It must be about ten years since I first met you, Mark.
You had the bash on the ramp leading up to London Bridge Station.
I used to see you twice a day, three times a week on my way into work.
At first we'd just exchange greetings as I gave you my change.
But gradually we got talking.
You told me some of your story.
UPDATE: THE PARAGRAPH RE MARK'S CHILDHOOD HAS BEEN DELETED.
PLEASE SEE BELOW.
For a while you lived in a community squatting in a Cornish rhododendron forest.
But when you were thrown off the land, the commune broke up and you ended up on the streets of London again.
By the time I met you, you had been homeless for nearly twenty years and addicted to heroin and super strength lager for most of them.
Though not tall, you were bulky and not just because of the layers of clothes you wore.
A shambling beggar with filthy skin and ageless eyes and the creaking joints of a geriatric.
But you were so much more than that.
You talked to me about heroin.
About how good it made you feel.
It kept you warm, you told me, and protected you from viruses and reality.
You talked about your attempts to get clean.
About your efforts to come off the streets.
You shared your letters with me and together we tried to work out the best way to deal with the constant obstacles placed before you.
I gave you a blanket once.
A thick woolen blanket I'd had as a child.
The next time I saw you, it was gone.
Either stolen from you or more likely traded up towards filling the next syringe.
I didn't mind.
I hoped that wherever it had moved onto, someone was glad for its warmth.
And once you gave me some candles you'd made yourself from layers of tightly packed paper on a cardboard base.
They worked too.
I kept them on the balcony.
You knew that survival was a series of bargains and that you had to give in order to receive.
So you decorated your bash and the surrounding area with flowers, wind chimes and ornaments.
You engaged people in conversation.
Sometimes you'd sing or dance.
But sometimes you'd be completely out of it, barely conscious.
A few times you fell asleep with the money you'd collected in full view.
I'd move it under your blanket or into a pocket.
I introduced G and the boys to you a couple of times when they came to meet me at work.
They'd heard me speak of you often and I'd told you all about them.
Then the day came when you showed me a letter saying you were going to be housed at last.
I thought I might not see you after that but of course it was far from the answer to all your problems.
There are no easy solutions, are there, Mark?
With no furniture, fridge, cooker etc and contending with addiction and minimal support, you still had a habit to feed.
So each day you'd return to your old patch.
But I have a confession to make, Mark.
Although I'd still stop to talk, I rarely gave you money after that, did I?
You see, by that time I'd met Richard, the Irish guy who had the patch further up on the bridge.
I know you saw him as a competitor, but the way I saw it, you were the walking wounded whereas Richard could barely crawl.
We never spoke about me directing my limited resources away from you and to him.
But I know you knew about it.
After I stopped working, I only saw you once or twice more.
The last time was a couple of years ago when I bumped into you in Peckham Rye Station.
You were with a couple of other guys, clearly on the hustle.
You had a bike.
You looked pretty good.
Then yesterday, I opened the local paper.
Addict's Death: 3 Hunted was the headline.
They might just as well have said Just Another Dead Junkie.
And so it was that I found out the sketchy details of what happened to you in the last few weeks.
Apparently, some time between 11th and 28th November, you were beaten up in Peckham by a man and two women.
You were picked up by the cops in Horsham on 1st December and taken to East Surrey Hospital with head and face injuries.
But you discharged yourself the following day.
On 2nd December you called an ambulance to South Kensington.
Your nose had been continually bleeding.
They took you to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where they diagnosed a fractured skull.
You died there four days later.
A post-mortem carried out on 10th December proved inconclusive.
They're doing further tests.
What happened to you, Mark?
Presumably the fuzzy details of the attack came from you yourself.
Were you involved in something that made you a particular target?
That took you from Peckham to Horsham to Kensington?
Or was the attack simply random and unconnected to that unlikely-seeming itinerary?
The story will never now be told, will it?
And what happens next?
If they're still doing tests, your body must now be lying in some hospital mortuary somewhere.
What will happen afterwards when they've finished with you?
No funeral I suppose.
Just some anonymous burial in an unmarked plot.
Who would come anyway?
Who would care?
There's a photo of you with the article.
A tightly-cropped portrait.
Semi-profile, you're looking towards the camera and laughing.
You look really happy in that photo.
I wish I could put it in here but I don't have a scanner and there's nothing I could find online.
No life should pass unnoticed or uncared about.
This may be the only memorial to you.
Rest in peace, Mark Reid.
UPDATE 18TH FEBRUARY, 2008
I've never amended a post before as it seems somehow deceitful, but I've made an exception here.
Since this post was published, I've been contacted by Mark's sisters. (See here.)
I've searched my memory and my conscience and have had to admit my recollection of Mark's exact words re his childhood may have been inaccurate.
Since this post was always intended as a memorial to Mark, it feels wrong that it may have contained inaccuracies, causing further hurt to those who knew and loved him.
I'm delighted to know that Mark was indeed very much cared for, though in some ways it makes it even sadder that he was unable - for whatever reason - to access that love in the last years of his life.
Mark had his own journey and his own tragic trajectory.
I send my heartfelt wishes for strength and healing to his sisters and mother.