The Diary of John Bloggs – Chapter Two

Chapter Two

I’m skipping a few years… but let’s just say working. Never been afraid to work. Have a strong work ethic. Left home as such. Got my place, a one bed flat. Housing association. Can’t believe I was paying in those days £40 a month rent in 1976. Yes readers it’s correct!  I also remember what a great summer we had that year.

Hope I’m not rambling on too much, but had a sort of settled life for a space of a few years. Then in 1979 it all came crashing down. The company I was working for went from profits to bad debts and was wound up. Hell what am I going to do. So looking around found casual work involving the building trade. The first job I did was digging out a walk pathway.

We’re now in the 80’s. I’m just about keeping my head above the water with paying rent, which was rising with the times.

I’m in the mid 80’s now. Hear about work in the Docklands, East London. There’s going to be a massive redevelopment – regeneration to happen. Well think this could be a lucky break for me. Left my flat with the bills paid.

Gone to London. Working on new access roads. Very good money. Hotel accommodation paid for by employer. Two years of nose to the grindstone but also got charmed by the London nightlife. Pubs, clubs got right into it. Looking back now I don’t know how I did it. Worked seven days a week and went out seven days a week.

Then in 86 I sensed all was not right. And it was to be a pivotal point in my life. Company I worked for taken off contract. A bigger more power company. Trained their own guys up in road surfacing. You will see the road and spill offs should you watch the London marathon on tv. When in the docklands, the race covers a long stretch of road that is brick red. That’s what I worked on. This was before Canary Wharf was started.

Hell hang on I thought. Friday job gone. Accommodation with it gone. I had not been paid for nearly a month. What the! So that’s the night I walked the streets thinking someone help me out of this.

Next morning ended up in St Mary’s Hospital Paddington. Blisters like balloons on my feet.

End of Chapter two.

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The Diary of John Bloggs

Introduction

I first became aware of John on Twitter around 5 years ago as @bullringbash

He stood out, amongst the crowd of organisations and individuals in the homelessness sector, since he was obviously challenging people’s stereotypical visions of those who are homeless in a very unique way.

Not only was John candid and eloquent but he knew what he was talking about (he has been homeless on and off for 30 years) and he spoke in a very refreshingly honest manner.

Over the years we had sporadic contact with each other until in June this year I finally managed to meet up with him in London whilst visiting Mark Horvath @hardlynormal who was over from the US for a brief visit. He turned out to be even more of a legend in person with a brilliant sense of humour and a very engaging personality.

Mark Horvath managed to convince John to sit still long enough to film two video interviews which have been uploaded on to the Invisible People website.

After meeting up with him John ended up in hospital with serious health issues and he is currently in a hostel in London whilst negotiating his way through the tangled web of statutory services, hostels and the ‘priority need’ criteria for accessing accommodation.

It was while he was posting on Twitter about the joys of being able to eat toast (not something that is ever considered to be a luxury) that I came up with the blindingly brilliant idea of asking him to speak out about his life and his experiences on the street whilst he had access to free wi-fi.

And so this is the story of John Bloggs… in chapters and in his own words. Typed by him on a smartphone and then uploaded onto the Doorway blog by me under his own account.

I have no idea how this is going to play out but this is the whole reason that I set up the blog in the first place. A platform for those who are rarely listened to in our society – giving people who are marginalised a voice to speak out…

Lisa Lewis, Doorway July 2017

Chapter One

The Diary of John… who wears a label… but being homeless is not an identity. Just an event in a person’s life. For some it’s just one page in a book of life. For others a chapter. For a group of people termed ‘entrenched’ it’s many chapters in their lives. Including how my life has unfolded in front of my eyes. Age is just a number but the benefit of the reader I am now 65 years old.

Homelessness. A very emotive word. But when you’re young it does resonate later on in life. There have been lots of celebrations going on about the film ‘Cathy Come Home’ which is now 50 years old. Well my thoughts are what’s to celebrate when you have lived that experience in the past. By this I mean living in many B&Bs at the age of six years old till almost nine years old.

My parents in the early fifties decided to emigrate to Tasmania on what was called the £10 assisted passage. We were literally at Southampton docks ready to go and my mother found out she was pregnant. Terms of assisted passage was no children under two years old. Well this is my understanding of what happened and told at an early age.

My next memory was seeing my brother born. Just after. The next time I saw him he was nearly seven years old and we were on the move. No end of different B&Bs and which also meant I went to lots of different schools with all the moving. At some I was behind with school work at others I was in front. But found out later the seeds were sown. A destiny pathway. Forever moving later on in life without any roots.

Eventually we settled down. My brother came back to the family. He had been living with my mother’s parents in Cornwall. I did not know him at all. Stranger! Even had an accent I did not understand.

He felt the same. This was not home for him either. Kept running away back to what he thought was his parents. I can’t imagine he is nearly sixty now. We have not spoken in thirty-five years. Only just recently found out where he lives too.

End of Chapter One.

I will intersect here… In my early sixties I find out I have a daughter which I’d heard about in passing conversation. 33 years ago. Talking to two guys I had worked with on a short term contract I met again some years later who told me about her. But thought just telling me stories in a pub! I did check but could find nothing. But 30 years later and looking through the internet on a New Year’s Eve cause don’t drink no more find this name. Look it up on Facebook which I’ve never used before. More on this later.
It’s part and parcel. Things you can miss forever. That people take for granted. Sitting at a table as a family eating a meal together. Well all I can say is what’s that?

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Doorway Writing Group July 2017

Our July writing group was quiet but fruitful. Four guests took a keen interest in this month’s crossword, ably aided and abetted by various volunteers.
At the writing table, we spoke about the trials of writing on demand: always a challenge. We agreed that the ‘you will now sit down and write for an hour’ approach only really works for the most disciplined among us. We discussed the paradoxical relationship between tiredness and creativity. If you’re trying to make yourself write something when you’re tired, you often get nowhere but why is it then that some of our best, or most exciting, ideas come late at night, in the middle of the night or early in the morning when we are actually pretty short of sleep? And we all know how incredibly hard it can be to resist the urge to ‘obey the Muse’ and start writing at such times. No wonder we creative types are so often all over the place!
On the subject of creative types then, you are cordially invited to feast on this month’s contributions from J and K. Bon appétit!

Station to Station (a poem by J)

The stars revolve, an old tuning dial
wandering through the sky from
dusk till dawn
constellations, station to station
chanting the universal symphony
playing the music of the spheres.
Tuning in to the uncharted frequencies
of the imagination
exploring the brittle silence of the night
wrapped in mystery senses orphaned in the darkness
keenly awaiting the birth of the world.

The Zigzag Army of the Homeless (a poem by J)

We shall find them on the benches
We shall find them on the street
until everybody has a home
or at least a bite to eat

The ragged troops have mustered
drilling for the change
sending out observers
and keeping out of range

The orders are pretty vague
the ranks are vaguer still
there’s no chance of promotion
and only time to kill.

The Next Best Thing (a poem by J)
The world is going crazy
for the next best thing
in the pharmacological playground
it’s the only thing that swings

We are brought up to believe
that only the best will win
but in the meantime we are keenly
pursuing the next best thing

The next best thing
never satisfies
The next best thing
is a warning to the wise
Just believing in the best
forgetting all the rest
Substitution is no solution
to what will really pass the test.

Djakarta Circus Memories – Part 2 (by K)
Djakarta in those days was a city of two halves, the rich and modern who lived alongside the poor and traditional. Labour saving was unheard of, even to the extent that wheelbarrows didn’t exist. Instead they had four handles so that it could be carried by two people. In effect a sedan chair to carry bricks. The circus ground was close to the disused racecourse – although disused it was still being maintained and mown frequently. Quite why this was, I never discovered since most people agreed that horse racing would never be allowed again.

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Doorway Writing Group June 2017

Doorway writing group June 2017
Five fabulous guests had a go at the crossword this month and we had a fun conversation about some of the words. Could we, we wondered, challenge ourselves to slip some of the more unusual words casually into conversations over the next week? Ideally during chats with unsuspecting individuals. We could, for instance, just en passant mention a) our intention to travel by charabanc (3 DOWN: a tourist coach), b) our tendency to indulge in a cold collation (9 ACROSS: a light informal meal) or even c) the fichu (24 ACROSS: a woman’s small triangular shawl for the shoulders and neck) which we’ve just bought for a friend’s birthday. Hmmmm, could prove interesting!
Certain crossword answers also led us onto some fascinating aspects of our life stories: a chat about time spent living in Malta or working with the circus. This in turn helped us to encourage K to write a short piece for our blog. J was – even by his standards – extremely prolific this session: providing us with a feast of song lyrics, poems/haikus and even a bit of – tongue-in-cheek political campaigning. Enjoy!

Doorway Music (by J)
You might be looking for shelter
A place where you belong
If you’ve a heart still beating
There’s a place for a song

Your conscience might be grating
Just trying to survive
One more rainy weekday might just skin you alive
You’ve forgotten what it’s like to have peace of mind
Get the music started and begin to unwind

There’s a hand for holding on
A guitar to string along
A roll on the drums just keeps a-rolling- on
One life that’s ended, one life that lives on
That’s Doorway music
Going for a song.

Mr Marzipan (by J)
You can’t just call me yeller
Because I’m sweet and slightly nutty
When it’s your birthday then you can
Call me Mr Marzipan
Under the icing
Where it’s chilling
A slab of sunshine
Not too filling
No one else in this whole lan’
Quite like
Mr Marzipan

Rope Walk (by J)
This is not a lifeline
It’s a rope walk
Not even a good time
A rope walk
Ask me if I feel fine
Yes, it’s fine
Like a rope walk.

Empty handed, washed up
Stranded
Like a piece of driftwood on the sand
Wondering how something
That started so innocently
So quickly became so hopelessly
Out of hand
And I’m so tired of the trouble and the strife
To send another postcard from the jagged side of life
On the rope walk.

Votes for Poldark (by J)
There’s a new face on the high Street
A blast from the Cornish past
Is back
So it’s nearly time
To cut the loss
And cross
For Ross

Haikus (by J):

Summer
Furtive question mark
Cat’s tail swish behind the hedge
Trailing lobelias

A roadside romantic
Belisha beacon
On and off and off and on
We’re over… to you?
How do!

Circus Life – Episode 1 (by K)
17 lions, 12 tigers, 3 elephants, 7 Polar bears, 1 Rock python, an American, a German, an Irishman and an Englishman all got on a ship at Gravesend. They took a tent and some seats and 30 caravans, and it was called Chipperfield’s Circus. The rest of them (another 57 people) all flew to Jakarta and got sunburn, but the ones who went on the ship turned brown instead….
Episode 2 eagerly awaited!

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Doorway Writing Group May 2017

Doorway Writing Group May 2017

The writing group crossword generated a lot of interest again this month, resulting in a total of seven guests beavering away – in groups on three separate tables – to complete it.

At the writing table, we talked about when and how we write things. We discussed how to cope with inspiration when it ‘attacks’ – often at the worst possible moments e.g. in the middle of the night, or when you’re on a bike, running, in the shower etc. We mentioned a few famous songs composed in the middle of the night by people still half asleep; Paul McCartney allegedly wrote the melody to Yesterday pretty much in his sleep – maybe that’s the best way to write things then!

Here is J’s latest offering – not written in his sleep, but certainly a short story you can savour and maybe dream about….

Earshot – a short story by J

Freddie laughed nervously, nervous scratch, nervous laugh, he was a bundle of nerves this morning, sitting in the job centre like a dog in a pound pondering life’s uncertainties. His own life of elaborate detours, loose ends and letdowns.

What had prompted his reflective mood, maybe the memory of one shiftless night long ago 20 years or more; climbing the stairs of the multi—story car park, like a moth under the austere strip lights. He opened the side door: Level 13, an acre of deserted concrete, the acrid fumes of departed vehicles hung in the air. He noticed a shape, a bundle of clothes? No: a figure; a boy hunched over the parapet only just taller than the wall itself. Freddie cleared his throat apprehensively and leant with his back against a pillar transfixed by an emotion comprising guilt, fear and helplessness.

Nigel, a 14-year-old teenager heard the sound snapping his train of thought like a dry twig, switching the synapses from fear to flight, he bounded towards the exit door and fled down the stairs. In the same split second Freddie turned and saw the figure vanished! He raced to the spot and peered over the edge, the morning still too dark to see any sign of a body on the pavement below. His hurried footsteps echoed in the stairwell and relief surged through his trembling frame while he paced the empty pavement back and forth for nearly an hour.

In the hour of the first birdsong, the grey light of morning creeping across the sky, a thoughtful teenager trampled the gravel drive to the home where his family lay sleeping; quietly opening the kitchen door, he crept back up the stairs.

That was the story of ‘Freddie’s Phantom Adoption’, unnoticed even to themselves, two strangers giving life to each other in the barren spaces of a slumbering town.

Time moves on another 20 years. Nigel checked the time for his next appointment and took a few brisk steps towards the waiting areas. He beckoned, “Ah Mr Norton, please step over. Take a seat. Now, what have we been up to?” His finger hovered over the ‘enter’ button of his keyboard. Freddie had a nervous cough….

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Doorway Writing Group April 2017

Writing group April 2017

Our April session had a nice little spring in its step.

The writing group crossword continues to be a popular feature: a number of people had been asking about it last week and a total of five guests (K, N, J, L and R) took it away to work on it.

At the writing table itself, we had our usual fun discussions on random topics including various thought-provoking questions:

Can we, we wondered, reclaim the spontaneous creativity that we often have as children, even when it sometimes feels as if the education system – and life itself – does its best to squeeze it out of us? Yes, we decided – we definitely can. Just pick up a pen or pencil or felt tip or paintbrush….

Is it okay for writers to recycle their material in the way that musicians do? We decided it was pretty inevitable for writers to revisit similar ideas, though usually worded differently each time.

How much time do we have – or do we make – for reading? Well, K has been inspired after his recent Dickens achievement and is now tackling Ulysses by James Joyce. Impressive! He’s promised us a summary, of sorts, when he finishes it.

And as for writing itself, two of our wonderful guests wrote contributions for the blog. Read on for some reflections by H and two poems by J. We hope you enjoy them!

 

Home Time – a poem by J

The rattle and squeal

As chairs are piled on desks

Home-time prayers are murmured

Like the swishing of trees

In a summer breeze

At school.

Frank and intimate messages exchanged in the cloakroom

Bags gathered like sheep

And the marching tide of schoolchildren appear

In the street.

Listening to music in each other’s houses

Hanging around the public places

But home is where the hub of the heart is

Where dreams are rediscovered

And life emerges

In the simplicity of a moment

A key turns or a window opens

At home time

 

Questions on Existence – reflections by H

Who knows what and who exists? Philosophers, religions, children, scientists, practical people all argue. What exists if we do not think about it at all?

God always exists and knows what exists, but we don’t know what to make of that. Only God exists whether we believe in Him or not. We can’t change his qualities. People exist and God sees them through rose-tinted glasses, therefore we can’t even see people the way they exist in reality.

Children invent what exists for them in a playful way and in fantasy. Also what exists for them is not what parents know but parents want to force them to change their ideas about what should exist.

Scientists make theories about what exists and why, that other people either admire, totally disagree with, or think it’s manipulative or even demonic.

Satan knows what exists but only from his limited viewpoint as He wants to believe his plans are able to ruin us and win over God’s plans.

Philosophers have theories about what exists that nobody can prove or disprove. Some people choose to believe one or the other, whichever they prefer.

Religions have followers that believe what they are told and see signs that confirm it because of their chosen interpretations.

I wish I knew what exists from God’s perspective. It would stop me from wasting my life and not understanding what matters in life and what to live for. I would be much freer from emotional problems and the utter inability to make decisions. I would know what to help other people achieve and how they could improve. I would stop worrying and keep rejoicing forever. But who can cope with the amount of knowledge and wisdom God has? If God gave us his insights and decisions we would burn up or choose to kill ourselves as we have no strength and goodness for the responsibility or mental capacity for it all.

How marvellous it is that in heaven we will forever be rejoicing about finding out more and more about the qualities of God and nothing else will matter any more and we won’t have to wonder what exists as God will show us all we need. All that exists in this life will end and has no significance, so nothing actually needs to exist now, only myself and God will matter forever.

 

Fly Tipping – a poem by J

Flies dangling their legs in our soup

Will be promptly ejected

On the front of a rolled up newspaper

Courtesy of the waiter

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Volunteer Profile – Mark

After working my way up the career ladder I was extremely fortunate in 2014 to be able to stop working and embark upon the next stage in my life. After training for and finishing a Lands End to John O’ Groats cycle challenge to mark my 50th Birthday, I found I missed the working environment more than I expected to!  It was apparent that I had to find something to keep my mind busy, and to feel that I was using some of my accumulated knowledge and experience.

I had always felt that, as my elder sons went through their latter teenage years, if we hadn’t been there to manage their emotional rollercoaster rides and give them a safe place, they were only a small step away from the challenge of homelessness. Whilst at work my company had supported a number of local charities, I was vaguely aware of Doorway and followed Lisa on Twitter.  I felt that the time was right to offer my support to Doorway in whatever way they saw fit.

I met with Lisa and started attending the volunteer sessions. Monday worked for me and I turned up ready to go. I expected to find a ‘soup kitchen’ type of world with homeless people queuing up outside waiting for a plate of baked beans and egg. Of course it was nothing like that at all. I also thought I’d left the world of ISO9001:2000 far behind – but I was immediately handed a comprehensive pack of policies and procedures and asked to sign in and lock my coat away.‘

Over the top’ I thought, but of course I was wrong there as well!

Lisa has an innate ability to work out where you feel at home and where you can be most useful in the operation. I have ended up being a mainstay on the door. A process that involves welcoming guests, writing things down, and in general smiling a lot and keeping everybody happy. Within seconds of a guest arriving your heart can jump as you see the progress they are making or can sink as you realise that they’ve taken two steps back again. We are there to immediately make them feel at ease and welcome. Once in the safe environment of the session there are other volunteers and staff far more capable than me who carry on the good work of making guests feel at ease and helping them out in whatever way we can.

So what have I learned? We provide a really safe environment for our guests to get basic support – food, clothes, shower, advice and a friendly social atmosphere. The control and procedures are all part of providing confidence for the guests in the environment. They also provide some structure and clear responsibilities for staff and volunteers alike.  If they need help we help – either directly or by pointing them in the right direction.

As volunteers our main role is to maintain that safe, friendly environment. The Doorway staff are the experts, working more directly with the guests both in the sessions and during the week when the volunteers are not there. It’s a great organization and really makes a difference to peoples’ lives. I feel I am a valued part of the jigsaw puzzle within a friendly team of volunteers – and I love it

 

Posted in Charity, Chippenham, Homelessness, News, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment