I probably shouldn’t say it, but sometimes homelessness is quite fun. Well it was for me anyway. Terrible huh?
But y’know, of COURSE I didn’t choose it or want it, of course it was horrible and traumatising. Of course you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But my spirit knew it couldn’t afford to collapse into despair and self- pity. You cannot afford to be depressed on the streets. Anxious – of course, hyper-vigilant, naturally – but depression? No, that comes afterwards, when you realise how little the world valued your life – but at the time you are in the midst of it, the adrenalin starts to kick in. The old flight or fight reflex. Once you have quickly caught up with the fact that this IS your life now…and you might not have very long left, it’s kinda liberating, kinda exciting…
And no matter what the rest of the world thinks of you, you feel proud, you actually feel strong. I had spent my life being afraid of my own shadow, on too many occasions. But with homelessness, I rose to the occasion. I am good at being homeless. I took to it like a duck to water. I have resources I was not aware of; sharp instincts and a quick brain. I understand the value of respect, and that’s very important on the streets. You can be the hardest f*cker in London, but if you are arrogant, self-serving and, generally, a wanker – you will last weeks before someone ‘deals’ with you. Spiritually, intellectually and physically, I found out that I was quick on my feet. You have to be.
I’d spent all my life feeling like an outsider, from being a Geordie to being gay, I never fitted in anywhere. I lasted one week in the Cub Scouts before, much to my father’s fury, I refused to go back. I refused to play their games or follow their rules. ‘If I want to make a fire with sticks, I’ll make a fire with sticks but I’m not doing it just because the rest of you are,” I remember thinking, at six years old. ‘I’d rather read my comics’ In large groups I’d always find the seat nearest the door. I’d feel short of breath whenever I was dragged into being ‘part’ of some kind of gang or scene. I remember this idiot once telling me I wasn’t a ‘team player’ because I left a group I was on holiday with, to go off for a wander on my own. I felt very relieved by his observation. I didn’t relate to my home town, I hated huge swathes of the media when I was part of it and I feel no affinity to gay men just because we might desire the same folk. I have always been an awkward bastard. A square peg in a round hole.
There was always a deep sense of feeling rejected by the world. But really, it was always me doing the rejecting. It’s not that I thought I was any better than them. Well, not most. I just didn’t see why I should be browbeaten into having an affinity with someone just because their first language was the same as mine or some other spurious notion of identity.
But as a homeless man, I fitted in instinctively. Down among the rejects. I knew instinctively how to be. That first night down at Stratford Shopping Centre, I knew exactly what to do. I popped to the off-licence on the way and bought six cans of Tyskie, then shoulders back, head high I strolled calmly and patiently through to a spot where I felt it would be safe to park up my sleeping back. I felt oddly serene but I also knew, never, ever show fear. I handed out a couple of cans to a pair of funny, loveable Romanian ne’er do wells who looked like a laugh and asked them if they would mind if I slept down near to them. They cleared me a spot and I knew instantly they had my back. Adrenaline was pumping through me, previously I had been in that disgusting hostel in Leytonstone, among the crackheads and smackheads who robbed and threatened to stab me. I knew I was okay among a few common or garden alcoholics.
And we had a laugh, sitting up pretty much all of the night, singing while my Romanian friend Ion strummed his guitar. I’d recently taken to singing up at Newbury Park Station so it was nice to have bandmates, as he roared ‘WE WILL WE WILL RACK YOU!!!’. Queen are big amongst Romanian homeless men. It was nice to be around sweetness, having just experienced such viciousness – I had been in danger of losing my life on four of the last five nights, and I don’t know if it was the euphoria of knowing that I’d somehow survived, or just their hilarious company, which made me think at one point, ‘ this is the best night out of my life!’
Maybe it was. I certainly felt free. I had nothing left to lose apart from my life and I was no longer scared about that happening, having found my connection to God. I spent the early hours chilling with a lovely elderly rapper from Jamaica, who was also a comedian and we opened a few more beers. If we closed our eyes we could have been looking at Montego Bay and not Poundland. I had talked to many that night. Most were, like myself, artists of one kind or another. I’d been noticing that a lot. There are not a lot of homeless PR people, accountants or HR executives. I reckon about 85 per cent of the rest though are singers, writers, painters, comedians, poets, chefs….And the remaining 15 per cent probably should be…
It was the same thought that struck me in Waltham Forest Housing, seeing all these lives being destroyed by something which was not parsimony but vindictiveness. I was speaking to the other people in the queues…almost without fail, creative people. This world does not value art nor respect artists. It’s all about the moolah. And if you do make it, the money that you generate will usually end up in the hands of the people without an artistic bone in their bodies. Parasites. I recalled how the first thing the Nazis did, when they came to power, was to destroy art. And I watched as this government and society destroyed these people’s lives and quietened their voices.
Anyway. having danced and sung up a storm with my Jamaican and Romanian fellow misfits down Stratford station, I fell asleep around 4.30am with a smile on my face for the first time in weeks. I awoke to a prodding in my right soldier. I looked up and this enormously rotund woman was bearing down on me. ‘Do you need help?’ she asked. ‘ I’ve never seen you before. Who are you?’
‘Who are YOU?’ I asked? ‘Do YOU need help?’, I asked, returning the compliment. I had had my fill of interfering fake do-gooders on fine salaries. ‘I’m from Thamesreach Charity and I’ve come to help you,’ she said smiling sweetly.
‘Oh, so you work for the government deporting East Europeans against their will,’ I told her. ‘You grass them up, right?’
‘No we don’t!’ she said.
‘Well I happen to know for a fact that you do,’ I told her. So you are not only a grass but a liar.’ I leapt out of my sleeping bag. ‘No I’m not. No we’re not,’ she said.
‘Liar, liar, Bum’s on fire! I yelled in her face. ‘You and ‘Saint’ Mungo’s do it. Incidentally, it was your mates at ‘Saint Mungo’s that nearly got me killed three times over three days after I blogged about your insidious activities.’
‘No we don’t,’ she lied, strolling off to patrronise a young disabled girl. I barged in. ‘What have they ever done for you?’ I asked the girl, blocking the fat woman’s path. ‘Nothing,’ said the girl. ‘They come here for weeks on end, but all they do is ask questions, they never actually do anything.’
I turned to look at the woman from Thamesreach. ‘Other charities come with food, toiletries, real help…what do you actually DO?’ I demanded. ‘Will you PLEASE get out of my way and stop obstructing my work.’
‘No,’ I roared back. ‘I want explanations. What do you actually f*cking do apart from grass people up and gather information. And get people deported against their will? If you wanna help why don’t you just go out and buy us all a burger instead of standing there with your head tilted pretending that you care. Let’s face it, you’ve had more than your own fair share of burgers by the looks of things. I bet you’re getting a great salary to pay for all that grub. I bet your job sounds great at dinner parties, don’t it? Telling everyone you work for a charity when in fact you’re the fifth column.’
She looked angry but her eyes wouldn’t meet my own. ‘We don’t do that.’ she said, finally raising her voice. There was a big crowd gathering around us now. All homeless, I could hear them saying, words to the effect of,’ They’ve never done anything for us.’
This young Polish guy burst through the crowd. ‘Yes you do,’ he yelled. ‘You got my best mate deported after he gave you his details.’
I jumped for joy. ‘There you go, you f*cking lying cow. Now f*ck off out of here and leave these people alone. Seriously. f*ck off.’ The crowd began to laugh and clap and they sensibly departed. Never trust Saint Mungo’s or Thamesreach and NEVER give to them. Evil bastards who pretend to care about the vulnerable in society while making a good living out of their predicaments and simultaneously stitching them up.’
I’d had the night of my life and I got the tube back to a Sikh temple with my Jamaican rapper mate, who had me in stitches the whole way, as we rode the underground. I looked around at how miserable everybody else on train looked, how frightened so many of their faces were. Presumably scared of losing the rat race and ending up where we were. But you know, in the moment I KNEW I was happier than they were. And I really did feel free of the matrix. And the moment is, really all we ever have.