Day 5 – 28th December 2018
Yeah yeah, I know I’d signed up for 10 days, but really, the 5 hour round trip each day has taken its toll on this tired old man.
Today I was late, I’d figured that the roads from Bournemouth to Bermondsey would be choked with Christmas hungover families coming back from the coast so yes, I gave it an extra hour.
I needed to give it two, as we say down here, bloody cackers, (The local term for the Cornish ‘Grockles’). Tourists since you ask.
So I reach the depot in Bermondsey and slowly walk in backwards, an old FUJI trick for when you’re late to an exhibition stand, nobody notices your lateness when you walk slowly backwards.
The crew room is heaving with volunteers, maybe 60 at a guess. I plant myself onto a battered old leather sofa, I’m feeling tired today, the trips up and back and the quick turnaround which involves much sleep and a little work to keep the bank account ticking over has basically been the last week’s circle.
So weary my eyes Flickr shut (That was a shameless SEO by the way, every opportunity to boost your online presence I suppose), and I am, more than once, woken by my own snoring which I turn into a cough to disguise it.
Being late, my name was right down the list, thus I was one of the last to be called. Two minibus to the East London Day Centre in Stratford.
Now this is where it gets more interesting because my navigator is Maddie, and aware that she is reading this, she is intelligent, caring, thoughtful, chatty and friendly, but actually she’s just daft, so we should get on famously.
And we do.
A 25 minute trip to Stratford takes an hour, we are way too busy chatting, putting the world right, complementing each other’s life choices and laughing, lots of laughing. This, of course, is not our job, we are there to navigate and drive and neither of us are doing a particularly wonderful job at it. I stop the minibus at one point at the mouth of the banned Rotherhithe Tunnel only to realise it’s the Limehouse version of a hole in the ground.
And my, aren’t Londoners touchy?
We miss turnings, roundabouts, we come within 5 minutes of the Day Centre then we are suddenly 15 minutes away, but boy was it fun.
Eventually we arrive after seeing every roundabout in East London at least twice. We are welcomed and invited to eat with the guests, Maddie grabs us a couple of coffees and we sit and chat, in no time a guest, we’ll call him Bob, a tall proud Scot curses (very mildly) that he’s lost his glasses. I dive under the table to search, Maddie sensibly goes off to the lost property desk and doesn’t take the initial ‘we-don’t-have-it’ as the correct response.
They do have it and with an air of victory Maddie sits down again.
We chat to Bob for a good 15 minutes, he’s been on the streets since he was 10 years old.
Let me pause there for a moment to let that sink in.
Ten years old.
He’s now late forties I’d say and has seen and done everything the streets have thrown at him. He has a flat now and is paying for it from his Universal Credit payments, except of course, they are paid 5 weeks in arrears, so he’s skint over Christmas. He has a government loan to tide him over but this is paid back over the year and the monthly payments are slashed to cover this.
He’s not sure the new figure will cover his rent and food and now has to budget very tightly, pay to survive I suppose, but not to live.
He has hope though and is very optimistic about the future, he is an artist but he prefers designer. His work, t-shirts and prints are hanging on the wall behind them, Maddie and I had admired them when we sat down, and yes, they were fabulous.
One of the Crisis volunteers has promised to help him build a website and the system has donated a computer to get him started. He is buzzing a little at the prospect which I guess is the whole point of Crisis at Christmas, to give hope and build pride for those homeless guest with little or none of it.
Makes you all warm to be part of it.
So here were are, the last shift of this wonderfully rewarding Christmas. Yes it’s been tough, the hours travelling have been difficult, but boy what a brilliant thing to be involved it.
And here’s what this post is about, the volunteers.
What you have here is a mass of brilliant people, inspirational I guess. Kind, thoughtful people who wish to help others and who wish to receive nothing in return.
To be in a room with all races, colours, classes and to see that we all have a common goal, to take care of our fellow man, fills you with hope for the human race.
In these times of bigotry, intolerance and anger, of racism, sexism and jingoism, how welcome is it to rubbing shoulders with decent, honest, kind, happy and caring people.
So thank you Steve, Janet, Ty, Melina and of course, Maddie.
You’ve made my Christmas truly rewarding and gave me hope that there are decent humans beings out there after all.
Same time next year?