Notes from the West End.
Notes from the West End: Free Beggar.
” FREE BEGGAR … FREE BEGGAR … COMPLIMENTARY BEGGING SERVICE … ASSUAGE YOUR SOCIAL CONSCIENCE ABSOLUTELY GRATIS.”
This has got to be the end. I’m sitting on Hungerford Bridge on an upturned plastic bread basket … begging. Well in my mind I’m not actually begging , as such, I’m only playing the part of a beggar. I’m wrapped in a sleeping bag with only my face partially visible. I have a cut above my eyebrow and a black eye but this is largely concealed by my sleeping bag hood.
” FREE BEGGAR … FREE BEGGAR …. NO DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT GIVING ME ANY MONEY … FREE BEGGAR … FREE BEGGAR.”
Although the early morning commuters appear to be hardened to the plight of the homeless a few of them seem to have a sense of humour. I count up my change, I’ve made a fiver in under half an hour.
I intersperse the free beggar routine with attempts at selling the two copies of Passolini’s ” A Violent Life ” which I had discover shoved down the sleeves of my flight jacket upon waking up.
It’s obvious that I must have lifted them at some point in the last two days but I’m not able to recall any details.
I juxtapose snippets from the reviews from the back cover with an aggressive market traders’ patter.
” … LITERATURE OF ITS EXISTENCE …. COME ON Mrs. ( to an aging monochrome office gent ) £9.95 ? NO DON’T BE SO SILLY …. PUT YOUR MONEY AWAY … GIVE ME A FIVER FOR THE PAIR.
He marches past.
” Public school faggot.”
I select a page at random and quote after him …..
” MOST OF THEM WERE WOMEN, AND THEY ENTER THE BUILDING OF THE PROJECT.”
A much younger and more flamboyantly dressed arts and media type approaches looking amused.
” FREE BEGGAR etc….”
He comes to a halt wearing a smile, he’s one of the people, he can afford to be.
” No, I wouldn’t dream of troubling you for 20p for some soup.”
He digs in his pocket and plants a twenty pence piece in my palm.
” What’s this ?” Examining the offending article, apparently preplexed.
” 20p for some soup.” He offers up helpfully.
” Did I say that? Did I really? I must have got confused, what I actually meant to say was ” A pound for some Lemon Hooch”.
He laughs and flicks me a quid as he strolls off.
The real beggar shows up. Cropped blond/red hair, pink skin, indigo tattoos on his neck and face.
“Who are you?” he demands.
I get up to leave. He’s trying to tell me that I’m in his spot but I’m already on my way. He seems unaware that I was only temporarily adopting the role of a beggar and had now grown bored of it.
I find a copy of “Tricks” stuffed into my back pocket … a book about furry people having sex with each other. I toss it over my shoulder. A backwards glance : it’s fluttering like a shot bird down towards the yellow/brown turgid, turbid Thames.
As I leave the scene the real beggar is remonstrating with a dreadlocked hippie juggler at the foot of the steps.
” Territorial as a robin.” I inform a passing commuter. I like to impart such gems of local knowledge to passersby, in case they are visitors to our shores or just plain ignorant.
” We must all do our bit.” To another, who nods in smiling approval.
I cross Waterloo’s shiny smooth concourse….
Down some steps ….
…and wander aimlessly in severe need of alcohol.
The area is unfamiliar to me. So I’m amazed to find a parade of shops and a street market scene.
” Well they do have such things in London, I suppose.” I mused to myself.
The Asian vendor in the news and booze shop isn’t in the least concerned that it’s too early to be serving alcohol. I buy five bottles of ” Cranberry Charge” . Alcopops being the only thing that I can stomach at such an early hour.
The drink revives me. I try to figure out at what time I had left the after hours drinking dive the in Gt. Windmill St. the previous night/morning but decide that it is a totally pointless task ….. no doubt it would have coincided with my running out of cash …. that being the only sensible or necessary conclusion. It is too painful and confusing to attempt to reconstruct the previous night.
My nervous system is starting to experience a series of sudden surges of energy which make my body jolt like somebody with a severe twitch. The drink eases this. I open the second bottle. My feet cease to be so heavy.
I try to work out how much sleep I’d managed to get the previous night. But this, like trying to calculate where my cash had gone was never going to be worth the effort. I could remember carrying the beggar’s bread basket and bedding down from the bridge to the bushes on the Southbank. It had been drizzling all night and the blanket was wet but the sleeping bag was comparatively dry. The upturned basket formed a pallet which had raised me off of the mud.
How drunk do you have to be to look upon such a bed with gratitude?
I could only remember the coldness of the late January night having brought me out of my stupor a couple of times.
” It’s life that makes you weary …” I chuckle to myself.
This must surely be the end.
Fragments of the previous night drift into my mind.
The nervous jolts start again.
I sit down on a low wall around what must have, at some time, been an ornamental raised flower bed. Now it functioned as a repository for rubbish and various species of weed.
” Just like the West End.” I say sullenly to myself. A passing parking enforcement officer notices me talking to myself and keeps passing.
” Time for another fix of petty power trip.” He crosses to the other side of the street without giving me a backwards look. I’m not really in the mood to discuss people’s life choices with them anyway.
There’s a teenage lad working on one of the fruit and veg stalls, he’s about eighteen with closely cropped dark brown hair. I reach into the rizla thin polythene carrier bag and fish out my third bottle of Shotts, open it and …. watch him. It’s obvious that he loves being a cheeky barrow boy. I savour his youthful laddishness and also the sweet fruity alcoholic liquid. His wearing one of those market trader’s aprons, which, although excellent for keeping loose change in, totally obscures his package. But even this doesn’t detract from my appreciation of the scene.
Sex is irrelevant, I just want to observe him in his totality.
” I’m getting spiritual.” I observe to nobody in particular and swig down the remainder of my drink and discard the bottle amongst the rest of the detritus.
The usual feeling of frustration at such concealment …exclusion … inaccessibility, fails to materialize…just a wave of melancholy at my inability to crystallize the image. ..to save him.So I clear.
On the way back to Waterloo, I pass a branch of my building society. I look upon its presence here in the midst of my London drunkenness with something bordering wonderment. It being so familiar to me yet, in my mind, associated entirely with my sober suburban life. Coming across it here and now, seems to me, incredibly fortuitous.
My passbook is still in the inside pocket of my jacket from when I paid in my pay check on the Saturday morning…. it had been a long weekend. My account is in the hundreds as I had been working for the past three months, whilst on the wagon. The warm feeling that brought on by having access to such funds soon morphed into anxiety as the train of thought lead me to the realisation that I was already half an hour late for work….yet another job that I wouldn’t be returning to. This concern soon passes as I use my front door key to flip the cap of off the penultimate bottle.
As I make my way to the station I consider how odd it was that I had never come across that market street before, like a some kind of urban village … ” Passport to Pimlico” style. There had been several occasions in the past when I had gone in search of an offy, wanting a drink for the train home but not wanting to pay the exorbitant prices charged at the sorely misnamed ” Traveller’s Friend” on the concourse. I , for one, did not consider charging one pound eighty for a bottle of Australian alcoholic lemonade as being an act of friendship.
I pass the office types forming a long queue at the black cab rank. I wasn’t in the mood to share an early morning banter with them. They looked uptight and miserable. So I finished my drink and binned the bottle and bag, tucking the remaining bottle in the inside breast pocket of my flight jacket, this being noticed by a commuter.
” Well nobody wants to look like some sort of a drunk….especially when you are.” I impart in a sing-song manner. He smiles.
Time for the train and the last bottle.
I enter my parents’ house. It is empty and peaceful…..they are daytime people.
I go to the drinks cabinet, all mahogany and glass. Fill a nice heavy cut crystal tumbler a third of the way with Vodka. Detour to the kitchen for orange juice …apparently from Florida I notice, I go up to my room.
I scatter neatly typed sheaves of A4 on the floor, searching for “Hungerford Bridge”.
I find the poem, drink down the vodka and orange and …sleep.