Friday, 6 February 2015

Looking for Utopia

Ned and Flo, well known local "vagrants", Whitwell c1930s. Photo courtesy of,uk

Lois writes:

Yesterday was our first session at The Wellspring Stockport, a resource centre for homeless and disadvantaged people, with the project The Homeless Library. We took in archive photos and interviews with older people we've met, for participants at the Wellspring to respond to.

Kath, one of the older people we interviewed, had memories of tramps in the 1930s: 

The poverty in those times was so bad, they created thieves. There was hardly no dole in my day. Unemployed marching from Manchester to Salford. If you had nothing, you had nothing. Can you imagine what it was like? There was a workhouse in Eccles. If they found a tramp in the street, they'd put him in the workhouse. I was lucky I had a dad who had a job, worked on the tramways.

Brian: looking for Utopia. Stockport, 2015
Yesterday, we met Brian at The Wellspring who very happily described himself as tramp, a man with no fixed abode, living a free life.


The difference between of a tramp and a dossier? A tramp is always moving from town to town, a dossier will stay in one place for years and years. I’m definitely a tramp. I don’t pay utility bills, I have a free life and get £150 a week pocket money. There is nobody like me in there. You hit the jackpot. 30 years being a tramp, going to Marple tonight, I’ll be ok tonight, people know me, it's safe, residential, people bring me food- there aren’t many tramps in Marple. No problems in Marple, very middle class. The best place to sleep in a middle class place. I’ll get food there. Bramhall Park tonight, beautiful up in Marple Bridge, the canal, the viaduct. I’ll get a dinner for £1.00 at the old age centre, I qualify for that.
I was in Guildford yesterday, came up by coach. I was stupid to sleep here last night (in Stockport) got punched in the face, not healthy getting punched in the face at 2 in the morning. (Laughs.) It was a young guy, probably drunk. But you can't be vindictive, you only live once.

I’ve been in the Merchant Navy, the RAF, I’m not the marrying type, not one for responsibility. I’ve been the same since I was 17 and a half. What you call a loose cannon.

I’m coming up 65, I get a pension credit.

(On sleeping rough) Make sure you're warm, that’s the basic thing, warm - hypothermia - keeping warm that’s the ultimate goal. I get my head down about 5pm when it gets dark- why walk around when its dark and cold? Get into a sleeping bag, sleep on cardboard, that’s real insulation- if it's really cold I’ll make a big box out of cardboard, a huge insulation. 8 hours no problem, as long as you're not disturbed. You''re vulnerable if you're in town centre, it's safe out in Marple, middle-class.

I got into it by accident, realized I could have a free life, no utility bills - how good is this? I got freedom, looked at it like this - if I work I’m a prisoner of society. I never get bored. I keep moving, preoccupied every day. The secret is to be not too educated, keep it simple, something to eat, a few beers, a fag, keep it simple. I’ve had a medical, I’m fully fit, not diseased anything, no heart disease or anything, 65 not bad eh? Life's simple, always looking for Utopia, looking for it, can’t find it. A life without problems.

Keep myself to myself, a quick fix, a couple of days then I move on. I do mix but a quick fix. You meet good guys and bad guys. If I can keep going another 10 years... but I have had my day. Anything after 65 a bonus. Not fussy, never get fussy.

In the 80s it was totally different situation, could get casual work, £2 an hour, cash in hand not a problem. There were more casual hostels, could buy a bed for £1.70 for the night, far different than now. Most councils got rid of them. Had re-settlement centres, could walk off the streets. You’d have to take a shower when you came in, they’d check your gear for lice - otherwise the whole place would be crawling, then a 10 minute process interview. Right up to the 1990s, when they were abolished. The government said costing too much money. DHS resettlement Centres. 1979 when I went on the streets, a loose cannon. Just drifted after that.

When I was young remember a couple of tramps in their 50s, the guy was called Tommy, the woman Aggie/ Agnes. They didn’t get any welfare benefit, hardship money in the 1950s, they worked on the golf course caddying for food money. Real tramps those two. They weren’t married, hung about together, that was Radcliffe in Manchester. Well known in the town, but where they slept nobody knew - there would have been plenty of derelict houses. Tommy stank sometimes in the summer, never had a bath! Good people, well known. They got by pretty well.

Get a base next, that’s my game now. I wouldn’t come up North now in this weather, don’t get fussy, get a base, then I can still move around. I’m starting to feel it now. The worst scenario is to get pissed and go to sleep outside. You need to be able to move about when you get cold, get up, move around. 

What advice would I give? You’re only on this planet once: keep going.

Brian was interviewed by Lois at The Wellspring 5 Feb 2015. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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