Saturday, 29 October 2016

Thoughts on sleeping rough...

I seem to be obsessed with the notion of sleeping rough. Perhaps not obsessed, more intrigued. Or, if not intrigued, satisfied with the thought that if ever I found myself in the position so many find themselves in these days – especially in London where extortionate rent is turning back the clock to Dickensian times – I'd have a solution.

The solution in my mind is a tent. A two-man tent from Millets and, of course, a sleeping bag. I'd search around the green belt until I found a place that seemed safe and secluded and out of harm's way and set up camp there; I might even ask a friendly farmer whether he'd mind if I camped on his land or check out some of the all-year-round camp sites that exist in the United Kingdom. Either way, you wouldn't find me in a shop doorway or slumming it on one of the capital's night buses.

The bikes on the outskirts of Tatsfield. Pic: Andy Smith.
Andy says that the Circle Line is no longer a circle, meaning that you can't just sit there all night snoozing, not that I'd want to do that anyway. Sleeping under canvas in the woods seems far preferable to me.

The whole conversation came about because of the Old Ship at Tatsfield, which I noticed last week had been boarded up and is no longer inhabited, not by the former tenant, a Mrs Gandolf, at any rate. Last week I referred to her as Mrs Gandalf, my mistake, but the letter 'o' doesn't in any way lessen the excellence of her surname.

We, that is Andy and I, sat opposite the Old Ship after a pleasant ride via Beddlestead Lane and now, munching on Belvitas, we wondered again what would happen to the place. It would make a decent small hotel with half a dozen rooms and a restaurant downstairs.

I thought of a programme I had watched on 'catch up' last week about the homeless in Barking & Dagenham and I sat there looking at the empty pub and thinking about all those people sitting on night buses or sleeping in shop doorways; they would be crying out for a place like the Old Ship in Tatsfield, I thought. And that's when I started talking about how, if I was homeless, I'd buy a tent with my dole money and head for the woods.

Andy suggested that during the day – if he was homeless – he would spend the day in the library. I suggested Sutton Library, it's huge, on many floors, has power points, easy chairs, an entire floor devoted to music and a café downstairs. The fantasy had re-asserted itself. What about food? I suggested a stove. What about washing? Local authority leisure centres. Transportation? A bike, of course. I had it sussed.

As we cycled home I kept a weather eye out for places to camp should the need arise, not that it would, and there were plenty worthy of consideration. The key, I explained to Andy, was keeping hidden from view and not drawing attention to oneself. I'm guessing that if you're homeless you trust nobody.

The ride continued. We headed towards the green where we parted company and rode our separate ways.

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