Wednesday, 7 October 2015

I’ve been lost everywhere

The origins of Community Care- the closure of the Victorian asylums in the 80s and 90s I have read about and heard about over the years- infact I worked at Brookwood Mental Hospital for a summer as a student- a very large institution complete with dairy farm, ballroom and its own fire brigade! however yesterday for the Homeless Library Project,  I had the privilege to speak with someone who had spent the majority of his life in these institutions- then it seems got abandoned in the 'community'. He told his remarkable, moving story with a smile on his face. It feels to me like a plot for a film.

'page from 'box book' for the Homeless Library.

I was brought up in hospital. Don’t know my real name or where I was born. The only thing I remember about childhood was living in a big hall with lots of boys- had been bombed out during the 2nd World War.

In hospital they doped you up to keep you calm, so they had less work, no problems for the staff- sat rocking in a chair watching tv. They moved us around, all over the country in different hospitals till they closed them all down, that’s when I ended up on the streets. I had electric shock treatment, I had been screaming all night, they wanted to get rid of the memories of childhood, but they didn’t take a bit of the memory, they took it all (and in a good cause) Then they said we’ve given you to much, it’s going to have ruined your short term memory. And with all the moving around you didn’t know where you came from. Everything I know it’s from an adult. It don’t bother me. I don’t mind being on my own.

I wanted a passport, to live in a warm country with my pension, can’t read or write that makes it difficult and don’t know where I was born. I went to registrar in Stockport, she said ‘personally I don’t think you’re from here’. I hadn’t a birth certificate- no idea who I am, but usually happy- no sense to be anything else. I’ve been lost everywhere, all over the country.

When I was thrown out of hospital, they told me a little rhyme to help me remember my name and date of birth. A day centre found me somewhere to live, something to eat, it was a probation centre for young people, I was the only old person there, they sorted out my pension, I didn’t even know I was old. Everyone was very friendly, I was like a mascot. Dinner was a pound- think mine was free. On the streets in Brighton I would go into a café and ask if they needed a washer- upper. I’d do casual work for food- I never drank or smoked, didn’t need money for anything but food. I slept under Brighton Pier where they kept the deckchairs, me and the other homeless slept there. The soup vans would come around at 2 in the morning, they didn’t have bowls but metal cups, the same soup all the time, it weren’t thick a clear soup. and they said I shouldn’t be there, that it wasn’t safe for me- I wasn’t taking drugs or drinking. They got me one room.

When I got my pension and disability allowance I said ‘what do I need the money for?’ The Citizens Advice used to look after my books so I didn’t loose them, would come down with me to get my pension, otherwise I’d get lost. It turned out that those lads on probation weren’t so friendly, they would follow me till I got my money, then they’d say ‘hey Jimmy, have you the money you owe us?’ and I’d stick my hand out with the money and they’d take the lot. I wasn’t bothered about money. The day centre in Crawley they watched and helped me out. Got me into a care home- that’s another story- that place closed down- I walked away with nothing.

I was told I could live in the Fun House in Blackpool, but when I got there it was closed. It was the middle of winter. Talk about Oliver Twist and his gang, got mixed up in that. Always quite happy.

(in the 1970s or 80s) Then I went to London, to Centrepoint and that’s when they found out I had Scurvy, I was told the first case in 100 years in this country! The doctors and students were so excited- I was famous, student doctors where coming from all over the country to look at the spots on my legs. Had the professionals in to photo my legs to put in a book with all the others- they may have helped someone.

I came to Manchester in the Millennium, came here- the Wellspring before this one was open. On the streets why didn’t people help me? When I was living in hedges, travelling on trains without tickets, I didn’t know if I was coming or going.

I can’t get out when its raining. I can never get warm. Being on the streets. I remember people coming round with soup, and I would go to the bins at the supermarkets, they’d leave food there. Once I nearly got dumped, I was sleeping in a bin and the men came to collect them, I was pulled up with the bin screaming- they said ‘you were lucky, I would have been chopped up into little pieces’.

Now as long as I’m warm and I’ve got a telly, I love films and nature programes. But I’m always cold and the flat in Heaton Mersey is brand new, got a new warden yesterday. It’s newly done up, but its cold and draftee. I would be here every day if I could get here, but get a bit of rain and I wont get out. Come here and get soup and take home a couple of sandwiches for my tea. I would have a steak if I could chew it. I have stuff in the cupboard, probably years out of date, but I cant be bothered to cook it.

Old age, I’ve forgotten everything that’s bad. I remember the good things.

Soup kitchen’s I sought them out where ever I’ve lived. I would go to the first church I could find then say I’m homeless and I don’t know where I am and 9 out of 10 times they’d find you a bed for the night and tell you where you could get food.

I lived in Banger, North Wales, and whilst I was there they were building the hospital, I was knocking about with the boys building it- they sneaked me into the pub they were staying in, the Harp on the High Street. I’ve been to Edinburgh, with the cannon going off at 1.00, and the statue of the collie dog.

When I had no money would go and buy fish and chips, but when I was new would go and find the soup kitchen. Rarely I paid. Pea soup my favourite, pea and ham would be nice. The modern soup kitchen is not the Food Banks, throughout history, they’ve made changes to suit the time.

box book for the project 'The Homeless Library.'

1 comment:

Catwalk Book Group said...

What a wonderful, sad, uplifting story. To be so lost, so alone and yet happy. A lesson for life. Love the line: 'I've been lost everywhere'.