Prospect's prisoner celebrates a parody of a traditional Christmas, sleeping rough in a London parkby Peter Wayne / January 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
I was on my hands and knees scraping a four-inch dog turd from the entrance to my bivouac in a small public park when the call came: “Oi! Get yer arse out of there you fuckin’ tramp.” The words came from a pair of angelic-faced young boys standing astride a pile of rubble. The message was clear. I had once again fallen on the road through life, this time to a new low. And, to make it worse, Christmas was just around the corner.
The pursuit of money (read: heroin) had become a Sisyphean task. Each day began and ended on the same note – flat broke, save for the few unspendable coppers left over from the last score. Working hours were spent covering the same 20 to 30 metropolitan miles with bags full of books, in search of purchasers, dragging my stolen wares up and down escalators, boarding trains, eventually making a sale, searching out the dealers, spending the cash, whacking up the gear, then beginning all over again, three, sometimes four times a day – weeks spent circling the capital in a perverse gavotte of relentless replenishment.
It had all been so different in the beginning. At first, in late summer, my homelessness had been tinged with boy scout romanticism. Despite urban regeneration, Clerkenwell retains elements of the picaresque, as I discovered one pleasant July afternoon. My old friend “Gorgeous” George and I slipped unnoticed through the ticket barriers at Farringdon station, on our way to a crack house located along the serpentine back funnels that led from the sink of lower Clerkenwell to the impossibly trendy heights of Exmouth Market.
After a spat with our latest landlady, we were out on our arses. George had decided to return to his long-suffering parents in faraway Bounds Green, leaving me with nowhere to live. We halted on our peregrinations and stood blasting the “golden eye” crack in a deserted piece of parkland hidden between the end of Exmouth Market and what remained of Clerkenwell’s famous old house of detention. George was, as usual, unsympathetic to my fate.
“You’re always goin’ on about what a champion boy scout you was. Don’t see why yer can’t camp ‘ere fer a few nights. Ain’t exactly the depths of winter. The fresh air’d do yer good, after all them years inside.”
On reflection this didn’t seem such a bad idea. He was…