Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Homeless hero

Just had to post about Emily.
Emily is a Jamaican woman in her mid 80s who sells the Big Issue at London Bridge Station (when she's not being harassed by London Transport staff). She lives in a hostel and I've known her for many years throughout all her attempts to sort out her passport (and life) and get back to Jamaica where she has a small house in Kingston.
Anyway, today I stopped and chatted as always, but had to apologise for not having enough money to buy a copy of the Issue. As usual, she tried to persuade me to take one anyway and - as usual - I refused. (I'm presuming everyone knows vendors have to buy their own copies to sell.)
This time she got cross with me and insisted. I didn't want to offend her so accepted but dug out all the coins I had and gave them to her. As I turned to walk away - blimey she moved fast for a woman her age - her hand snaked out and she shoved the coins back into my carrier bag!
The next person I hear slagging off Big Issue vendors is so going to get it from me ...

14 comments:

skint writer said...

I like the Big Issue, it has a different take from the mainstream media and it's almost mainstream itself.

I've chatted to a few vendors. I met Rodney, a crusty, on a train from Swansea to Cardiff early one morning. Rodney and his mate Twi were off to Bristol to buy some Big Issues to sell in Cardiff. The Wales version of the magazine is more expensive than the England one.

They scrounged roll-ups off me every five minutes of the journey and smoked willy-nilly in the almost empty carriage.

Rodney had been in prison for burning down some building to do with hunting and had been digging tunnels and hanging from trees during the Newbury bypass saga.

The conductor caught them and they paid for their tickets with a debit card.

Minx said...

I am quite happy to donate to Rodney and Twi, I just object if I'm donating to the canine companions of Rodney and Twi!

Will you here Skint - what kind of accent does that poor lad on BB have Glynn or something. V odd.

Minx said...

'while'...I mean..stoopido

skint writer said...

Ah minx - Glyn is a Gog. Short for gogledd which is Welsh for North. Welsh-speakers from North Wales are known as Gogs. He's from the same stable as Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals and Rhys Ifans the actor.

Welsh is Glyn's first language, he probably didn't come into contact with English until he went to school. The educated Gogs end up running the media in Wales and there's a lot of heroin use amongst the drop-outs

Glyn is educated and if it wasn't for BB would probably end up as a TV presenter on S4C the Welsh language channel or else a teacher in a Welsh language school.

He's the most intelligent housemate, according to BB.

I think those accents are a bit effected in the same way many city kids pretend to be rappers from the ghetto.

It's much more complicated than that of course . . . .

Sharon J said...

As with any other area of life, there and good and not so good Big Issue vendors. We had one in Manchester who was VERY pushy and would be quite sarcastic if you didn't buy (he disappeared after a while and a new guy turned up in his place so we thought somebody had probably reported him) but overall, they appear to be ok. Our local guy's always friendly enough, anyway.

Unlike Minx (if she's being serious, that is - one never knows for sure), I don't mind donating to their canine companions. I've been pretty destitute myself and know how important it can be to have a 'friend'.

Debi said...

Did anyone see the Apprentice? I watched it, fascinated and appalled in equal measure. I'd never usually get to meet people like that - and the tv screen is as close as I'd want to get.
But it's useful for making you realise it's a wide world out there and not everyone thinks the same way as you!
Anyway - to get to the point, they were asked in interview what makes them really angry. Now there's a question I'd find it hard to answer - such a very l-o-n-g list. But this idiot's answer was - Big Issue vendors. Cos - wait for it - they just shove the mag in your face and don't try to 'sell' it by pointing out its attributes to the punters.
Well that guy shot to a high position on my list of what makes ME angry ...

Verilion said...

I used to get a bit miffed by the three SDF (sans domicile fixe) who were always hanging around Franprix on the rare occasions that I left work late. Because I was leaving work late I was always dying for a fag and I had always just sparked up as they came into sight and I knew that they would try and bum a cigarette off me. While it annoyed me, I couldn't just give them one cigarette between three, something of the smoker in me baulked at that. So one day I rolled my eyes in resignation as I turned the corner and just handed the pack over, there were only three in there. The leader of the group looked in and handed it back to me. "We can't take these they're your last ones." That taught me that SDF or not there are still some universal rules that we all live by. They kept the pack, cos the other universal smoking rule is always have another pack at the ready!

skint writer said...

smokers eh!

There's a cameraderie about smokers that crosses social divides, that's one of the reasons it's so hard to give up.

Sharon J said...

I didn't see The Apprentice, no. Not really my thing but then neither is Big Brother but I've seen a few episodes of that.

I've lived in all sorts of places, from the roughest of council estates to very nice middle class suburbs (yes please, thank you very much, please thankyou!) and have learned exactly what kind of people I don't like and many of those who would participate in a program like both The Apprentice and BB come into that category. Just give me the money and sod everything and everyone else!

Debi said...

Interesting.
Skint - Rodney and Twi sound like they've stepped straight from the pages of one of my books.
And so do your guys, Verilion.
What really interests me though is that no one has picked up on what I had thought as the crucial component of this post:
That Emily defies all the stereotypes of homeless people. Even though the examples you mention are real people (with hearts!) they still slot into most people's image of someone who's homeless.
Also - I rage that someone like her sits all day in that draughty station covered in shawls and blankets, with her wheely basket and folding chair. She has her regulars - but also has to contend with taunts and harassment - and (this is what makes me most angry) her seeming INVISIBILITY to the vast majority of people who stalk past her.
What kind of world do we live in where that kind of shit happens?

skint writer said...

I know someone who works in a homeless hostel. He says that it's bleeding obvious how the people get there, it's because society ignores them when they first need help, because everyone's too busy chasing the illusion that happiness can be achieved through the aquisition of material comfort.

These people are even ignored and shunned by their own families because they don't fit into the narrow definition of success imposed on us by the Tony Blair's of this world.

But then, we are bombarded with the hyped-up commercial crap every day, and that bombardment is actively encouraged by our leaders - all that bollocks about economic growth.

Did you know there are now over two million Hummers in Texas.

The casualties are ignored and shoved into back-street hostels if they're lucky.

It's a massive problem debi and it is growing. Your book, Nirvana Bites, is laudable for describing the humanity of these characters.

I've struggled with this for a long time, even tried getting into politics for a bit, but in the end decided that the only way I can help is by telling my stories - now if only some buggers would read them.

Debi said...

Thanks, Skint. That's just how I feel about writing. Propaganda? Well, yes, sort of. Though is it wasn't done well, of course you'd have no chance at all. But if you can change the mind or open the eyes of just one person, isn't that an achievement worth struggling for?
As for you working in politics - things would be so much better if people like you were up there. But of course people like you DON'T go there, leaving the field for the career politrickians. Personally, I'm suspicious of anyone who seeks that kind of power ...

Sharon J said...

I was involved in politics in Norway, only on a local level, mind. I also did a lot of voluntary work with people who, for whatever reason, had found themselves on the wrong side of the tracks (or the wrong side as defined by society, anyway). Some of them I wouldn't bother to give the time of day to, others were some of the most inspiring people I've met.

To be honest, all of the close friendships I've had have been people who have been through the wringer at some point in their lives. Those who have had it easy never seem to have the kind of depth I look for in friends. God, how I'd hate to be one of those people! For all the problems I've had, I like being me.

Debi said...

Brilliant comment, Sharon. That's how I feel too - people who have it easy (or so it seems on the outside - who can truly tell how it feels on the inside?) don't seem to have had the chance to grow ...
But let's not spend too much time feeling sorry for them. That's why I loved your comment - we should all concentrate on feeling good about being US!