Despite the cold I had decided to walk to work and back yesterday, it's not a long journey and as long as it is dry and I don't have too much to carry it is a pleasant walk either up North Hill to Mutley or via Greenbank past the fire station. I am a little wary now of walking through either area after 9pm but at 8.10pm yesterday I felt it was safe to walk. As I neared the Spar on North Hill I witnessed what looked like an altercation between a 'beggar' (that is probably not the politically correct term these days!) and three 'youths'. The 'beggar' turned out to be a very old friend, Bill, and the three youths were the children of several known local families (N.B. I am being careful how I write this!).
I decided to intervene to check that Bill was OK. Before I carry on writing let me explain how I know Bill; I have known Bill since I was about 15, he was always such a caring individual with a unique sense of humour and a slightly eccentric nature. I had only known him for a few years when both his parents committed suicide, as you can imagine Bill's life was torn apart by his parent's loss. Bill has struggled to cope ever since and the situation was not helped by his families deep involvement with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church, of course, saw suicide as a terrible sin and did not recognise the deep depression that had lead to the suicides, instead they told Bill that both his parents would go to hell for their acts and that he should not mourn them. I can't imagine going through any of this and am still angry at the way the Roman Catholic Church treated Bill in his time of need.
Anyway, back to yesterday evening; I do see Bill quite a bit and always stop to chat but yesterday was different, Bill had been beaten up again the previous evening and was still bruised, swollen and bearing several stitches on his face, this in itself is not unusual, Bill is frequently attacked by yobs on their way home from a night out who see Bill as no more than a punch-bag there purely for their own entertainment. One of the youths who was there on my initial arrival was now wandering off leaving Bill and I with one very drunk girl of approximately 15 called Kyra and another girl of about the same age, who appeared sober, called Nicky. Kyra and Nicky are usually drunk and roaming the streets of an evening and Bill feels some responsibility towards the welfare of the 2 girls, but yesterday he was particularly tired and was desperately trying to keep his patience as Kyra persistently asked him for cigarettes and booze. I asked Kyra and Nicky if they could give Bill a little bit of space a he could see he was tired and probably a little uncomfortable due to the facial injuries he had sustained on the previous evening. Kyra had no intention of giving Bill space and to be fair it is hard to expect some poor drunken 15 year old from a troubled family to perhaps understand the need for personal space.
Despite my desire to get home out of the cold I could see a desperation in Bill's eyes that I had not seen before and was also intrigued by the lives of the 2 young girls who seem to have such a bleak looking future. By now there were tears in Bill's eyes so I crouched next to him and he offered me a space on the piece of cardboard next to him. I spent 50 minutes sat outside the Spar shop seeing a little bit of life from Bill's point of view, watching people walk past and giving you dirty looks, the utterances of abuse as well as those who simply avoid eye contact and give you a wide berth. At one point a kind lady emerged from the Spar shop and gave us a packet of 10 Marlboro.
It was the first time in years that I had actually had a decent conversation with Bill and we had a chance to talk a bit about the past and as well as his heroin addiction and alcohol addiction, both of which he has beaten and then returned to. We talked about the moment he decided to become homeless, he was getting behind with his mortgage payments and was struggling to deal with life so he simply walked out and posted the keys back through the letterbox, he has been homeless ever since. He knows that being homeless is his own choice and he says that he finds living on the streets easier than trying to deal with depression at home on his own. He admits that he doesn't like the cold but says it is not so bad sleeping rough in the summer, he sometimes struggles to get enough to eat but says that most nights he can find something to eat. He wishes that people wouldn't beat him up but that is not really a big issue for him as they usually stop after a while before he is too seriously injured. One of his biggest reassurances in life is his dog whom is by his side constantly and is very beautiful, her name is Bella and we call her the Rattweiller!
Bill tells me that he just wants some answers to life, he says that he really wants to get into heaven so he can punch God for sending his Mum to hell and then he repeats the words I have heard him utter so many times before "How can God send an angel to Heaven?". I struggle to find the answers Bill needs. Before I do get a chance to answer, Kyra starts hassling Bill again as she needs to use a toilet, she says she cant go home as her parents are fighting again and so Bill decides to walk her to a local smack (heroin) den so she can use their toilet. The trio set off on their way and I kiss Bill on the cheek triggering his tears again.
I walked home, not quite believing how cold you can get from sitting out on the cold for 50 minutes, how could Bill possibly survive a whole night in such conditions. I am not going to draw any conclusions from this blog, I simply wanted to share my experience with you.
I will leave you with this interesting little nugget on plans to arrest the Pope on his pending visit to the UK- click here to read!