Damn, forgot to put the carrots on the plan! pic.twitter.com/O7P4Qv7ndU— Roger Tichborne/RogT #CTID (@Barneteye) December 26, 2018
Fortunately, there was so much food that they weren't missed. After a couple of glasses of wine with lunch (I never touch a drop on Xmas day until the dinner hits the table), I started to feel really unwell. Despite the Missus telling me it was rude, I felt dizzy and sick, so had to lie down. I just felt feverish and hot and fell into one of those feverish sleeps, where you are transported to strange and disturbing alternate realities. What I've never been quite able to understand is how your brain managed to construct a complete alternative reality and life story for you in such slumbers. Even stranger is how they are prepared with such random narratives and no back story. So one minute I'm having lunch and drinks with the family. The next minute I am sitting in Sidoli's Cafe in Aldgate on Leman Street. This has long been demolished. I used to nip in every day for a cup of tea and chat to Marg, the tea lady.
|Sidolis and The Marine Broker
So that is the reality (well our reality) of the area. When I worked down there, I'd see a big issue seller every day and a couple of regular buskers in the subway. I got to know them quite well. One day, the Big Issue seller stopped me and said "Thanks for your support over the years, I won't be here any more, I've got a job and flat lined up. I'm getting myself sorted out. I am going to be alright". I was overjoyed. We'd first really talked on day after an "expose" in the Sun (I think) that said Big Issue sellers were earning thousands a week and living the life of Riley. I happened to be walking past as an obnoxious city type gave him a mouthful and started waving the article at him. One of my faults is that I tend to get agitated by bullying, which I saw this as a clear example of. So I challenged this young man and said "Hang on mate, if it's so easy, you swap places with him. Don't you remember how the Sun lied about Hillsborough". Like all bullies, the said individual immediately ran away. The guy selling the Big Issue was rather upset. I went and got him a cup of tea and a bacon roll from Sidoli's and said "Listen mate, don't judge us all by his behaviour, he's a twat". I then spoke to all of the people I worked with and made sure all (apart from a couple of rather unpleasant individuals) bought a copy.
When he was leaving, he said there'd be a new seller on the patch. That didn't turn out as well. The guy had serious substance abuse problems. One day, another seller was there. I asked about the previous one. "Oh, he's in the Whitechapel Hospital, he's got gangrene. He'll be dead in a couple of days. They wanted to operate but he wasn't prepared to give up drinking to let them anaesthetise him". He'd been banned from Sidoli's for pissing himself in the cafe (as I recall). Sid's would usually give the sellers a free cuppa so long as they behaved themselves and didn't bother customers, which most would never dream of doing. The story of this poor young man always disturbed me. Perhaps what disturbed me as much was that his replacement thought his reaction was perfectly natural and normal. I've always loved life.
Last week the Evening Standard reported that over 600 homeless people have died in five years in London, with the average age of 44. This is a fact I was sadly aware of . My experiences with these guys in Aldgate made me want to do more than simply buy Big Issues and cups of tea. I took the decision to volunteer for The Passage, a day centre for Homeless people, based in Victoria. I figured I could nip in before work in our London office and help with a breakfast shift. Through this, I learned a hell of a lot more about the situation. Some of the clients were amazing people, who simply had been unfortunate that life hadn't worked out right. An alarming number were ex service people with PTSD, people who had put their life on the line for the UK and been casually thrown away when they were no longer useful. There were migrant workers, who had run out of money and luck, there were people with mental illness and substance problems. Some of these could be quite difficult and rude, but you just have to accept this and smile. It was worth it for the nice ones and the odd occasion where you met an ex client who was back on their feet.
Anyway, I digress, this will perhaps give you some sense of background to what happened ten or so minutes after I left the dinner table, laid down and dozed off. I found myself absolutely freezing cold (probably a side effect of the cold I was suffering on my metabolism). I found myself dazed, confused, not knowing who I am or where I was wandering the empty streets of London. Then I saw a welcome sight. I saw Sidoli's cafe. Knowing that this was a good place and I could have a cup of tea and get my head together, I walked in. Sadly the people in there were not the friendly faces of Lou and Marg. They were people I didn't recognise. As I walked in they started screaming at me to get out. I was even more confused. I asked why "We told you yesterday not to come back after you pissed on the floor". I had no recollection of this at all, but walked out into the cold. I realised I was cold, alone, dishevelled, without cash or a friend. I tried to think where I could go to get warm, then I simply thought 'Why bother, what is the point?'. At that point, our dog jumped up on the bed and woke me up. When you are in the middle of a dream and you are violently woken up, you have that horrible experience of not knowing what is going on. I was still in the alternate reality, but I was in a warm bed in a comfy house with a friendly dog licking me and wanting to play. I was confused, had someone taken pity on me? Then it all came flooding back. No I'm not down and out walking the streets. If Sid's was still open I'd be more than welcome. I'm not incontinent, I am not cold, I'm not alone, I have a nice new wardrobe following Xmas, I have cash, my house was full of friends.
My mind had gone to all of that trouble to construct such a different reality? Why? I guess I'll never know. If I had the choice, I know which life I'd choose. I'd have to be insane not to. But then, if I was insane, would I have the choice. Maybe somewhere in London, some poor soul has just been thrown out of a cafe, is lying cold and completely demoralised. Maybe they are having a fevered dream that they are in our house, part of a loving family. I just feel sorry for them when they wake up and confront their reality. Christmas in 2018. For far too many, there is no room in the Inn.