The Songwriter - Chapter 11
I arrived in London once again alone on the corner of time . It was just another day, nothing had changed in a world where people chase after the day before tomorrow and when tomorrow comes nothing has changed . I loved the idea of chasing after dreams and hoping for success with my songs . I believed in what I was doing . It gave a purpose to my life .
I took the tube to The Oval and made my to the park at Kennington where Pat would normally end up during the day . The benches in Kennington Park were comfortable as far as I could remember . I had lived there for a while before I found shelter at Pats flat in Hotspur Street . It was still early in the day when I walked into Kennington Park . I wandered around fo a while hoping to catch a glimpse of Pat or one of the crew I knew . It was a nice place to be with the silence away from the noise of the traffic . A man came over to me and said “Hello there , it’s a lovely day .”
Not many had ever approached me like that before and I looked at him and had a laugh . He spoke with a broad Belfast accent . and we started talking about things. I told him about getting robbed , writing songs and sleeping rough . He told me about being the youngest projectionist ever to show movies in the Belfast Palace cinemas and how he and his wife came over to London for work .He told me his name was Jim Thompon and that he had a son who was a surgeon at Guys Hospital . We stood there and talked for a long time until he looked at his watch and said
“Listen I have to go now but why don’t you come to my house on Saturday morning . My wife and I live at number 18 New Brighton Road. We look forward to some of your stories . “
He seemed like a genuine person and continued .,
‘My wife is in a wheelchair and she hasn’t spoke to anyone from Belfast in donkeys years . You would make her day. ”
I thought to myself never look a gift horse in the mouth and replied .
“ Thank you for the invitation Jim . I’ll see you Saturday afternoon .”
I had to convince myself I wasn’t dreaming and thought how kind his offer was .He walked away and that’s when I saw Pat and a few of the boys sitting on a bench in the sun . I made my way over to them and when I was in shouting distance I screamed out .
“You lot look like the biggest band of expendables I ever seen in my life .“
Pat and crew just sat there for a moment on the park bench with a Brixton breeze in their face and the sun in there eyes . It looked as if they had already finished at least one bottle of vodka . This lady walking her German Shepherd dog passed by and she was having a hard time keeping a hold of the choke chain as a short haired Jack Russell began to chase after her dog .
The lads from Lambeth were having a bit of a laugh .
She looked like a block of ice with nowhere to thaw until Pat got up and chased off the Jack Russell with a rolled up newspaper that he plucked from a rubbish bin nearby.
The lady said thanks to Pat who looked at me and said .
“So what was it you were saying about a band of expendables. Maybe you meant a band of dependable’s .“ We both had a good laugh .
“Pat Is it ok to stay at your flat for a while ?”
“Stay as long as you like “ He replied .
I sat with the lads and listened to their banter and we spent most of the day just being there . I told him about meeting Jim and the invitation he gave for lunch on Saturday afternoon . Pat put himself on the invitation list as well . Saturday morning came around slowly and we began our journey on foot down the Brixton Road to Purley . It took four hours walking until we reached New Brighton Road We looked at the house numbers but discovered there was no number 18 .Between the numbers 20 and 32 there was a nursing home but there was no number 18 . So I went to make enquiries if there was a Mr and Mrs Thompson in their facility. The RN on duty explained that there was no one by that name living there . So we went into number 20 next door and asked the person there who ran the English Language School about number 18 and if he knew of a Jim Thompson . Then he told me a story which made the hairs of my head stand up and the blood in my veins run cold Apparently he said many years ago there was a number 18 but they knocked it down when they started building the nursing home and he went on .
“Mr Thompson , that name does sound familiar . One thing I can tell you is half of what once was number 18 is right here where we are . Why don't you what go down there to number 66 . There’s an old lady there who has lived here all her life and if anybody who know of a Mr Thompson it would be her . I’ll stand here until you get there . Let her know I sent you and I’ll give her a wave to show her its ok. “
Pa t and I walked up to number 66 and knocked on the door . An very old lady answered and I told her the story about Mr Thompson and that the man from number 20 sent us to see her . I pointed up the street and she had a look . He gave her a wave and a nod . She waved back at him and took us inside her home . Like a prisoner in a beautiful jail she brought us inside the parlour furnished with antique clocks , chiffoniers and chandeliers, carved oak armchairs , gold framed mirrors , foot poofies on a polished floor , expensive furs hanging on the door , There was a place for everything and everything in its place . just like her , a place to hide away from the world outside , in her beautiful jail , waiting for her daily mail to come .
She told us to have a seat and then she left us for a while . Pat and I sat there and listened to the tick tock of a mantle clock until she returned with a heavily loaded tray of sandwiches and tea , fruit and biscuits for Pat and me . I couldn’t thank her enough . Pat and I were famished and the long walk from Lambeth . She never spoke and just watched us as we ate everything on the tray . Her eyes were warm and welcoming and she looked on with sympathy as the two of there before her . We both like kings of the road after we had finished eating .
I spoke to her about Mr Jim Thompson but she avoided talking of him and changed the topic of conversation to one of finding karma and the deep spiritual aspects of life . We talked for an hour and the conversation flowed . A knock came to her door and her forty year old daughter entered the room . She was a very interested lady with a bright bubbly personality who wanted to listen to my storiy about busking my songs around the streets . After our conversation she gave Pat and I ten pounds and a lift back to Lambeth in her fancy car . Pat and I were none the wiser about Jim Thomson but much wealthier for our afternoon walk . To this very day every time I think of Jim Thompson I get goose bumps all over .
I spend time in the park and discovered more about out this band of dependable’s . They all had one thing in common . They love a drink and they all worked labouring or laying bricks on building sites . When they were not working they were drinking and when they were not drinking they would be on the building site earning a crust . Its funny what happens when you leave the land where you were born . All the support networks that you once had are gone and the family and friends easily forget you . In turn you see new faces and places that support you in a different way . It binds you together with those from similar situations . Like the crew at Kennington who kind of support each other through the hard times . Each one of the boys in the park had similar stories that found common ground where they stood together .
Belfast Rab was an artist who lived alone all his life in a small upstairs room by the docks in Belfast . He once had a horse and cart and collected scrap metal from around the city . On the back of the cart he had a variety of tools , a grinding stone and an anvil . He also had a bell that he would ring to let people know he was on his way . The kids in the street loced to haer the sound of his bell and followed the horse and cart all around the district . Rab would go from street to street sharpening hedge clippers and knives or repairing shoes other things that needed fixed . He made a living that way . His love of the drink kept him company most of his life .After his horse died he went over to London for a job on a building site . Rab never returned to his hometown again . He fell into the company of the boys from the building site and they all ended up drinking in the park at Kennington .
Cork Screw Phil came from Cork in the Irish republic . He was fed up working on the farm and took on a job as a guard in Brixton Prison. One of the inmates gave him the nickname of Cork Screw because he came from Cork and his work as a prison guard . The name stuck and after a while those who knew him called him by that name . Time passed and cork screw was offered a better paid job as a labourer on a building site . He met up with an Irish crew there and they all went drinking on a Friday evening after work . Friday evenings became every evening after Phil got a liking to drink . He found a flat near the Isle Of Dogs and was happy enough there . After a few years he lost his job and moved into the back of a bus a the depot near Lambeth . He met yup with the other lads in Kennington and on pension day he would make his way there for adrink with the lads . Now and them Cork Screw would talk about what he went through at Brixton . He told a story of when he was taken hostage by some of the inmates who made demands from the warden for his safe release . Cork Screw never returned to Ireland and found friendship with the boys from Kennington. He retired from work after years of hard work on different building sites around London and all the lads liked Cork Screw .
Donegal Danny learnt the ropes early in life . he becaas a sailor . He was always at sea until his Mother took il and he returned to shore to care for her . When she died he was lost and never knew what to do . All his life he had been on the boats . That was the only thing he knew . The loss of his Mother was a big blow to Danny . He took to the drink and nearly drowned until he found his feet at sea on a boat to England where he was offered steady work on a building site with a crew of Irish navvies as he called them . They supported him for a while with digs until he was able to look after himself . Danny met the boys of Kennington on different sites and their friendship grew . He said there was nothing in Ireland for him now and Danny never returned across the sea again .
Dublin Jack grew up in the hungry thirties and had a connection with ta street gang in his fair city that kept you young and fit to live with it for times were hard and you had to be tough to survive , Jack and his gang kept an eye on the East side of Dublin and policed the business they conducted importing a smuggled brand of brandy from France. After Jack and the gang were caught by the interference of the police , Jack did some time in prison . Jacks father had died shortly after Jack went to jail and
during that time Father Sean the local parish priest supported Jack with prayers and visits in prison . Something happened inside the prison walls that changed Jack and when he was released Father Sean got him an honest job in London with a crew of Irish bricklayers . Jack started a new life and fell into the company of the boys at Kennington . He never returned to Dublin again and at least once a week he would come over to the bench near Brixton and sit there with the lads and have a few drinks and share the craic .
Irish Eamon was a musician who knocked around with Pat . They came to London with a pocket full od hopes and dreams and established themselves in the music scene there . Pat was the front man and had a strong and unique singing voice that propelled the band into a very promising career . Just before a contract was signed, there was an incident one night and a fight broke out on the street . pat had his throat slashed and the result of that was permanent damage to his vocal chords His future singing career was over . The band broke up . Pat and Eamon remained friends . They both had a fondness of the drink and did some work on building sites around London . They met the boys from Kennington . Eamon got married and had a family but he still made time with the boys s at Kennington Park for few drinks niow and them
Pat came from Bangor in Northern Ireland and knew Van Morrison . He had a heroin addiction .
One night Pat broke into his brother in laws chemist shop looking for a fix of any kind . he had triggered the alarm and when the police arrived there was Pat in the corner trying to shoot up in his vein morphine from the needle of a cattle syringe . it was the last straw for the local police who knew and liked Pat ..
He had been given many warnings before and now this time they told him to get out of the country and never come back othewise he would go into prison . That night Pat took the boat to England with Eamon a close friend . They had a dream to become famous and the dream dissolved one night in a street fight that ended Pats career . He got off the drugs with support from mental health and took up drinking instead . Now and then Pat would work on the building sites when he had to . Most days he was in Kennington Park with the boys . .
After getting to know the boys I decided I better go to Australia house in London to see about getting my Australia passport back . The mornig cameand I stood at the front door of the Australian High Commission in The Strand . I stepped inside the building with many memories of what I’d been through and approached the enquiries counter . I spoke to the lady with long blonde hair and a beautiful tanned face for ten minutes without stopping to take a breath . Then I produced the letter from The Lord Mayor of Merrylands She read the letter and handed me an application form for an Australian passport and said ,
“ Have a read through this and answer the questions on the form . You will need a your original Certificate Of Naturalization two other forms of I.D . After we receive that along with your completed form there will be a waiting period three to four weeks before a new passport can be issued”
I took in everything she had said . Then I remembered my Certificate of citizenship was also one of the items that was in my suitcase that was stolen . I stared and her and said ,
“ I am an Australian citizen who has been left homeless here in the U.K without any support for almost two years . The Australian authorities have been aware of my situation and never once have I been supported by anyone from emigration or the High Commission. I would have expected the Australian Government to bring me home or even find me a safe environment until they could do that Instead I have walked the streets without support of any kind ."
The lady looked nervous and replied .
“‘I understand how you must feel sir . “
‘No I don’t think you understand at all . Today when you finish work here you’ll drive home in your car to the comfortable home where you live and you’ll sit down at a table and have a four square meal and a glass of wine and switch on the T.V set and enjoy the rest of your evening. “
“You are a person we would clarify as being in an emergency situation sir .?
“Maybe if you go tonight down to the Bullring under the Bridge at Waterloo , you just might start to understand what an emergency situation is , there are people sleeping in cardboard boxes with little children and some of them are Australian citizens .“
With that I walked out in disgust . I felt abandoned by the Australian Government and resented the day I became an Australian citizen . So now I had a new set of circumstances to cope with . Somehow I needed to get a new Certificate of Citizenship .
That evening in Pats Flat I wrote a letter to Bob Hawke the Prime Minister of Australia . The following day I went to Lambeth Law Centre and told them my story and they tried to help me get things sorted out . I was advised by the Australian High Commission they would issue me with a new Certificate of Citizenship and then I could apply for a passport ,
I could see it was going to take time to get my Australian passport so I decided to go to Dublin for a while and busk my songs until got sorted out . I also had to say goodbye to my Aunt Lily in Belfast but first there was busking to be done in London .