Saturday, December 22, 2007

MARK REID 1964-2007.

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.

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.
Sorry, Mark.

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.

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.


S. Kearney said...

Wow, Debi. This was an increidbly moving read. I felt real shivers reading about Mark, and I like to think that your kindness improved things just ever so slightly for him. Thank you for this powerfully written memorial.

Anonymous said...

R.I.P. Mark Reid, now over 100 homeless have died on the streets in London this year,which was marked at a service at St Martins Church, Trafalgar Square, Novenber 2007

Debi said...

Shameless - Mark was an amazing guy with so much potential but he was dealt a lousy hand.

HC - yes, I knew about that. Mark was only one of many but each and every one was a real person with their own story. He's a symbol of them all, but no one wants to just be a symbol. I hope by giving his story here people will think about every individual life.

Take care and stay safe. D xxx

Unknown said...

Very well written post Debi. You wrote about him and made it matter - you big softie.

Lucy Diamond said...

That is so so sad. I felt shivers too.
Thank you Debi. You gave real dignity to 'just another statistic'. Rest in peace Mark.

Anonymous said...

I am the sister of Mark. He was always. and is still loved, and is now deeply mourned. He will be given a decent burial once the Police can release the body and will be surrounded by his Mother and sisters.

Anonymous said...

I am Mark's other sister. Whilst we are very touched by everyone's kind words, please remember that Mark was a heroin user for most of his adult life. He did not leave home in his early teens. He had a very promising job for five years with British Telecom. He left home at 19 on his own accord, returning home several times. Mark had a very normal childhood and was loved dearly by his family and we all mourn him and miss him terribly. Mark severed ties with his family, despite our best efforts, we did not know of his whereabouts since 1998, until we were informed of his death in December. Please remember there are always two sides to a story.

Debi said...

Mark's sisters! I can't tell you how grateful I am to you for contacting me and telling your side of the story. I will post it so that everyone sees your comments as otherwise this info might not be seen here.

More than anything, I'm so very glad to hear that Mark was indeed loved. If you want to communicate with me privately, please feel free to email me at

Anonymous said...

Hello Debi. I am Mark's other sister, and the last one who will emerge from Mark's past. I wanted to thank you for writing such a moving tribute to our brother. We came across your blog by accident and have all been very touched by your taking the time to write this, for someone you obviously cared about and knew in recent years when we did not. We have been so interested in your words, as they also help to fill in more of the gaps from the last few years. We wanted to let everyone know that Mark did have a family who cared. There are indeed always 2 sides to every story, and I must let you know that Mark did not have an abusive stepfather who hated him, but one who cared and never stopped trying, finally praying for him daily. But we are sad to know that Mark remembered his childhood in that way, and we hope that he can now be at peace. His death has affected us all, and we appreciate everyone's kind words. He would surely be SO amazed that people have had this interest in him - hoping he knows that! :)