Thursday, 15 January 2009

There but for the grace of god go I

It turns out that the people with the snappy dog were not in fact a young couple, nor were they on holiday. They are father and daughter who are homeless. They spend their days sitting in the car and their nights sitting in their leaky tent.

Last night we invited them over for some food, thinking that the extension of a warm hand of kindness might make things a little less bleak for them and they seemed to relish the attention, being unusually candid about their situation.

The father has never had a home, has been in and out of jail and after a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse, had finally pulled himself together just enough to be able to look after the only person in the world that mattered to him.

He explained that when he reached his teenage years he found out that the woman he had always thought of as his sister was actually his mum and his mother was actually his gran. Dyslexia had made school unbearable at the hands of unsypathetic and spiteful teachers so, feeling betrayed and lied to, he left school early and hit the streets. He spent the next 20 years living in shop doorways and hostels, eeking out a living where he could doing odd jobs, fruit picking, labouring on building sites and rummaging amongst bins. When the minimum wage came along he could no longer find work that was not illegal so he became a beggar.

I could tell that he has had drug problems the second a plate of food was in front of him. TLB rustled up a hearty sausage stew which he picked and prodded, never quite getting up the momentum to finish the plate. From what I could tell, on a daily basis he ate very little and his daughter lived on packets of savoury rice cooked atop their little gas stove. My heart went out to them so much.

The daughter did not speak much, we managed to ascertain that she was 21, has never had a job and is fleeing from a violent relationship. She joined her dad on the open road as her only option about 2 years ago out of fear of staying still and being tracked down by her ex. They got a dog, a yappy little jack russell/staffy cross who they both dote on and they endure life on a daily basis, rummaging for new bits of cardboard to line the floor of their dilapidated tent as the old ones go soggy. They both sign on but their transient life makes even that hard. I have never felt so lucky in my life.

The thing that struck me most though was how kind they were. They both automatically took off their shoes when they came into the tent. He had bought a few beers to drink so as not to have to take me up on my offer of a few of ours. We have a spare dome tent and a couple of camp mats which I offered them but they refused, somehow maintaining enough pride to be able to decline. They were profusely grateful when they left, I suspect mainly out of surprise that anyone would actually invite them into their home.

It occurs to me that these two are just two of thousands of people in similar situations. And they are some of the lucky ones. The dad has enough wherewithal to sort out a car and a tent, to get off the drugs and to feed their dog but it is apparent that not all campers are born equal. I can see that if my family life had been different and if I had not enjoyed the opportunities that I have had, I could well be in the same situation. My brother is dyslexic (but thrives nonetheless), my father has had alcohol problems in the past (and conquered them admirably) and I live in a tent.

I know that whenever I have problems in the future, I can look back at our nomadic neighbours and count my blessings. There but for the grace of god go I.


Mum said...
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Richard said...

Just finished reading your entire blog after finiding on STW. Three words. Write. A. Book.

Seriously, your current activities are topical, amusing and documented with significant verbal dexterity. If that doesn't make for a good book then I don't know what does!

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