3am Hallmark Moment

nottinghill3Walking to the all night shop in my old manor. Streets totally deserted. Clocked this guy on the other side of the road carrying a duvet – he was clearly sleeping rough but judging by his purposeful gait– he wasn’t a lifer.

It was pretty apparent to the trained eye that he wasn’t looking to crash quite yet – somewhere in this story – rocks were involved. He’d seen me – I’d seen him, and it was only going to be a matter of time before he crossed the road to try and tap me for a couple of quid.

But he didn’t. And it dawned on me that he was resisting out of respect – he didn’t want to unsettle a stranger in a deserted street – and believe me – that’s Nobel Prize level ethics for a homeless junkie.

So I shouted over to him – asked if he was sleeping rough. He said yes, so I waved him over and gave him a tenner. A nice round number cos I was pretty certain it would get him what he was actually pacing the streets for. Shocked though he was, he was lucid enough to immediately try for a second – 20 would get him a bed…. But crucially – he managed to do it with class and I coughed it up… He was really touched then we went our separate ways.

Then it occurred to me – I shouted back and he came back again. I asked him straight up about using – he replied straight up – and I offered to get him sorted for free. Obviously this is unusual territory – he’s got to be wondering if I’m old bill or something – but he reluctantly accepted. Just as he’s accompanying me to the all night shop – he admitted he’d been clean for 6 months and it was just the white these days.

Thank fuck you told me I said – no way I’m giving you the other if you’ve done 6 months clean. Yet another honest answer – ‘if I have it I’ll do it’… By this point I was so impressed by him, that I took him to the cashpoint – he offered to look away for the pin – and gave him another 20 quid.

He kept saying he couldn’t believe what I was doing for him – but not in a slimy or even a mechanical thank you way – it was just really fucking human with no power dynamics or bullshit. Then we parted with a hug…

Two takeaways from that moment of mutual trust and connection. 90% of the time – people are as dangerous as you make them feel. I was 100% at ease taking this blatant crackhead to a cash machine with me – because of who he was. Connecting on a such a trust level in that situation restores my faith in human nature – and it’s not the first time I’ve seen the kind of integrity in junkies so glaringly absent from so many more fortunate people.

Never forget walking into Kilburn station late one night to find some bloke unsuccessfully flogging used Travelcards. I was flush, I knew why he needed the money, so I just asked him if he wanted a few blasts. Suspicion briefly clouded his smile – I mean who offers that kind of thing to random strangers, but we went off to a nearby estate and had a mini sesh. As we parted company he was protesting loudly that one day he’d do the same for me. I took it with a pinch of salt.

A year and a half later, I’m struggling for similar reasons in a phone box on Kensal Rise laying on a mixture of charm, desperation and robust sounding payment plans to try and squeeze something on tick. The door suddenly opens, and there he is – beaming from ear to ear. I couldn’t place him for a sec – until….well fuck me – it was travelcard bloke.

After all this time, despite only having met for 15 mins, not only did he remember me, but didn’t pull up his hoodie and scuttle past. Instead, he hauled me affectionately out of the phonebox…..and announced he had treats in his pocket. I cannot stress enough that the default setting in his situation is head down, full steam ahead so you can’t get blagged. And you never EVER volunteer that you’re carrying.

Free of the increasingly claustrophobic phonebox , he swiftly diagnosed my tremulous bowels and greenish hue. Remember that time in Kilburn he says? Yes I say… Well your karma just came round. And with that – this penniless bloke shared everything he had with me.. EVERYTHING. Equally. No power trips or weird fuckery.

NOW – I know this might not be the most conventional ‘faith in humanity’ story – but knowing what it must have taken in both cases – it speaks volumes. This was genuine sacrifice in the name of human connection.

All those of you who pontificate about not giving money to beggars (especially fucking homeless charities who are the worst offenders) in case they spend it on drugs have clearly never walked a mile in their shoes.

And as a postscript – I recently posted a New Statesman review of my Shaolin book. One of the people who liked that post was Pippa, my old NHS drug worker when I was at rock bottom. Not seen her since 2004

Back then, when I told her I’d met someone (now my wife Mado) she moved heaven and earth to get me into a detox. The Priory it was not – no – it was in the former asylum wing of Ealing hospital – all Wormwood Scrubs architecture and bars on windows – but it fucking worked. She really went above and beyond for me – and obviously when I moved – we lost touch until I found her on here a few years ago living back in New Zealand with a gorgeous family.

Drug work is a thankless job and she must have had all kinds of doubts.

When she liked that review post – it was redemption – and I’m really not being glib comparing that to your man tonight..

She’d never had any reason whatsoever to trust my relentless relapses – and let’s face it – an emaciated junkie announcing ‘he’s met the one’ so ‘now its for real’ isn’t a big confidence builder. But something in her gut stood fast and she really fought to give me a chance. I guess in some way – despite this moral quagmire of a story, I hope I’ve restored her faith in the same way travelcard man restored mine

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