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 :- https://dastardlee.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/chapter-1-part-2/