Friday, 20 April 2012

when I was cold

'I’ll tell you when I was cold. Once upon a time, this is my story...' (K)

Lois writes:

On the train this morning going into Manchester for the first of the sessions of the new project 'the warm /&/ the cold.' I remember last year, being nervous about how a group of homeless people may respond to us. I have none of those concerns now, just an eagerness to start. It'll be lovely to see some of the people we got to know last year, but also sad. It'd be better to know their circumstances changed for the good.

As ever, there are lots of unknowns and untested ideas. We haven't worked with such large numbers of volunteers before. Also there is the quilt making itself - how do you make quilts with people who live such transient lifestyles? Quilts that are by their nature a time consuming, and labour intensive occupation... And the majority of homeless people being men, how do you create quilts (that are traditionally feminine) that are appreciated by both sexes? And practical issues arise, I've never made a quilt before, I love designing and making, but find it difficult to be neat and tidy finishing textiles.

And then we start and the stories come.

J at the Big Issue Office.
'Uncomfortable, unexplainable cold. A time in London when we built a fire in Hyde Park and the police put it out. We were so cold we couldn’t move. Frightening. You don’t really have any control. How Captain Scott felt, I imagine, before he passed away. Your brain tries to stop thinking, to protect you. I don’t remember much about it. Just the uncontrollable shaking.' (C)

'The first night was cold but I was dry and I found a corner out of the wind. I drank 'til I passed out. The next night, the cold got through everything. I slept on the steps of The Palace theatre. Found another rough sleeper - someone I could trust, not addicted to drugs - and we looked after each other. To me it seemed never ending, a long, dark tunnel.' (D)

...On the train home now, after a very fruitful, productive and humbling day. We've heard stories of life on the edges of society, of cold beyond my imagination. A 12 hour escape by foot from Iraq to Iran, traveling across a snow-covered mountain: 'I left at 5.00 at night and got the the village at 6.00 in the morning. Freezing, after zero temperatures, skin red, eyes frosting so I couldn't close them, I spent 3, 4 hours shaking in front of the fire, kept shaking. One week after my body still red, I kept using hot water and massage, but my body swelling up- my fingers this big- nearly dying...'

And other stories from the UK. 'The difference is you're not just sleeping on the streets, but living on the streets.'

'It’s possible to stay out in the cold if you have alcohol, knocks you out. But people shouldn’t be left to freeze. I don’t know where the first or second world is, or the third. All I know is in this day and age and place we don’t need to leave people on the streets, freezing. Now that is cold, unemotional. That’s a cold, horrible vibe. Cold depends on where you are.' (Y)

'I feel my body vibrating'  denim before embroidery
The group supported one another, leaving room for everyone to tell their story. My anxiety over the embroidery/quilt making was soon lost as majority of the group stitched with enthusiasm. And at the end of the day, many wanted to stay to carry on with their artworks, warm and in the safe.

'Be on the streets and you’ll know the cold: physical cold, cold in emotion. I hope you never find out what that’s like. Homelessness is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Not even an enemy.' (K)

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