I was going to cope with whatever acrobatics the government expected me to perform on that particular day, to stay alive, under a roof. ‘Have you eaten?’ he would say. ‘Oh, shit, no! I forgot.’
Gradually I learned to do it for myself, whenever I had that lingering sense that I’d forgotten to do something important. Like when people think they’ve left the oven turned on, or the window open. So I learned to listen to myself before I left the house. Have you eaten? Yes. Have you listened to Abba? Yes (I need my uplifting music to raise my vibrations). Have you said thank you to the Universe? Yes. Have you been to the toilet. Yes! (sometimes I would forget this must fundamental need in my race to get out and about, only to find I had to race back home after I had walked halfway down my street, to complete my ablutions.)
I remember one day racing off somewhere and then stopping to pause on the doorstep. Something was wrong. ‘What have you forgotten to do?’ I KNEW there was something, but I went through my list and really couldn’t work out what it was. I went back to my room and perched on the bed. ‘What can it be?’ I thought, feeling suddenly really weary. Then I worked it out. I’d forgotten to sleep. I lay back down for forty winks, then emerged restored and able to carry out my tasks more efficiently.
But there is one human need that is up there with sleep, food, prayer, Abba, ablutions. Crying. I’ve felt it all week. That dull ache our bodies send us when we know when we have neglected an essential need. It’s no use watching comedy to try to cheer yourself up when your body needs to cry. You have to let the pain out, or it will turn in on itself. You have to release the poison.
I once took anti-depressants for four years which basically stopped me from crying, which, I guess, cosmetically, made me seem better. I wasn’t. I was in so much need of releasing those chemicals that it drove me to the point of a breakdown. It is good and natural to cry. To be alive is to experience joy but also to grieve. The more awake you are, the more you grieve and the more joy you experience.
That’s especially true of us homeless people. We’ve gone past the point of no return. We can’t ‘tune out’ anymore. We can’t pretend that Ilford isn’t a shithole and walk through with blinkers on. Or pretend that racism and violence and lack of brother or sisterhood and poverty and bullying and murder and rape and abuse of power isn’t rife, because we have seen it, vividly, with our own eyes. We LIVED the reality. The one they try to sweep off the streets so that y’all will vote Tory. We CAN’T now unsee the reality of this twisted society.
As a man, I don’t feel ashamed of my tears. I remember one day meeting Mick and Michelle in the pub, summonsed by Michelle. Mick had been acting all weird, in his energy. Like he was angry with me. Angry with all of us. As the third wheel in that particular house she was determined to get me involved in getting it out in the open. I’d always known how strong he was, he gave me snippets of what he went through, fighting for his country, truly horrific. Usually he was a vision of calm, but I’m not so daft as to believe that anyone who has lived our lives, any lives, can be like that all the time.
He’d been keeping up a front. To be protective I guess, and also not to show weakness. It’s very, very important not to show weakness when you are on the streets and I’m sure, in the trenches (which are not as dissimilar as might imagine). But we all need to be weak sometimes. Conversely, that reveals true inner strength. It’s just knowing that you can do it safely. Around people you can trust. Mick was (not so) secretly devastated. His country had betrayed him. Many people who he thought were there for him, just weren’t. And for risking his life for an ideal, of ‘Great’ Britain, he’d been left for dead and even worse, seen his beloved wife left in the same position. Not to mention the people you get to know on the streets and who you really do grow to love. Emotions develop fast in extreme surroundings. I can’t really put it into words to you the grief I feel when I walk through Ilford and I see people I know slowly dying. I’m crying for them, I’m crying for me, I’m crying for Mick and Michelle and I can’t process any of these things until I’ve let these things out. But NEVER on the streets. I will find a toilet to sob in, or go down an alley – I know how to express my tears quickly and efficiently. I never wipe them dry. I let them leave salty tracks down my face. That day Mick wept his heart out and we all felt better, like after a thunderstorm.
But recently I’ve been struggling to find that trigger. Needing to cry and not being able to, I can only describe, is like having wind and not being able to fart or burp. It’s agonising. Which is actually quite funny, when you put it like that. Anyway, there are, apparently seven stages of grief. I’m at number four. I did the shock, felt the pain, rather enjoyed the anger (although it is utterly unsustainable) and now I think I’m approaching the sadness/loneliness bit. It’s incredibly lonely. Because nobody but your brothers and sisters who have, or are, on the streets, will ever understand that feeling. And you don’t want to bore people by talking about it. Especially when they rush to change the subject.
But what AM I grieving for? The world was not what I thought it was and many of its inhabitants are disappointing. That’s okay. So can I be. Others, however, are downright evil. Anyway, I’ve had the scales lifted from my eyes. I see the divinity and I see very clearly the opposite of that, too.
‘Tis here where hell and heaven dance’ wrote Kate Bush on Constellation of the Heart. Never a truer word. Though Ilford has overdone the hell bit, a bit.
One of the strangest and most divine things that happens to you when you are in real trouble with the darker side, is that someone always comes along and gives you the advice you really need. One night, I was in Wetherspoons, Leytonstone, raging into my phone to Mick and Michelle. I had spent the whole day gathering £30 so I would have enough to get through the next week. I’d walked several miles to get there. Then I put ten pounds in the Underground Oyster machine, It swallowed my money and didn’t give me my card. The TFL transport guard saw what had happened and went to investigate the machine. He said there was no record of my payment. I said ‘Well, you saw me put it in.’ Will you please investigate this again. He went back, but this time he had locked the keys into the station office. ‘I’ll have to go to Leyton and get another set,’ he told me. ‘FFS!,’ I said under my breath. I went outside to wait the half hour for him to return and starting spilling my woes to this girl sitting out the front begging. She was clearly on heroin, but she was sweet and I gave her some cigarette dog ends. I was only just calming down when a man walked past and shouted ‘junkie’ at her.
I didn’t take the time to check out what he looked like. I swiveled like a banshee and roared ‘f*ck you!!’ in his face. I literally blew him back about six steps with my voice and rage. Then I looked up and noticed he was a good foot taller than me, with a big scar on his face. ‘Oh f*ck’ I thought, and marched off, leaving behind my £10 refund. It wouldn’t have been there anyway, I know that.
When I got to Wetherspoons I was trying to calm my nerves by listening to ABBA as I always do, It really wasn’t working. And I was pacing. This lovely Portuguese guy came up to me. ‘What are you listening to?’ he asked. I popped on ‘Thank You For the Music’ for him and he smiled, patting my shoulder and I instantly felt calmer. ‘Stay in the light,’ he told me.
‘Stay in the light!’