Steamboats - Chapter 3
Steamboats For Company
Anybody with a bit of sense would wait until the storm has passed before setting out to sea in a boat , but what of the sailors already at sea, caught up in a gale . The huge watery mountain at times is a test for a good ship and crew . It may be said that never is there a storm that has no quell .
There is never a calm in a storm that has not been made welcome . Where is the calm for those cargos of lost souls afloat on a hopeless sea .
Abandoned to the drink on a voyage through life with a crew of hardened derelicts who never know how to keep steady as she goes . Some of those jump overboard and the Captain is no stranger to guiding a boat up stream without a paddle where not many have even been .
Who can relate to a drowning man? Only those who cannot swim or another who is there to save him .
Who would see him drowned without throwing him a life line ? I hope not too many .
I would like to take you into a commune of homeless derelicts just a short walk away from Waterloo Station in London . The Bullring by name home of life’s castaways in an ocean of tears and regrets . Cold concrete is a hard place for a bed . .
In 1989 cardboard city was enigmatically erected under the grey concrete sky with a tumbled down over spilt landscape of humans surrounded by a city that drew more and more people into its bleak portrait .
Within few miles of the Bullring what a contrast there was in view to life .
From the bright lights of Leicester Square a huge magnet drew in the yuppie urban class into its arms . Party people danced the night away and echoed out the sounds of hip hop . Being upwardly mobile they converged in multitudes at acid houses all over Central London . This new attraction brought a raging night life in the jungle of the wild West End .
At this time I was not greedy just one of the needy and under fed .
I was one of the poor and oppressed majority .
Many of us lived with unwanted and neglected prisoners of a society where anger grew `towards the unfairness of homelessness people .
If you could have seen the sad sight you would have been wrapped up in the culture shock that ruled the residents of cardboard city .
Most of us felt the cold reality that no one cared .
Cardboard city was ten minutes walk from Buckingham Palace but may as well have been a million . The city streets were littered with people who slept in doorways as all the homeless refuges were full .
Some lucky people found squats, others slept in parks and on buses . I had met so many people who were abandoned themselves to alcohol and I was able to write down some of their stories.
Some of the characters of cardboard city were victims of circumstance with hungry bellies filled with fire and anguish . Some of the older ones had an innocence and hopeless charm about them . Most had a hard edge because of the bitter plight of feeling downtrodden .
In London every day there were always muggings and bashings .
The finger was always pointed towards the residents of cardboard city .. Bombarded by the hate factor, the poor and helpless people of cardboard
city felt unjustly treated by individuals who seemed united in their fight to destroy any last strands of human dignity that remained .
There was a feeling of hopelessness and yet everyone bonded together like a family . It was uncanny . Sometimes our greatest strength comes when we are on our knees . Sometimes we find insight after we have been tortured by the pains of hunger and when we are at the mercy of others who wish to make our lives a dark and miserable existence . The people of cardboard were about as low as you could get . It wasn’t survival it was basically daily existence . The daylight hours brought the constant reminder of our unshaven and dirty faces . The clothes we wore seemed a little worse for the wear and it was impossible to keep hidden the inner self from further scrutiny .
During the day cardboard city was like an open wound that went under close inspection . Passers by never got too close just in case they were to get infected . Often they would run away in horror if one of the residents spoke to them . They feared being asked for money or even worse getting mugged .
Daytime hours disappeared and the darkness fell without a candle to light or a
flashlight to keep the shadows away .
When the dark night came down I found my self surrounded by the shadow world . In this place people clung on to their existence even though it seemed all hope had left . In this place of suffering we all held on to our thoughts like gulls grabbing their daily bread in an empty ocean .
Steamboats were a hard breed . They had to swim the tide .
We all had our own deep oceans and at night we lay in around Waterloo in cardboard boxes or in doorways . Because of numbers it was safer to sleep in cardboard city than in the doorways of shops .
Everyone had a dream to cling on to . They were our survival ropes .
In the dark night there is a noise called city life . It mingles with the inner sounds of the soul . Somewhere out there in the silence of this vast
cosmic consciousness the essence of life just happens to find where we are and relate back to us the wonder of it all . What a wonderful thing it is to find out that we are just a very small speck in an ocean of thoughts that meander across the universe Sometimes within a great conscious mystery the reality of knowing ourselves lies between logic and something unexplainable . This understanding of the soul makes us an individual . I discovered myself there in this dark night it was a lonely picture that looked back at me .
I was able to see that others around me also embraced my hurt and rejection because they also understood this place where I was at and so that is why I understood the factors and behind the walls of injustice that imprisoned the souls of London’s lonely people .
And so each day comes and each day goes and all that lay within was an empty space . For the Steamboat the only thing that could fill that empty space was a bottle . Sometimes one bottle wasn’t enough so it took another and another until the day was done . Company was a big part of the void and the steamboats journey became a shared experience enjoyed by others .
The sad thing was the drink never filled the void it just made it less empty.
I believe God places a void in all of us . It is a void that only he can fill .
Many try alcohol or drugs . Some use the material things of this world to fill the void but it is impossible to ever feel satisfied by any of that .
I have known millionaires who have had everything they want and more and yet they are never happy . There is always some else they want .
That something else is Gods love and for many they can never discover it because so many other things are blocking it out .
The void is a space between me you and God .
At night the subways of London’s underground closed and as winter approached the streets became cold and desolate .
Even though the Bullring was more like a battlezone it was better than being isolated as a homeless person on the outer edge of things .Many though it was wise to keep within the confines of the Bullring . Anyone who ventured outside of the Bullring brought their own series of events . Once you left the Bullring you were usually forgotten about . The situation of homelessness was growing worst each day . In the Bullring the numbers grew and a cardboard box became a luxury item for some to have . The mobile van that brought hot soup ran the risk of getting ransacked at times . Alas for all who missed out on a paper cup of broth , The sun came through in the morning again as the people from the Bullring made their way to the pavements to beg for some spare change . The first rays of the morning sun were like a touch of heaven on numb hands and frozen feet . For many of the homeless begging became a regular way of life but problem because of the general attitude the public it became dangerous and difficult . Hard heads had moved in to the Bullring and the small community were being commanded and led like lambs to the slaughter house . Like some mad dogs foaming at the mouth the new rulers of the Bullring roamed around picking on anyone who was weak . These mad masters of drunks were control freaks that should have been kicked out the first day they arrived . From time to time serious fights erupted . It was a dog eat dog existence and every scrap of food was fought for . Every cigarette and every drop of brew was shared and divided up . Sometimes a hero would rise from the Bullring like Alec from Glasgow . He was permanently half doped up and half drunk but besides that he was a great artist . Alec took on the mad masters of the Bullring in brawl after brawl . It was all he knew how to do . Alec carried many scars and bruises . He also carried a knife and a thick Scottish accent . He could carve up your nose at the drop of a hat and forget what it was that made him do any of that .Though his hands drove a deadly blow to some at the same time that very same hand could do such beautiful work with crayons and pencils . There was one day Alec went too far . He took one of the bully boys and threw him into the Thames and later on paid the price for his deed .
Alec was thrown out from the Bullring to fend for himself . I caught up with him Alec in the DHSS one day in East London and he was as always half drunk half doped up . He told me he had six different names and sis different address and signed on at six different social security offices in London . He went on to tell me about the new gaff he had and invited me to drop in to see him . Alec meant well but if you knew him like I did you just stayed clear of him . Alec was a talented artist who needed space and a lot of attention . His moods were as changeable as the big hand on a clock . Like a stick of explosive you would never be sure of the moment he would explode . Alec was a loner who needed time to find an escape hatch . Back at the Bullring there people were shifting in and out of shelters .
The older Steamboats from the Bullring ended up at the Manna centre and in some of the drop in refuges in and around London .
I met Kenny by accident in St Martins of The Fields . Old Kenny was a Steamboat who had been in no fixed abode for most of his life . When people tried to speak with him he always used the same line of phrase which was that the blood of Jesus had never failed him yet . Kenny was an innocent wine drinker and a well known character on the street .
He enjoyed singing and hoped one day to make a record . He said he would sing about Jesus . Once some people from the BBC recorded him on tape .
The crew gave him five pounds for his short performance . After that Kenny episode he said he wanted to make a movie and was sure that Jesus would help him to be discovered . It wasn’t long after that when I had been told Kenny had died .
He never got to make a movie but I’m sure Jesus has a place for Kenny in the big picture of things .
Jackie was another Steamboat who loved fires . At night he always lit one and the pity of it all was Jackie always seemed to roll himself into the flames . He had burns and scalds on him that would never heal . His anorak was a mass of singes and holes burnt by the hot ashes he slept with . One of Jackie’s biggest problems was that after a few drinks he went unconscious and never knew a thing until he awoke . By then the damage was done . He never spoke much and it was hard to get close to him . Some people said he was a bit Looney but who were they to judge him anyway . Jackie was harmless .
He spent a lot of his time in and around the hole in the wall pub in Mepham Street getting handouts and draining some the half empty glasses when no one was looking . Day after day you would smell him before you would see him . Jackie always had a reek of stale urine about him that was potent enough to ward off any one from getting too close . Most people often turned away in disgust except for Margie who was a resident of the bridge in Waterloo .
Margie pushed around a shopping trolley with everything she owned .
Some old clothes and a blanket or two . Margie was a female steamboat who drank the day into the night . God knows how she loved the smell and the sight of Jackie . They spent many good times together sharing sips from the same bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag . After finishing their session Margie would throw an old scarf over her silver tattered hair and wander off in a dream somewhere between the sunset and tomorrow . Margie often slept on a small piece of linoleum outside on the footpath at 235 Waterloo Road .
I felt angry when I saw the hopelessness on her face . Maybe it was a disbelief in people or life but what ever made her look that way made me upset . God knows what things Margie kept bottled up inside her . I’m sure her days on this earth were almost over and I wondered who would get her shopping trolley when she died .
I kind of hoped they would put it in with her in some paupers grave on the far side of Victoria Station .
If anyone could give you a reason to carry on with life it would have to be Margie . She could change your outlook let me tell you . Margie had made her home on the street and had two friends . She loved the drink and her homeless companion Jackie. There were not many who Jackie spoke to apart from Margie . Jackie grunted a lot . If you lived on the street you could quite easily become like an animal in the eyes of those who walked past .
People who loose their dignity quite often degrade themselves .
They don’t feel human at times and that’s why Jackie would just grunt like a pig as he wandered around the arches under the influence , under the bridge at Waterloo . Jackie was under another law . He was a victim of self and like an animal he had imprisoned his self worth and dignity in a deep and dark dungeon on the outskirts of insanity . How easy it would have been to judge Jackie and hurl abuse at him . ow hard it was to try to speak a kind word to him and ask if he was ok .
One evening as I sat with him by a small fire he told me about the story about two people he knew .
Many of the steamboats he spoke of came from hard port cities like , Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin . They were brought up in poverty and kept ignorant They had survived the hungry years pulling moves in petty crimes . The hardest thing for some of those was to keep out of prison and not become a frequent visitor in the court system .
For what it was worth in many port cities , the only law and order was dealt out by the keepers of the city . The gangs who controlled the streets .One of the things you learnt early in life was to find which gang you belonged to and who you hung around with .
Street gangs , hung around drinking on corners around the city .
The funny thing about some of these gangs was that they were regarded by some locals as guardian angels . They kept in line the trouble makers and others who were involved with anti social behaviour . They had their own moral code lived a life not many who choose to do .
Alcohol was freely given and freely taken and even had become the currency of certain street debts .
he discovered early in his life how it helped him to cut through the hardships and struggler of being lost in life when he had come to London to find a job but there was no work so he looked to for another drink with the street people he had come to know . Eventually the only hope he had was that the drink offered him . Like a empty seat in a crowded stadium Jackie watched sat surrounded by people he would never get to know or care for .
Life for him became another drink on another day trying to forget what it was that had brought him there in the first place . He smiled at the passers by who ignored him and his heart was became bitter towards them because of their attitude .
Steamboats for company had its own training course . The school of hard knocks had many graduates who found a way to survive . In the end detox programs were the solution for those who had drowned themselves in a sea where steamboats floated back and forward without a glimpse of hope .
End Of Chapter 3
Link to Chapter 4