Tag Archives: homeless

Learning to listen

miner and moustacheI haven’t been writing lately. I’ve been reading the Internet too much again and I’m not sure why, but for the last few months my brain has not been processing the data I’ve been inputting effectively enough to produce any writeable trains of thought. I think I may be suffering from Toffler’s ‘infoxication’, or information overload. Someone may need to invent a new idiom to cover this state of affairs because I bet I’m not the only one experiencing it. How about: Too many opinions spoil your convictions…?

Ok, that’s embarrassingly lame, but it’s a start.

Anyway, while I have been unable to settle on any firm opinion about anything, and have also been wondering what the hell I want to do with my last 30 odd years on the planet, I have been working relentlessly on my other blog. This blog involves me walking around Cornwall with a camera permanently glued to my hand and a notebook and pen in my back pocket, accosting innocent passers-by and forcing them to talk to me.  As I’ve relaxed into the process of approaching a stranger, explaining what I’m doing and then asking their permission to photograph them, I have become more and more addicted to the whole thing. Only a few people say no, and these people usually have a very good reason to want to remain private, although the occasional older Cornish person still has a fear of the Internet based on not quite understanding how it works. One man today explained carefully to his wife, that if he had his photo on the blog, it would be seen by millions of people all over the world. If only that were so.

A serious and elegant lady I met in Falmouth this week

But what is so compelling about the whole thing is learning firsthand how almost everyone has something interesting to say if I can relax them enough to talk to me, and how moving even the most seemingly ordinary lives actually are. Although I tend to approach people who stand out to me in some way, often those who are more discreet in their appearance are just as interesting as the more noticeable ones, and on more than one occasion they have been much more interesting. I have always been someone who has faith in people, but doing this project confirms every single day that human beings are fascinating, funny and innovative. I met a man who is building a replica in his garden of one of the first planes to ever fly successfully, a homeless man who writes jokes on William Hill betting slips and keeps them in his rucksack, a woman whose husband accidentally asphyxiated himself on the back of a door and a man whose job it was to clean up drowned animals from Cornwall’s beaches. To name a few.

The home-made Penny Whistle of a busker in Penzance
The home-made Penny Whistle of a busker in Penzance

But I realised today that although I have been listening to the stories people have been telling me, I maybe haven’t been really listening. I mean listening in the sense of actually drawing things from these stories that could teach me, or remind me of, things of importance. I’m not the sort of person to start getting all I-Ching or anything, but it struck me today that I could draw things from what people are telling me. Last night, for example, I couldn’t sleep until very late because my brain was exploding with thoughts about what I want to do with my life. I have some business ideas that seem very difficult and out of reach, and I haven’t really focused my brain on making them into something real. So I (like everyone else probably) am feeling trapped and frustrated creatively which is making me lethargic. I woke this morning, tired and confused and went out to do some food shopping for the family. As usual, I had my blogging kit with me and ended up talking to two people. The first was a lady who told me about how her grandmother brought up four children all on her own while running her own small business and ended up owning three houses through sheer determination and hard work. The second was a man who talked about the ways he had come to terms with life in a Czech prison.

Now, if I WAS a New Age type or spiritual person, I could start thinking some sort of higher power is trying to tell me to get off my arse and grab life by its testicles. Or at least its handlebars. I’m not one of those, though – but what I do think is that if we listen – really listen – to things people are saying to us, our brains can focus in on bits and pieces that we need to hear.

So I’m off out tomorrow with my camera and notebook. I wonder what the people of Cornwall have to teach me next.

The future’s bright, the future’s goretex

Planning ahead is something I have always been particularly rubbish at. Maybe it comes from having grown up thinking total nuclear annihilation was immediately imminent, but it led to me living my life as if there is no tomorrow. Not in a good way – in a sort of bumbling, useless, living-in-the-moment way – like an ADHD toddler.

“There’s no POINT in doing the washing up, mum – the world is about to be wiped out by a massive nuclear war.”

So here I am in my 40s. It is finally beginning to dawn on me that there probably is some kind of old-age-based future that I should be aware of. It isn’t going to be the kind of old age that the baby boomer generation are now embarking on; my parents and spouse’s parents have paid off their mortgages, travel, go to the theatre, do Pilates and have hobbies. That sort of thing. Our old age is not going to be quite so secure – neither spouse nor I have a pension, we’ve only just started a mortgage and an ‘ISA’ is something I have only heard of because that man on Radio 4 says it a lot on that boring programme where people who have money phone up and ask what they’re supposed to do with it.

I put “investment” into Google images and this came up. This is the sort of person who invests. He looks smug because he will be able to do Pilates when he retires

(The other programme I hate is the one where people go for walks in the countryside. You can hear them doing up-hill breathing and talking about the scenery. ON THE RADIO).

Anyway, I was reading Julia Neuberger’s book, Is That All There Is? in bed last night. She was discussing a group of people who plan to sell their houses and buy one all together when they reach the official age of decrepitude so that they can support each other instead of going into a home and being fed and wiped by startled 18-year-olds saving up for their gap years. An excellent idea, she thinks; and of course it is. My friend E and I thought of it years ago. It seems an obvious solution to the problem of the gradual shutting down of brains and bodily functions. When E finally loses her marbles altogether I’ll be able to wrestle the electric mixer out of her hand before she damages the postman, and in return she will be able to fling a wardrobe upstairs when required. She has always been strong, but everyone knows that the truly demented can perform miraculous lifting feats when required.

The only problem for us will be that we won’t have any houses to sell in order to live our  dream of dementia-addled self-sufficiency, and council flats are not designed for unrestrainedly eccentric communal living. But I am not worried – I have developed a plan for my future, and it’s one that is not unrealistic: it’s within my financial reach and, although people have laughed at it and taken it as a joke, it is entirely sensible.

I’m going to be a high tech bag lady.

image by Jeff Nikon, http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/Wales/Newport/Newport/photo246517.htm
I will be as prepared as this lady, but more stylish

I have slept rough in the streets of a city before, and it is unutterably horrible. The grubby, creeping cold of a shop doorway at 4am seems preternaturally penetrating when all that is between you and it is your coat and a few layers of cardboard. It seeps into the marrow of your bones, tenses your muscles to snapping point and you know for a fact that you will never, ever be warm again. That’s why the homeless are often seen asleep in the daytime – at night it is too cold to sleep. But I think I could handle being a homeless bag lady if I had the right equipment. It’s the cold and the discomfort that makes it intolerable, so my plan is to start preparing myself while I still have an income. Here’s a list of what I think I will need:

  • A lightweight high performance 1-2 man tent that can withstand all weather conditions and be folded into a backpack
  • A thermalite self-inflating lightweight sleeping mat
  • An all-weather sleeping bag
  • foil insulation sheets
  • three sets of thermals
  • walking socks & waterproof boots
  • waterproof trousers & coat
  • a wind up/solar lantern
  • a storm kettle
  • warm hat & gloves
  • an orthopedic rucksack
  • an excellent knife and plenty of string
  • an all-terrain titanium trolley/zimmerframe combination
  • a library membership
  • a notebook with a waterproof cover & pens
  • my glasses

It seems so obvious now I’ve set it out before me. I can’t understand why I didn’t think of it before. Now the sons have (almost) left home for good, I have spare rooms where I can keep all my retirement preparation equipment. I still have the income to begin the necessary acquisitions, and my plan will even make it more likely that I’ll survive the apocalypse if it happens before I’m 65.