Thursday, 30 April 2015

My doorstep free

Stitching the Wars at Caroline Court Day Service, Hope

Our day in Hope was exactly that. A delightful encounter with the Day Service group that's run by Age UK, out in the Derbyshire countryside in the very old village of Hope.

We are working on the Stitching the Wars quilting project, which distils people's war memories onto a pair of embroidered patchwork quilts. This year, we are onto the second quilt, which has the title Fresh Air and Poverty. A theme like that can bring up very difficult memories. However, today's workshop was a particularly happy one.
Phil and Mary, Hope Age UK

While Lois oversaw the quilting, our student shadow Jen Campbell and I worked on poem collaborations with the group. We made poems that gave some formal shape to people's memories, loosely structured around the sonnet. The oldest person in the room was born in 1923, so we had the great luck to be with people who could vividly remember back to the 1930s. Such far-flung memories are rare now; it's a little like time travelling to meet someone who can describe their early life evocatively - and going back to the early 20th Century was an extraordinary feeling.

Although some of the experiences were difficult - hard, hard work, little money - they were suffused with affection, when recounted today. Among dark clouds there was, as previously reported, hopefulness. Particularly joyous were two portraits of fathers, as sonnets. Leslie described his father, the local butcher and grocer in his village, making surreptitious journeys to give food parcels to people who were hungry. Mary remembered herding sheep with her dad - she had the sheepdog role, chasing the animals, because they couldn't afford a real dog. Both these stories are of a social injustice, but both were told with pleasure.

Leslie loved his rural childhood on the edge of fields, hills, moors, adventures - "My doorstep free..."

Patchwork being made.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


Our first session at The Booth Centre is a great blast of energy, noise, humour, confusion, fun and creativity. We've met so many people that my head is still spinning, as I write about it now.

Book folding. The Booth Centre, Manchester April 2015

Lois and I brought along the technique for folding and recycling to make artist books, a technique shown to us by Jeni McConnell at The Wellspring in Stockport. Some tables had been pulled together for us in the middle of the big dining area downstairs. It was a big echoey space filled with loud voices, laughter, the occasional squabble... and so our first move was to do something that relied not on conversation, but physical activity. The book folding was ideal for that.

'Sounds Stupid but..' Detail of folded book, The Booth Centre, Manchester 2015

Because we're already familiar with the book folding, it's getting easier to encourage people to take their folding a little further, to be a bit more daring. The results were loose and lovely, some with wild bends and folds like gentle book explosions, others quieter, more restrained. One book was even folded in on itself, as if everything it contained was a secret not to be shared.

Once the room quietened, we were ready for the next stage, which was a conversation-based writing exercise, one of our old favourites. We used sweets as prompts and discussed the associations that came with them, including childhood.

'Millions' (sweets) detail of Nicola's recycled book, The Booth Centre, April 2015

Out of this general chat, people's more personal stories began to emerge and we encouraged them to write, draw, make their mark on and in their folded books. It's a wonderful moment when people take an idea and make it their own - and that's what started to happen today. The books themselves became instruments of storytelling, inscribed with a multiplicity of words and images, hidden or open. They became the possessions of the people who made them. As I watched, I felt an amazing pride, for these brave, defiant gestures. Beautiful stories, ugly stories, but all in their own way a truth.

'Walking past Strangeways' detail of folded book. The Booth Centre, April 2015

Later as I type this, I'm in a cafe in Manchester. There's a tap on the window and I see R outside, I mouth "come in" and he comes over and sits with me awhile, in a break from selling the magazine. He's wearing a Big Issue bib and he's looking thinner than before, but it's good to see him, it's been months. We catch up with one another's news and I tell him about The Homeless Library. He was the first homeless person I ever discussed the project with, and he is keen to come along. I tell him that sessions are at The Booth Centre and R nods, "Yeah it's a good place, they get on and do things there."

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.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The unspoken

The Homeless Library is the first ever attempt to write a history of homelessness in Britain. It includes not only individual testimonies, but also poetry and art, giving it a shape like no other.

Phil writes:

Our workshops are usually bustling events, with a fair smatter of laughter. But there are often many strands of experience woven into a day and this one had some darker threads which I'd like to take note of. Today was also a day of sad, unspoken conversations.

Detail of handmade book for 'The Homeless Library' April 2015

We'd had the idea of enquiring about people's health. There's very little information about the health of homeless people and we wanted to ask service users in The Wellspring how they were feeling this morning. A sort of weather check, that might lead to some insights about people's good or bad health. I went on a journey of the room, simply asking, "How're you doing today?"

At a homeless drop-in, people are very often navigating stormy weather in their lives. Asking such a direct question might be considered naive. But sometimes it's our duty to be naive, to ask the uncomfortable, to be the stupid one in the room. Provided no one gets hurt.

Out of my question flowed conversations which shook me a little, because they had a terrible sadness at the middle of them. The first man I talked with was sitting hunched over a brew and he glanced at me warily when I sat down. He was feeling down, and as we chatted, his head sunk a little. A bright, well-read man with a sharp edge to his gaze. We've talked several times, but he couldn't summon words today, he was blurring. "I've too much on my mind. This - " (he gestured to my notes) " - it seems abstract from where I am now, irrelevant. I can't put my mind to things..."

We talked a little more. I hated leaving him lost in grim mist. Lois and I generally try to end our encounters in a positive way, but this was not going to stop at a good point and eventually I bid my farewell, said I hoped he'd feel better. The words were like ashes in my mouth. As I went, looked up from his drink of tea and his face was greyed out, a numb blankness. He said absolutely nothing.

The next person I checked in with was also having a difficult day. "I'm feeling a bit down, but it'll pass once I get out in the sun. I've got to get myself to the park. See some green." As he talked, he twitched. His arms and flapped about in a vague way, like a damaged creature. His eyes were appealing to me, pupils wide. He was fighting to get to the other side of the sad sea, but it kept pulling him back. We wrote a piece together. He's been funny and articulate when we talked before, this time he was drowning in front of me and I couldn't drag him out. Behind his story there are hints of abuse and damage, that lead all the way back to childhood. How can this be spoken, given a shape, passed on for understanding?

As we drove away from the session, Lois talked about an interview she'd done today with a person who'd experienced sexual abuse. The words are on paper, but how do you ever say the emotion that comes with them. How can you write the tears that flowed all through that interview? How can this be said, truly?

How are you doing today?

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.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


MY PAINTINGS ARE INVISIBLE  is a poem for people who have gone missing. Made by Phil in Chongqing, China 2009-10, it was written onto a series of large semi-transparent sheets of paper and hung up on washing lines through the city, in parks, building sites, tea houses.

The poem posters are showing at Bury Sculpture Centre until 9 May, as part of the ReMix exhibition. If you can't get to Bury, the video gives a flavour.

Each poster is an 8-word verse, which remixes ancient Chinese poems with lines from contemporary text artists. Written onto large pieces of semi-transparent paper, one side scripted in English the other Chinese – they mingle calligraphies, meanings, histories. Principal artists involved as calligraphers and translators: Wang Jun, Mao Yanyang, Xu Guang Fu, Dan Dan, Deng Chuan and Yan Yan.

ReMix brings together artists from China and from the UK. The basis of their relationship is a curatorial exchange that has existed between Platform China, the artist run space in Beijing, and the British curator David Thorp. Alongside Philip Davenport, other UK based artists in the exhibition are David Blandy, A K Dolven and Richard Wilson.

MY PAINTINGS ARE INVISIBLE poster on a washing line in Chongqing, 2009

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A book about homelessness

It is a shameful gap in our culture that there is not one history book solely dedicated to telling the story of homelessness in Britain. In the following interview, a participants in The Homeless Library project discusses some of the reasons for homeless people being our very own, homegrown "Disappeared".

'The Listener' 2 pages from Kenny's book for The Homeless Library

The Homeless Library is the first ever attempt to write a history of homelessness in Britain. It includes not only individual testimonies, but also poetry and art, giving it a shape like no other.  


When people have got no direction, they've got to try to head somewhere. But it's difficult to find a direction when you're homeless. No framework, no map.

We need a book about homelessness. I've been many places looking for a book about homeless people. I got my friend to look on Google for me. There's nothing. I just learned to read in the last two years and I want to read a book about homeless people like me.

'Four and a half months' 1 pages from Kenny's book for The Homeless Library

Cities don't want the trouble of knowing how many people are really homeless. The council are saying there are 46 homeless people in Manchester right now. I could go out and find at least 100 people in one small area in Manchester. Nine or 10 years ago we had a homeless demonstration and there were about 9000 people there. It's a problem on the Council of covering up. I know where people sleep with rats. But they prefer that to being in hostels.

You get put in a hostel you've got to do courses three days a week. You've got to handing your key at the desk like a little boy when you go out. These are grown man treated like a piece of shit.

I've heard massive argument with councillors. I went with a friend to a council meeting where they were talking about homeless people. I said: "All you are doing is sweeping them under the carpet. You're not asking them what they want. You talk about them drinking in Piccadilly, but they were drinking out of the way quietly, before you moved them on."

They described homeless people as scum.

I want to get homeless guys together and fix up an old building. I'd put everyone in a building. But it would get classed as a demonstration and we'd get banged up.

Interview with Phil at The Wellspring, April 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.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Moments of joy cure the soul

Today as part of our project 'The Homeless Library', I was lucky to attend 'With One Voice' - a Brazil/UK Arts and Homeless seminar and networking event at The Booth Centre, Manchester. I say lucky because I have never been to a more uplifting, inspiring and positive event about such a hard hitting subject. The sun was definitely shining on Manchester. I scribbled notes throughout the afternoon, I hope they give a little flavour of what was said...

Our welcome was from Cllr Beth Knowles. We've had a 69% rise in homelessness in Manchester since 2009-10, plus huge cuts dealt to the most vulnerable in the city. The 'Task and finish Group' has been set up to give voice... Art can be a way for people to give people opportunities to be heard, of conveying and campaigning. A collective voice against injustices.

Streetwise Opera, were as ever powerful, unifying. There was no need to explain the effects of group singing, we felt it.

Streetwise Opera, Booth Centre.

The Brazilian delegation were inspiring. Tackling seemingly impossible problems with creativity and vigour.  There are 17 thousand rough sleepers in Sao Paulo- one rough sleeper said 'Arts are important as it gives us dignity.'  Living on the streets is undignified, you don't have access to health, social care, hygiene, human rights. 6 thousand are sleeping rough, others are in hostels etc. Numbers of homeless people is on the rise. In September Sao Paulo hosts the "Festival of Human Rights' co-inciding with 10th September, the International Day of Human Rights. It encourages the city to stop and think, looks at how human rights are broken and citizenship on the streets... With music, art, cinema, taking place on the streets, re-claiming public spaces...

Back in Manchester, Dave one of the participants in the Royal Exchange 'Creative Project' explained: 'Homelessness degrades you mentally and physically. Creativity (gives you opportunities)  looking into yourself and positive thinking. Performances give the public a chance to see you as people who can achieve something really great. Opportunities to try something new- stage lighting, painting backdrops... new skills.

Sebastiao Nicomedes of the Homeless People's Movement in Brazil, beautifully shared: 'When we see someone on the streets we see the 1000 ways people are made up- above all he's a person, he's got a story, a past- maybe deconstructed by living on the streets- nobody is born thinking they're going to live on the streets, living in that hole under a bridge. If the soul has got sick, lost their families reference points- art is a democratic way to express themselves, to get back to society. It could be that a new person is born, using ceramics, music, paint... Art is a form of permission to express themselves and be. Reconnection. Full happiness doesn't excist, but moments of joy can cure the soul. 

Amanda from The Booth Centre explained: 'Its not just a matter of putting a roof over peoples heads, its why they've become homeless and the damage thats been done whilst they are homeless. We need to see the whole person, with their many needs. Activities are at the heart of the Booth Centre, for people to make positive choices, build confidence and self esteem, find new purpose and have fun.

Fernanda Almeida, shared: We can look at art as possibilities of freedom, creating and modifying a situation. 

Junior Perim Director, Crescer and Viver Circus, Rio, started by saying, he was going to invert the subject, What can people on the streets do for the arts? All you have to do is bring your desire. No way that art can solve structural problems... but... What can we learn from street people. They can teach us about courage... art is important for self esteem, ways to meet people, but art is dominated by a small elite, we need to borrow the courage of the street people, in a precarious world and re-take a place in art, not just to touch people but to change people- creativity and desire in people to be productive. We wont manage it without pain, but its necessary to find a place to make art.

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.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

How I lost me van

Small disasters with big consequences. In this interview for The Homeless Library, Martin describes trying to run his life and his electrician's business out of a van. And when the van goes AWOL, everything else follows too...

The Homeless Library is gathering material for a history of homelessness in the UK. Interviews, artwork, poetry, book sculptures and handmade books are all included, making a history shaped like no other. 

As well as looking on this blog, you can also find and befriend The Homeless Library on Facebook.

Homeless Library, handmade book. April 2015


How I lost me van. This is the thing, people's lives change from a very small point, a small crack. And this crack gets bigger and bigger. I should get my paperwork and show you, it goes back to when I lost me house. Goes back to before then, when I got divorced and lost me son.

I've led an interesting life, a lot of people who are dyslexic have an interesting life and learn to cope. A lot of dyslexics don't have a problem til they're challenged at school. When I was at school, I couldn't write, couldn't understand it. I see the big things and the little things, the bit in the middle don't matter. Get a test paper and I can work out the pattern and don't logically know the pattern, but yet you work it out, the answer.

The van. If you've lost your home and you're living out of a van, how do you present yourself? If you're running a business, how do you present yourself to a customer? You've got to clean yourself up and pull the wool over their eyes to an extent. Money is the key, the need to wash, to buy whatever is needed. A house is better than a floor. A van is better than a field.

I was kipping in a van, able to get a meal and a shower. The caretaker at this place in Warrington where I was doing the electrics told me, if you hit it in a certain way, you get a free shower. "But I didn't tell you!" Getting something free can make all the difference. If you only have enough money for a shower, or a meal, which one are you going to pick?

My contract was paid off in instalments. Small people like me don't understand contracts. The money should've covered what I was paying for, drills etcetera, but the guy paying couldn't pay anymore. The ruse came about to get me and the van on a supposed job. They just wanted to take the van off me. Guy had an iron bar on him. They took the van.

But you've got to have something to start with, to keep you going. Where I grew up, on the estate, there was a guy who went around with a handcart with a couple of buckets, working from that he was a plumber. Nowadays you need a vehicle to run a business. I lost my van.

David Bowie was a big influence on my life. He wrote songs that start in a jumble and it becomes something good. But I'm a dyslexic and I can't read what I wrote anyway. A lot of people come in here (The Wellspring) and you get whacked with their frustration. It comes out in violence. You've got to be like the horse-whisperer, you've got to see other signs, other ways. Deal with that person's emotions.

If you can't imagine something you can't deal with it. I've been homeless and I can imagine that. Normally, solutions can't come instantly. Sleep on it and that answer comes easily the next day. Life's a dance, it can be resolved in a glance, or some chest-throwing, or violence. We forget that we're animals, think we are the most superior thing on earth and we're not. The most intelligent thing if you ask me is a virus, because it has the ability to revive itself. How many times have we said we've crushed Ebola? And yet it's still standing, still mutating and is that not intelligence? Life is resistance, it's how you meet it.

The Falklands War. A profound thing upsets British military forces, because they're unusual, they're compassionate. They came down to Goose Green and they met young conscripts from Argentina, boys less than 18. It knocked them back. The Argentinians could've won. It's another pattern. If they'd used that information, it could've made all the difference to the war. That's hindsight. The Enigma Code was broken not by logical thinking, but pattern.

Politicians! We're just beating people up, we gotta start praising. This political thing, everyone's suffering. Can you tell me is an single one of them working for people who are on low wage, or no wage? Cos if they really were, this place would be empty. We're told the National Debt is being managed, but it's trillions and no one can comprehend it. Cameron is just lining the pockets of the rich so they can survive recession.

We've got to help all the people. Do we want this to continue? (Gestures to all of the people in The Wellspring.)

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.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Fresh Air and Poverty

'Stitching the Wars' workshops re-started today at the Age UK day centre in Hope, Derbyshire We made a start at the second quilt- working title 'Fresh Air and Poverty'. The theme for this- 'Poverty and Strife' associated with the 1st and 2nd World Wars and their aftermath. As with the previous quilt, we will be capturing snippets of reminiscence in stitch, this time using 'Crazy Patchwork' technique.

'Fresh Air and Poverty' work in progress, April 2015

We mixed reminiscence with stitching, reflecting on an era when so much of the population in the area was living on so very little:

"Posh living were cheap in those days- my old lady could go to the butchers, buy a load of bones and make broth that tasted the nicest in the world. We're going back 50 or 60 years. She was a marvellous cook, could make meals out of nothing. That was when meat tasted of something." Les

Eileen a sprightly older women with a twinkle (or two) in her eye, born 26th November 1919, explained:

'I went to Great Longstone School, Percy Buggins was the Head Master. We had no school dinners, would walk home for lunch. My aunty had 8 children, they used to come for lunch too. Also I had 1 brother and 2 sisters. About half a mile walk home, halfway back there used to be a fella that would expose himself! we used to say 'will Billy Ball be here today?'.

The press loves to have a go at over zealous 'health and safety, what follows is a reminder why we have such laws:

'I started work at 14 making steel razor blades, it made me hands course, I cut me big toe, it were awful, lots of people got hurt. I chopped my finger off- it wasn't my fault, it was my boss giving me the wrong instructions. After a stay in hospital, then back home quite a long time, I went back to the razor packing machines. He got me £10 compensation, my wages at the time about 8 pence a day. Terrible weren't it.

crazy patchwork, work in progress, April 2015

Jen told of her mother: 'My mum had her leg sliced with steel, A bloke had walked past with his steel toe caps on, dragging a piece of steel, it became embedded in her leg. My mother kept her job- that was her compensation.'

Janet stitching her crazy patchwork.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Here be dragons

Neil's story, currently being written by him for The Homeless Library, takes the conventions of a dungeons and dragons story and drops contemporary homelessness into the mix. Here be the prologue:


History is a fickle thing. Truth turns to stories, stories turn to legend, legend turns to myth.

We are taught that dinosaurs ruled the earth before men appeared and that a great meteor wiped them. But there are some who tell a different story. . .

A story of elves, dwarfs and other creatures straight out of our very own myths, a story of magic and a struggle for power that has ravaged the world for millennia, a struggle that continues to this very day.

"Nooooooooo" Varuk yelled as he saw Mayrana fall, a lance as black as night had pierced her heart. Green light burst from her wound and he knew it had been a fatal blow.

Time standing still as he watches her fall: her dragon shroud fading, first her wings fade to be replaced by her sleek, muscular arms, then her legs, body and lastly her dragon head fades to reveal her beautiful slender face.

He looked into her bright green eyes and remembered the times they spent together among trees practicing sword play and the magicks taught to them as they grew up. As she disappeared below the clouds Varuk loosed a tremendous mournful roar and a jet of dark blue fire shot between his jaws. He folded his wings then, falling into a steep dive toward the direction the lance came from, as he wheeled round he knew at once who had thrown the weapon that took his Mayrana.

Baelod stood atop his dark mount, all in black as if covered in shadow, a crooked smile upon his face "I thought that would get your attention, come face me spawn of dragons" he yelled at Varuk.
With Mayrana, Varuk would of given up there and then but anger, hate and revenge caught his wings and filled his heart - he flew with tremendous speed toward the sorcerer, using only the wings of his dragon shroud wanting to tear Baelod's black heart out.

He crashed into Baelod, knocking him from his dark mount and sending them both spinning furiously, the blues of his shroud melting into the blacks of the sorcerer's aura. They slashed at each other with sword, tooth and claw, neither of them getting the upper hand. Varuk dug deep into the power within him and released a jet of blue flame toward the sorcerer's face. Baelod laughed as it passed harmlessly around his head. "What hope have you got Varuk? You are the last! With you, it will end"

Baelod wrestled free moments before they hit the ground and was caught up and swept away by his dark mount. Varuk landed with a crash. He was armoured by his shroud and protective spells,
but it still didn't stop the impact from breaking bones. He lay, watching the sorcerer climb ever-higher into the sky while he fumbled for the incantations that would mend his broken body.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A soldier's life is the life for me. Part 2

'Wasted Youth' folded book, Warren

This is the second part of our interview for The Homeless Library with Warren at The Wellspring, a British Army ex-soldier with experience of homelessness. We are currently posting blogs as an ongoing notebook of the source material that will feature in the handmade books of The Homeless Library. As with all these interviews, the opinions contained in it are those of the interviewee alone, and are transcribehere as told to us, having been read back to the interviewee and approved by them. 

Here, Warren reflects on the clash between military and civilian mindsets - and his (military-minded) way of dealing with homelessness.

Warren self portrait: "You don't grieve, you do remember."

It's a loss of belonging. You belong to a greater organisation, you're not an individual - but you are. 

There's still a lot of that in me I believe. If I come up against something I don't like I think military. Which is basically saying, use lateral thinking, every possible angle and work out the best solution at the time. I've got more options than a civilian - go back to blowing the bridge up. When your mum dies, you break down, internally but not externally. To the outside world you're still the same. I wouldn't have been able to think in order to get people to work for me on the street if I was still grieving about my mother. I wouldn't have been any use to myself or anyone else had I not checked and suppressed what was going on. That's where the military thinking comes in, you step over it, move on. 

There's something about military families that civilians don't understand. You might not see the other family members for two or three years, might be in different parts of the world. It's a different kind of love, tough love. If you're on a battlefield and your friend gets shot you don't have time to sit down and cry about it you've got to get up and move. You don't grieve, you do remember. 

You settle at a level of what you are willing to do and not willing to do. They're putting drones over to kill people now, you've got a guy playing on his Playstation essentially. They're talking about battlefield robots. How many more ways can we find to destroy ourselves? 

The Homeless Union was my way of fighting back, it occupied my mind when I was homeless. It made me feel useful and I think that's the key to it, feeling useful. A lot of the people who worked with me said the same thing: at least you've made us feel useful again. I was selling an idea of hope. If you give someone hope, you're giving the greatest gift in the world. Just don't fail them. 

The Homeless Union. Failure wasn't an option. I stayed on the street because if I didn't I wouldn't have been one of them. The street, it's an intense relationship with people. The brotherhood, or sisterhood. It was a subculture, a brotherhood. It was international, we had Russians in our ranks, Jewish people, Spanish, all sorts of people. A common problem for us all. 

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.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A soldier's life is the life for me. Part 1

"How do you come back to the human race after you've been trained to kill?"

Many of the people we've encountered in homeless centres are ex-military. This next interview at The Wellspring, with the remarkable Warren helps to explain why. 

As with all these interviews, the opinions contained in it are those of the interviewee alone, and are transcribehere as told to us, having been read back to the interviewee and approved by them.


I was interviewed for an article in the Big Issue in Oct 2002 about the Homeless Union I set up. £15K on the first job, we were doing security, litter pickers, barmen... for festivals. All ex-military. I was living on the streets at the time in London. My mother had just died, my partner said ‘She’s gone, forget it…’ my head was far gone. I went round various homeless units, but I was normal: not a drug user, or alcoholic, no mental health issues, so they didn’t want to know. I was sleeping in an empty hotel opposite the Belfast Battle Cruiser on the river Thames - had two guards in shifts, about 10 of us sleeping there, all ex-military. Met all sorts on the streets, lawyer, account manager, even a judge.

​Had a mentor system, anyone new on the streets would be offered help. We had new people joining us every day, new military skills. We ended up with groups all over London, groups of 10 people, men and girls, 10 the basic military formation. Back to what I knew, the system they taught me. I was in the military. Labour for the festivals was arranged by mobile phone, money split between everyone - the communist system. The Government took a different view on it. Scared of us.

They thought that because a lot of us were ex-military, we were liable to be a terrorist unit or something, I'm sure of it. Any group that forms in London, the first thing that's done - disrupters put in by MI5, it's a divide and conquer thing. The British are very good at divide and conquer, always have been. If you can cause dissension in a group, then great they'll split up. My second in command had some serious military skills, so there were people asking who Ben and I were, what we were doing. We suspected they were government agents. They fear us, they do fear us. The squatters in Levenshulme in 1919 they probably put in dissenters too. The Labour Party had the same problem too. The Conservatives and the Liberals were just a two party system. The Labour Party and the Unions had a lot of problems. The one thing you'll find with politicians is they protect themselves.

My father joined the military at 14, from an orphanage - the boys' service in the army. (I joined when I was 16) In the army everything done for him. When he came out aged 45/46 found it difficult with authority figures who were a bit stupid… he settled down in the end after 6 or 7 jobs.

How do you come back to the human race after you have been trained to kill people? Ex-military have problems because they’re not de-programmed, they don’t settle down well. Post Traumatic Stress, housing problems, getting infuriated by people who say you can’t do it... in the army the mentality is you CAN do it - how to blow up that bridge? I used to build models to find the weak points… When you come up against an obstacle, you go to type.  The Army ‘break you to make you’, they need hard men to deal with situations around the world. De-program and re-program, if you can train a person to kill you can un-train.

A lot of people on the streets have some connection to the military, themselves or family that have been in. Military people, they’re a different breed. Something that the government and the law don't take into consideration, we don't understand the law out here in civilian life, because we've been trained in a different way. Your right from wrong is different from my right and wrong. I know it's wrong to kill people, but I've got a job to do... Families brought up in the military, all you've got is hard men, boys don't cry, tanks in the back garden. I started using a gun, a real gun, at 8. Had to start using it in case the house was attacked. We were in Libya a the time, just before we got kicked out in 1968. You were taught these things from a young age if you were in a military family. It was sort of expected that coming from a military family you will go into the military yourself. 

My brother was born in BMH Rhintiele, which was built in the shape of a swastika, originally Hitler's love nest. After the war, my father was based at an army barracks Detmold which was the Luftwaffe he during the war for Goering and my father was part of the British Army of the Rhine, I was there as a child. Most military children end up in the military.

We have 250 years of service in my family, maybe more. I can trace my family back to some kind of military activity through to around 1066. My grandmother was a Warrant Officer in the Indian Army, late 1930s-45. They came here in 1954, being Christian in India at that time wasn't a good idea. My great grandfather was Durham Light Infantry, fought in the Boer War, round the time of Rourkes Drift and stuff like that. I’m half Indian, half Irish. My father was from Dublin, my mother Bombay, an airhostess, came over to England after independence. 1958 they got married. I was born in 1960, travelled round most of the world, I’ve lived and worked in 42 countries, an Officer in the 45 Commando Royal Marines, (Royal Engineers).

You've gotta have a heart, but you don't let that show to the public. We were giving rations to starving kids and we got told off for it. So you civilians can enjoy the good life, you need these men to do the bad work. With little appreciation. Fear is a good thing, anyone who tells me they haven't got any fear is a liar. Keeps you alert, aware of what you are and who you are, you're a fragile human at the end of the day, you can be killed like anybody else, hurt like anybody else. You've got emotions. We had a major problem in the First World War, men saw too much. Carnage. The military authorities at the time didn't accept that, no allowance for post traumatic stress and all these things. Consequently a lot of men were shot for cowardice, but there was no way they were cowards. They were also human beings.

By the time of WW2 the bomber crews were doing 50 or 60 missions over Germany, even though they were supposed to do only 30 until they had a break. These men were having mental breakdowns, due to stress, tiredness. The military took the attitude, right let's take you to the doctor. The doctor would sit there and basically threaten them with a thing called LMF - Lack of Moral Fibre. If you continue to do this we will mark your documents LMF, your family will be embarrassed and you will never get a job. No better than being shot really, except you're still alive. They made them continue the missions through a subterfuge, an implied threat. The continuation of that is up until the Gulf War, the British government are still not admitting that Gulf War Syndrome exists.

In 2002 there was an article in The Big Issue with a comment from the MOD that they were willing to give soldiers who felt they had issues an ID card to go back to barracks and see the military psychiatry. But it's never happened. In this particular case, in this article, we were fighting for the homeless but it was supposed to go across the board. This is another failure of the government' covenant with military soldiers. The covenant is if you are injured, sick, mentally ill, they will help you. They have failed on every issue of the Covenant in The Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, and the various other wars going on at this time. It goes right from WW1 to me now and the people who are on the streets now. 

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.