Monthly Archives: Nov 2016

Chapter 1 – Part 2

This post follows on from the events described in the previous post which can be found here :-

The next couple of days passed in a bit of a blur. I was usually one of the first to turn up at the Pitstop and after grabbing some toast and coffee I’d step outside for a fag to chill before going back in to face the various suggestions coming my way. Quite a few of these were just impossible for me to fully take on board because of my mental and emotional state. The guy that ran the Pitstop had a working relationship with one of the Doctors surgery’s in town and also with a local Policewoman and he wanted me to make appointments with both but I could only face the doctors initially. I’d manage to get a few things done during the day and then soon after closing time I’d be off to the supermarket to buy more vodka to help with the codeine buzz that I was relying on to get me through the day and to help me prepare for another night sleeping rough.

By Thursday I had signed on as a temporary patient at the docs, been pushed into an interview with the policewoman concerning the cause of my homelessness and had spent some time with the local drugs services. Only the docs had been what I thought of as beneficial at the time as I’d walked out with another prescription for the di-hydro-codeine pills. As the time for closing the Pitstop was approaching I was called into the office and offered a tent to take with me. A couple of the local lads that used the Pitstop then spent a while trying to explain where they thought a safe place to set up this tent would be. Obviously, I would need somewhere away from prying eyes if I was hoping to set it up and leave it during the day and they had great ideas about this. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the area all that well, I wasn’t capable of memorising the route and it was starting to get dark by the time I got away from the centre.

I set off in the direction I had been told and soon found myself walking across a wet field in the dark with very little idea of where I was actually heading. The weight and bulk of the tent, sleeping bag and blankets I was carrying were making the journey hard which just added to my growing frustration. I pushed on for half an hour or so until I reached a steep incline with a band of trees cutting across it. When I got to the trees I figured that this would have to do so I dumped my load and sat on a fallen log to light up a much-needed fag. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to properly set up a tent, that I had no previous experience of, in the dark and had decided that hanging it from some trees would have to do for now. I could sleep underneath it for tonight and then try to pitch it in the morning but this turned out to be far more than I could manage at this point.

Ten minutes later I was sat on the ground in a flood of tears cursing the world and everyone in it. The second wind I had got a few days ago had run out. My hope and any ability to think in straight lines had gone with it. As I sat there I was aware of two thoughts, one of which was that I had to get as far away from this tent as I possibly could as soon as I could. This was by far the strongest of the two and so I got up and started to retrace my steps. The second thought had been planted by the worker at the drugs service and it was that if I was to think of suicide I should phone the Ambulance service and ask them for help. I wasn’t thinking of suicide at that point but this thought kept flashing through my mind.

I walked back into Leatherhead town centre and then through it. My feet were on automatic pilot and just kept plodding along. Every now and then I would pull my phone from my pocket and consider calling an ambulance but I kept stopping myself. I just thought that this would bring more trouble. As I got nearer and nearer to the M25 the fact that I couldn’t think of anything else that would help me overpowered this concern. I grabbed my phone and dialled 999. As the connection was going through the tears started again. All the frustration spilt out. My inner child stepped away from the train wreck of my psyche and took control of me in a bloodless coup. I told the pleasant man on the other end of the line that I had a large number of di-hydro-codeine in my pocket and was close to downing them in one go. He asked me to stay on the line and wait for an ambulance to attend. Now that I had let go it was simple. All I had to do was spark up a fag and remain where I was. Someone else could sort out whatever happened next. It was not my problem anymore.

The ambulance took me to Epsom Hospital where I spent the next three to four hours. Every now and then I was taken into a side room and required to give an account of myself and my circumstances. Each time this happened I repeated a shortened version of my story and made sure I emphasised the suicidal tendencies. I wasn’t suicidal but I was running on empty and had no idea how else to get any support. I would have said pretty much anything to get myself out of the cold and into a real bed for a few days. It appeared that this paper-thin plan of action had actually worked when I was informed that a bed had been found for me. After a very long journey in the back of a different ambulance I was guided onto a darkened psychiatric ward at St Peters Hospital, Chertsey, shortly after midnight. My details were taken and I was led to a bed in a room with seven beds, half of which were occupied, and left to my own devices. Although I had been asked if I had any sharp objects with me they had not mentioned the pills and at this stage in the proceedings, I wasn’t going to bring this mistake to their attention. I wanted my smarties with me.

The rest of the night passed without incident and the morning started with an early wake-up call from the staff for meds. I wasn’t on the list so I watched the proceedings from a distance and gratefully learnt where to go to make hot drinks. I had already seen some of the residents using a pass card to go into the garden for a fag so I asked a staff member if I could get a card and was told that some more would be available later in the day and that I would have to rely on staff to let me in and out til then. It soon became apparent that a guided tour of my new surroundings wasn’t on the cards and I would need to watch and learn from those around me. After I had managed to get outside for a fag I was eventually let back in only to be told it was breakfast time and I was pointed in the right direction. The canteen was away from the ward and as I soon learnt it catered for at least two other psychiatric wards in the same block.

Breakfast soon became my favourite meal here as it takes a concerted effort to make cereal and toast inedible and the only problem was when items ran out. In keeping with most hospitals though the rest of the meals on offer were generally quite atrocious with even the simplest of things needing caution before tucking in. Unfortunately, for the first few days, while I was locked in my own head, I had to learn this by trial and error but by the end of my stay I had caught on and was mainly eating sandwiches with recognisable fillings topped up with as much of the main courses and puddings as I found palatable. When I had finished my breakfast I returned to the ward and took a much-needed shower.

I kept a low profile throughout most of the day making sure I got my fag breaks outside without involving the staff as much as possible. I was thawing out internally and observing the goings on around me was more than enough for now. I was expecting to be assessed and when the day was coming to an end and this hadn’t happened I asked what my status was. I was told that if it hadn’t happened by now it would have to wait til after the weekend when the doctors came back on duty. I celebrated this reprieve with a handful of my codeine smarties, a cup of coffee and a fag and relaxed for the first time that day. Now that I knew I was safely ensconced here until Monday at the earliest I could make the most of this break from reality. My observations had helped categorise my fellow residents into two main camps; those that needed a wide berth and everyone else. Although some of the staff were more troublesome than any of the residents.

The weekend crept by fairly uneventfully and then Monday followed suit. I was splitting my time between the telly, my smartphone and a bit of reading. Most afternoons would find me trying to catch up on sleep that I was losing to the stereophonic snoring I was caught in between every night. As my internal thaw continued and I found myself capable of connecting with some of the folk on the ward the time passed a little quicker. I got involved in a number of good conversations and at one point was sat on my bed tapping out a rhythm while one of the lads strummed a tune out of a guitar that only had three strings. A lot of the connections I made were based on being at the right place at the right time as most of my companions had coherent moments in between periods of vacancy.

On Tuesday morning I was informed that I would be assessed later in the day and I knew that this short break was coming to an end. The assessment was fairly straightforward with me giving an account of the situation at my home and how I had left hoping to find a solution. The doctor quizzed me on a few issues and previous mental health difficulties I had experienced and then It was all over. I went outside for a fag with the expectation that I would be shown the door shortly after I returned but when I asked what was happening I was told that no decision would be made until the next day. I had at least another night in a real bed but other than returning to Leatherhead still no real plan of action.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon Wednesday that I was called to see the doctor again. He explained that although he could see that I had some mental health issues and my life was a mess, my problems weren’t enough for him to keep me on the ward and arrangements would be made to discharge me the next day. I was only surprised that I had yet another night here. Just as I was starting to settle in for the day a stray thought disturbed my peace. Yesterday was the day that I should have signed on for my jobseekers benefit. I could expect to lose my claim and therefore any financial support if I didn’t do something about it. After spending most of the afternoon panicking and going through a list of ideas I had to let go of the problem as there was plainly nothing that I could do while I was on the ward.

By lunchtime Thursday I had decided that the best thing I could do about my benefit claim was to find a jobcentre and explain my situation in person. So I searched Google maps for the nearest jobcentre, found one in Guildford and figured that when they discharged me I would ask to be taken there. This proved to be troublesome as they initially insisted that they had no obligation to do anything other than showing me the door. I argued that as I was homeless and had no money I would be in grave trouble stuck in Chertsey, a town I had no previous knowledge of and it was agreed that a taxi would return me to where I had called the ambulance. Fortunately, the taxi driver showed me a great kindness and not only took me to Guildford but dropped me off right outside the jobcentre. I entered the jobcentre and started what proved to be a long and frustrating fight on the phone to talk to the right person to explain my circumstances. In the end, I had to leave my details with someone on the correct floor of the correct jobcentre who assured me that they would make sure that the correct person was informed the next day.

I was worn out when I walked out but felt the need to follow a few tenuous leads I had been given to get somewhere to sleep that night and wasn’t too surprised to find my status kept all doors firmly shut but was informed of the whereabouts of the local drop-in day centre. I phoned up the Pitstop and left a message explaining my circumstances since being there, figuring I would probably be returning at some point or possibly want to direct any post there. There was only one thing to do and that was to buy some vodka. It was my first drink for a week and so didn’t take too long to get to the place where nothing really mattered and it would all sort itself out later. I hung around the town centre for a few hours before deciding that it would be good to check out the location of the local hospital in case my knees got worse during my stay here. After which I spent most of the night walking around trying to find somewhere suitable to safely lay down and sleep and actually managed to sleep for at least three or four minutes at one point. It was a relief when the daylight came and I could get on with a new day.

Not knowing how early the drop-in opened meant that I felt the need to wait until mid-morning before approaching the place. When I did finally go inside I was pleasantly surprised with the warm welcome I received from the guy that was in charge. He pointed out the availability of food and drinks and assured me that as soon as he was free he would come over and spend some time. I found myself a seat next to a power point, plugged my phone in and began to put some roll-ups together as a means of seeming busy. When he came over I started yet another drawn out explanation of my circumstances, which as time was passing was becoming longer and seemingly more ridiculous. Even I was wondering just how insane it all sounded and I was the one that had lived through it. Once we had got beyond the intentional homelessness barrier he threw a few suggestions my way and told me that he would think through my problems and discuss them with other service suppliers that used the property. He took me to the office so that I could phone the benefits office to check on my claim and I was informed that although a few hiccups had occurred arrangements were being made to put a payment into my account.

After having some lunch at the centre I went to a cash point to see if a friends promise of some money to help me out had arrived in my account. Thankfully it had and I took my account back to the limit of the overdraft. The initial rush of having some cash in my pocket was leaving me by the time I had walked to the shops and I tried to think sensibly about what to do. It seemed rational to buy a cheap tent and then find a quiet place out-of-the-way to pitch it so I selected a suitably priced tent and added it to the two sleeping bags I had been given at the drop-in. My knees were still threatening further problems and so I searched the general area around the Royal Surrey County Hospital on Google maps for ideas. I settled on a patch of ground named Broadstreet Common on the map thinking that as it was right on the edge of Guildford it would offer some opportunities.

I might have already mentioned my blatant inability to think through things properly and here again, this showed to be true as by the time I had walked to the common the daylight was all but gone. I sparked up a fag, ignored the feeling of deja vu and tried to decide what to do. I came to the conclusion that dumping my bundle in a bush and hoping it would still be there when I returned would have to do for now as the need for a drink was too strong to fight any longer. I didn’t care too much about later. Later would have to sort itself out because right now had a higher level of importance. I had passed a Tesco superstore on the way up and so I chose a suitably random bush, as casually as possible dumped my stuff in it and headed off to buy more vodka. Although it hadn’t happened yet I was still prone to the promise the bottle gave me that everything would work itself out while I was drinking. The superstore had a great strip of land behind it with a couple of benches up against the back of the store where I spent most of the evening. My supply of codeine smarties had run dry and so I went the Hospital A&E hoping for a top-up. After a couple of hours waiting I was given some full strength co-codamol and figured that as beggars can’t be choosers they would have to do for now.

It was while I was wandering around on the common looking for a bush to sleep under that I came face to face with three of the local lads. It was gone midnight, they were clearly so far out of their collective trees that they needed a map just to find the forest the aforementioned trees were located in, we were plainly right in the middle of nowhere and so unsurprisingly my first thought was that I was glad that I had chosen a place close to the hospital as I was probably going to be an in-patient quite soon. My fears were short-lived though and the lads were incredibly friendly and offered me the chance to join them as they were aiming to spend the night doing some coke in a railway hut. I respectively declined using my need for a good nights sleep as an excuse. It actually took ages to persuade them that I was alright and just wanted the chance to get my head down for some sleep. I thought we had parted ways until one of them came running back, pressed a large number of coins into my hand, gave me a great big hug and walked off while promising undying friendship. I waited until I was sure they had gone before I just collapsed in a heap on the floor and sparked up another fag.

It wasn’t too long after this exchange that I found a bush and crawled in for the rest of the night. In the morning I sought out my lucky hiding spot and left the tent and sleeping bags there for the morning while I headed back into town to get a cooked breakfast with the coins I had been given. That full English in the YMCA was the best meal I had eaten for weeks and I drained every drop of pleasure from the experience that I possibly could. I had located a table close to a power point and plugged my phone in for a charge while I was eating and so left feeling very satisfied and pleased with myself. My plan for the day was to go back to the common to seek a suitable hiding place to pitch my tent and then return to the drop-in centre. Like most drop-ins that I had been to this one was usually closed on a Saturday but a local church had taken over and were setting up a Christmas dinner for everyone that used the drop-in. So I set off back to the common.

It only took half an hour to find a brilliant spot for the tent behind a couple of trees and even less time to pitch it. Once it was up I walked up and down the nearest path to see if it was visible and when I was satisfied that it was well hidden started the trek into town. The sun was up, I had somewhere I could call home and dinner would be served shortly, Bellissimo ! The half hour walk back into Guildford town centre was barely hampered by my stiff, aching knees and once there I moseyed around the streets while waiting for the drop-in to open.

The meal itself was a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings made so much nicer by the fact that the majority of the folk from the church chose to sit and eat with us. I got involved in a number of good conversations and found myself encouraging a number of our hosts with my positivity and the witness of my faith. The turkey was followed by a choice of desert including x-mas pudding and then coffees were served. Although people were escaping outside to smoke at various points during the meal, the place almost emptied shortly after the coffee appeared. While we were outside the tables were cleared and when we had all returned our hosts began a fairly subtle raffle in order to hand out presents. Everyone attending ‘won’ a prize or two of sweet things and a choice of hats, scarfs, gloves or socks. I, for one, was really pleased to throw away the socks I had been wearing all this time and put on a nice fresh new pair.

I left as soon as I felt it would be acceptable after the raffle and bought some more vodka on the way back to my new local superstore. I was starting to really enjoy my evenings sat out in the back of this Tesco. There were just enough people using this area as a cut-through over the train tracks to the housing estate to make it an interesting place to sit without it actually being busy. I already knew that my back wouldn’t allow me to sit for too long without complaining and so had learned long ago to take a walk every now and then to ease it and it was on one of these strolls that I noticed a young woman crying in one of the offices. I knocked on the window and through some patchy use of universal sign language managed to connect and won a smile for my efforts. Around about half an hour later when I was back on my bench I saw her coming out of the staff entrance for a cigarette break and it was then that she told me she had been crying after learning that Nelson Mandela had died that day. We chatted for a while before she had to return to work.

I didn’t hang around for too long after that. It was very cold, had been a long day and I had another sleeping bag and two blankets to add to my bedding. When I got back to my tent and had rearranged my bed, I sat for a bit and enjoyed the quiet before turning in for the night. The next day was Sunday and would usually be a good opportunity to lay in till late but the cold woke me a few times during the night and made it impossible for me to doze in the morning. I had little choice but to get up and get going even though the day stretched almost empty ahead of me. Other than an invite for a hot meal at the drop-in in the evening I had nothing in particular to do. As I found out later this proved to be fertile ground for the seeds of a messed up, bad decision.

To be continued . . .

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Posted by on Nov 25, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Chapter 1

It was the pain coming from my left-hand side that woke me. Mainly at the shoulder and hip where they were in contact with the cold hard ground. After the usual short-lived confusion of coming back to full consciousness, I knew that I needed to do something to escape the pain. Usually, this would just mean rolling over and then hoping to get back to sleep but that option wasn’t a simple thing where I had chosen to sleep. Changing my position would require a lot of thought and planning whilst I was laying in the middle of this bush. I was also getting some low-level warning signals from my knees that added to the need to go for a full extraction and reassessment. I slowly and very carefully began the task of leaving my makeshift bed. This entailed a reversing procedure that would normally necessitate a repeated beeping sound accompanied by a flashing orange light but probably not advisable at three O’clock on a Sunday morning in the middle of St James’ Park in central London.

Eventually, I was free of the bush and able at last to make a short inventory of my physical needs. The pain in my shoulder and hip was dropping in its level of importance to be overtaken by the complaint that my knees were making. It had been cold when I had laid down to sleep and it had gotten noticeably colder in the short time that I had been unconscious. The thick corduroy coat I was wearing, which had kept most of my body warm, stopped just above the knees and everything from there down had suffered the cold of this late November night. Not only were my knees protesting about being frozen but they were also refusing to operate in their accustomed manner. There was a stiffness that I recognised from years of living with Ankylosing Spondylitis and it was a stiffness that called for movement and therefore a concerted effort to push through the pain.

Once again I was grateful that I was in the habit of preparing a number of roll-ups before turning in for the night as my fingers were starting to succumb to the cold already. So I pulled a ready-made cigarette from my pocket, sparked it up and began an incredibly slow, painful shuffle around the lake in the park. Halfway through my second circuit, I found that I was walking at maybe only two-thirds of my normal speed but it had taken a grim determination to get even that fast. This improvement in mobility was tempered by the tiredness that was taking over my already limited thinking capacity. A couple of hours of dozing fitfully under a bush wasn’t going to bring much in the way of the refreshment I was needing, having been awake all of the night before, so it was time to return to my chosen foliage for another snooze. I crawled back into my hiding hole and after a lot of effort managed to get myself at least halfway comfortable.

I next woke just past seven and it took a few good looks at my watch for me to believe that it was that late. I was surprised that I had slept that long and so pleased that I could return to Trafalgar Square with that much less time to hang around until the night shelter at St Martins-in-the-fields reopened their doors as a drop-in day centre. As I was lumbering across the park gazing around me at my surroundings I was taken by the low mist floating a foot or so above the ground and had to stop and stare in awe at the beauty of this scene. My life was slowly unravelling around me but that wasn’t going to stop me appreciating the wonders of nature surrounding me  By the time that I had hobbled to Admiralty Arch I was moving at only half my normal rate but this was would have to do for now. The plan was to see what help, if any, I could find at the drop-in and then make my way to the nearest hospital and beg for some painkillers for my knees but first off it was essential that I find somewhere warm to rest.

When I got back to the Square I was aware of a certain feeling of returning to civilisation even though I had only been in St James Park but it felt real and I had a need to be amongst people. I still had some money in my pocket and so headed for MacDonald’s for a hot coffee and something to eat. Once I had bought my breakfast and found a quiet table to sit at I started to relax. The food and coffee revived me somewhat enabling me to put together another round of rolled up fags which always gave me an assurance that I could get through whatever was coming my way next. I lingered in the warmth for as long as I could manage my anxiety before leaving to resume my wandering around the Square. I still had an hour or so to fill.

I made sure I was in the queue to enter St Martins a good half hour before they opened the doors and waited in the cold with a wide range of societies forgotten. It was a fairly easy task to reset my face and body language back to that of an unapproachable person but the fear factor was in danger of slipping off the scale. My experience has shown me that there is something about my look that generally keeps trouble at bay but this was a different playground where the concept of a rule book was non-existent. Most of the misfits gathering here were lost in their own pain-filled worlds but some were clearly seeking some misguided and misplaced power. So I just stood and put all my efforts into praying and radiating an air of assurance. Eventually, the doors were opened and the queue started to crawl forwards. As I was edging ever closer to the promise of a warm, safe haven my mind was replaying recent incidences and how I had got here.

I had felt for a long time that I was unlikely to get a foothold on recovery where I was living and had looked into relocating but had hit closed doors in my search. It was the tail end of two years of relapse. I had tried again and again to get back to twelve step meetings but could not hold it all together for more than two weeks at a time and then I had invited big Al to stay in my flat for a bit. He was homeless and I had known him for a few years, originally from church. Although I knew he had a reputation for being a bit of a thug, the Al that I had got to know was not like that. He had been living with a friend and had left when she had asked him to without any problems. When our paths crossed some two years later he was living out of a tent as winter was starting and I was very isolated due to a bundle of bad choices. So I asked him to stay which was a reflection of my poor thought processes that had been severely impaired by my relapse. It didn’t take him too long to start taking control of the situation and me with it. It had been building up slowly until that Friday when we had planned to get some ‘Mandy’ and make a bit of a night of it. While we were out scoring he had taken money from me then denied it and then when waiting for a taxi to get home he had used the pretence of shadowboxing to ‘accidentally’ punch me, extremely hard.

As we smoked, drank and snorted our way through a mixture of drink and drugs I became more and more convinced that I had little choice but to leave my home and head for London. My hope was that I would find a night shelter that would take me in and give me the right advice to find a way to relocate away from Sussex and away from big Al without the grief of going back and evicting him. So I thought through what I would need to carry with me, waited for him to fall asleep and then grabbed those few things and left for London. I found myself a couple of hours later coming off a train at London Bridge station without a clue as to what I was actually going to do next. A couple of false starts later and I found myself at St Martins-in-the-fields with the short-lived hope of getting into the night shelter there. It soon became clear that just turning up expecting a bed was not the way things were done and that there were processes that had to be followed but I was informed that they would be open the next day as a day centre. I grabbed onto this fact as a lifeline. All I had to do was get through the night with the help of a half bottle of vodka and everything would work itself out in the morning.

I reached the front of the queue and started to enter the building fully expecting someone to call me out of the line and explain in no uncertain terms how I was in the wrong place and had no right to go in. This did not happen. As I was walking through the entrance the guys on the door were carefully explaining that the day centre was open for four hours and that drinks and some food were available. They were also making it quite clear that there wouldn’t be any assessments or opportunities to sit down with advisors today but just a break from being out in the cold. Anyone seeking help and advice would need to return on Monday and only those that had previously been assessed would be granted access to the night shelter that night. So I followed those in front of me and soon found myself downstairs sipping at a mug of coffee, munching on some toast and feeling totally crushed. My mind felt as if someone had given it a good stir with a wooden spoon. I was cold, I was aching all over and I was so weary. After a quick fag I made my way upstairs and found a seat next to a power point. I plugged my phone into the socket, keeping it in my pocket for security and fell into a doze. I just could not keep going.

When they started kicking us all out I still had no plan in mind other than getting to the nearest hospital, so I got directions from a policeman and set off. I was still moving at half speed so it took an age to get over the river and along to St Thomas’ Hospital. Once there I started the waiting game needed to see a doctor. In between drawn out explanations on the journey to actually sitting down with someone who could give me some pain relief I snuck outside for a well-needed fag. As I stood fighting the frustration I couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable smell of weed wafting my way. As casually as possible I sidled over to the source, a bloke in a hospital gown, and inquired after his complaint. He filled me in on his hard luck story and then offered me the second half of his spliff as he headed back to his ward. My frustration dispersed with the smoke escaping from my mouth and I headed back in with a smile on my face.

The wait to see a doctor was unsurprisingly just so much easier to bear and eventually I was sat explaining my situation and needs. After being given a paracetamol my heart dropped thinking that this was the equivalent of pissing in the ocean but then the doctor suggested some di-hydro-codeine for the pain and my heart took off on wings of joy. Now this was more like it ! I knew that even though they would not kill the pain at least they would give me a buzz that would last and with a box of sixty in my pocket that buzz could be repeated. I was given a cup of water and asked to wait until someone could talk to me about how the hospital might help me so I downed four of the pills and waited for the buzz to kick in. After another explanation of my present circumstances, I was given a couple of hospital blankets to help with the cold, an apology that this was all that was available and sent on my way.

My ability to plan my next move as I hobbled away from the hospital was compromised by the double buzz of the spliff and the pills that I had necked before leaving so I just headed back to Trafalgar Square because that at least was known ground. I had some money in my pocket having taken my bank account into overdraft on the way into London so the first thing to do on the way back was to buy another half bottle of vodka and some energy drink to wash it down with. Once that was done and I had started the journey back to intoxication I returned to St James Park to stash the blankets for later and then wandered back to the Square. The evening passed in a haze of alcohol and codeine and I set off once again to St James Park to ready myself for another night under my bush.

As I was sitting by the lake relaxing and enjoying the scenery while finishing the last of the vodka a bulky man walked past and then stopped twenty or so yards away. My mind started racing and fear blew the haze out of my mind. I could only sit and wait to see what would occur. After thirty seconds or so the man started walking back in my direction. I sat and watched as he strolled past me and then stopped again. I made an attempt to appear as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world to be sitting by the lake just before midnight on a freezing cold November Sunday. He seemed to make up his mind and after walking past me a third time disappeared off into the distance. I sat frozen in place for what seemed like an eternity before coming back to life.

I was starting to feel the cold again and wanting to reassure myself of my safety I began a slow walk around the lake. Once I was convinced that I was alone again I picked up the stashed blankets and made my way over to the bush that I had found myself in that morning. I pushed one of the blankets ahead of me and laid it out on the ground as a makeshift bed and crawled in. After wrapping my legs in the second blanket I closed my eyes and began the long wait for sleep to take over. Just as I was tumbling into dreamland a nearby noise jolted me back to reality. Looking down the length of my body I saw a fox maybe four feet away. We looked at each other for a good ten seconds before I clapped my hands to break the spell and it sloped off in a very casual unhurried manner. I lay for a while wondering if it might return but was far too tired to do anything about it and eventually fell asleep.

The pain and discomfort woke me twice that night each time followed by a long slow walk around the lake to break through the pain and cold. The last period of sleep brought me through to eight in the morning and as I dragged myself out of the bush for the last time I was uncomfortably aware of the dog walkers around the park. The world around me was carrying on in the most ordinary fashion completely oblivious to my predicament. As I was slowly, painfully trudging my way back to the Square the roads around me were filling up again as a new week was starting. Just another normal Monday morning for so many but just a living nightmare for me. I felt a complete mess; physically, emotionally and mentally. I was holding myself together in the vain hope that someone at the drop-in centre would step in, take control and guide me through some kind of a rescue plan.

I’m not too sure how I stumbled through the next few hours waiting for the centre to open but somehow the time passed. As I entered the building I was picked out as someone who wasn’t a regular and asked if I was indeed a newcomer. After a couple of basic questions, I was told that I would be called for an assessment later and it was suggested that I should get myself a drink and some food and find somewhere to wait. Some time later my name was called and I followed a staff member into a side room where I was introduced to a couple of healthcare professionals and asked to explain why I was there. As I opened my mouth to speak I could feel my emotions clicking back the clock to a juvenile-like state. The professionals were the blank-faced adults and I could only take on the part of the silly child that had made an obvious mistake in this world of the grown-ups. So I told them where I was from, how I had achieved six and a half years free from drink and drugs and how I had fallen off the waggon after a failed relationship and then tried to get back on with little success. I described what had happened since asking big Al to stay and how that had resulted in me leaving my home to seek help because I knew that if I had stayed and involved the police in evicting him I would have been left unable to access any services local to me because he would want to hospitalize me if he saw me again.

The experience of going through this explanation to these people drained me in a way that I had not expected. It was as if someone had pulled the plug on some kind of internal energy reservoir. I just sat there feeling utterly exhausted waiting for their reply and then I was introduced to the concept of ‘intentional homelessness’. This was not one of those polite introductions with a quick, yet firm, handshake and a pleasant smile. Oh no, this was the type where you kept your hands to yourself and watched the eyes while waiting for that sudden movement that would denote that it was time to be leaving quickly. The decidedly short but definitely not sweet answer given to me included a quick description of the term ‘intentional homelessness’ and how I fitted that term because I did actually have a home and had intentionally left it of my own accord. This was followed by a further explanation that any help I might be wanting would only be forthcoming once I had returned to my home and enlisted the aid of the local police to evict big Al. Their hands were tied and whilst they would allow me onto the premises during the drop-in day centre part of their service there was absolutely no chance of me being allowed access to the night shelter and that this would be true at any night shelter I might approach.

I could only feebly repeat my expectation that such an eviction would be but the start of my problems but they were absolutely adamant and it was quite clear that the door of opportunity was firmly closed. I may have been far from my usual thinking capacity but even in that state I could tell that the finger had been placed on the button to evacuate the air lock and very shortly I would be sent spinning off into space. It was at this low point that God engaged with me in the form of the last part of my dignity tapping me on the shoulder and holding out a hand to help me to my feet. I stood up and pulled on my coat, hat and gloves. My mind was a scrambled wreck but I knew that I had to get out of this place before I completely lost all control. By the time that I had reached the door to take me back to the Square, I was wrapped up ready for the cold but I wasn’t ready for the blankness of my mind and I had no idea as to what I was going to do next.

I really wanted a smoke but my need to exert a semblance of control cut in and top of the tiny list of options was to buy a cup of coffee and strike a pose with a coffee in one hand and a fag in the other. I quickly scanned my surroundings and Charing Cross Station drew my eye. Ah yes, quite possibly perfect ! Not only could I be sure of a good coffee and the chance to take it outside to create a false air of indifference to the world but it also offered a wide range of exit plans. A few minutes later and there I was plainly caring not one iota about anything at all except how bloody enjoyable this particular cardboard cup of freshly made coffee was and how the smoke from my cigarette was the consummation of this scene of utter peaceful joy. As the roll-up shrank in length, my mind was being given a damn good kick start and after a few pathetic splutters it caught and I began to review my needs and options.

What I needed most was to escape. Get away from here and my experience of hitting a closed door and seek somewhere that would offer a form of familiarity to give me some reassurance. I had been homeless once before in 2003 and had spent the best part of a week at a night shelter in Leatherhead, Surrey. While I was there I had struck up a good relationship with the slightly eccentric individual that ran the Pitstop, a drop-in centre that operated out of the local football club and to return there now suddenly seemed like the most obvious thing to do. Once I was back in Leatherhead it would be easy to find the football club and then I could explain myself to someone that I was sure would listen and understand and to top it all I knew he was a Christian so naturally he would care and offer any help he could. With a growing sense of hope, I approached the ticket office to buy a ticket to Leatherhead Station.

As I walked up to the entrance of the football club my relief was almost tangible being strengthened by the wonderful feeling of familiarity each step was bringing. I knew this place. I knew how it all worked here. I knew I was going to be taken seriously and treated like an equal. This wasn’t going to be an interview in a side room with me sat on the wrong side of a desk with a couple of blank-faced professionals sat in their position of power. This was going to be a comfortable, informal and friendly chat with someone that cared and would fall over themselves to help. I could almost feel the mattress cushioning my aching body as I drifted off to sleep that night. Everything was going to be alright.

Monday the 25th of November 2013 is now logged in my diary as the day I learnt a new phrase. The phrase was ‘intentional homelessness’ and I had the good fortune to have it explained to me twice that day. Once in London and now a second time in Leatherhead. This should have been the point where I stopped caring and fighting yet somehow from somewhere some kind of inner resource clicked into place. The light at the end of the tunnel had blinked out leaving me in darkness and if it meant that I had to blunder around blindly to find an exit then that’s what I would have to do. I had no idea how I was going to get through this particular barrier but I knew that I had to keep trying.

A hot meal was offered and I took it gratefully. The guy that ran the Pitstop sat with me and reminded me that they were open five days a week for food, company and any support I might need before going on to suggest a few ideas, but I was incapable of taking much on board. Once I had finished eating he took me over to the supply of blankets, sleeping bags and odds and ends of clothing that were available and let me know that I could take as much as I might need. While he was explaining that although they didn’t have any tents in stock at the moment as soon as one turned up I would be first on the list to be given it, I was eyeing up a large padded mat. If I could carry that to the other side of the River Mole there was a suitably quiet area that I remembered from my previous time in the town. Get the mat and a couple of sleeping bags stashed and I could then get some vodka, start drinking, top up the codeine, chill out and forget my problems for the night.

It was dark when I left the Pitstop and this suited my plan perfectly. I was shattered by the time I had carried what turned out to be an incredibly heavy padded mat over to my chosen spot and the need for a good strong drink was uttermost in my mind.

Continued at :-


Posted by on Nov 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


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