Colin Herd

I have a friend called John I wish could sleep more soundly.
John worked in Subway when I met him but now he’s sleeping
rough, or if not then just grabbing fast sleep on a friend’s sofa
or in one of those B&B’s for people with nowhere to go to sleep.
He’s had a hard time but he’s so vague about it
I find it difficult to get to the bottom of why –
except it’s his father and it’s his grandmother’s fault.
They’re so good at hating him they could hate him in their sleep.
At Subway, John was on a zero hours contract. He
didn’t get zero hours, of course, but he got so few
that they amounted to zero money.
He was going for an interview at Kwik Fit,
which is what he wants to do.
Shortly after we met, he told me he had a lot of fingers
in a lot of pies. We were in my car at the time, giving him a lift to Cameron Toll. It was the Wimbledon final, I think.
And that he was very hard working
and couldn’t sit still. He was living with his grandmother at this
juncture which wasn’t perfect but he had somewhere to sleep,
not that he needed much sleep, if you’re
asleep you might as well be dead but whatever,
John could rest his head in his grandmother’s house
when he needed to and because at certain points
in certain cycles he was asleep, he wasn’t dead.
The story as I understand it is that John was maybe
given money that he was meant to use to
pay the council tax but that he in fact used to get tickets
for Reading and Leeds, which lead to him being kicked out
of the only place he had to sleep, which if it was a short
term arrangement wouldn’t cause that many problems because
he’s a likable guy and makes friends easily (hence we’re friends)
and I think he made arrangement to sleep on friends’ floors
for a few weeks or months, rotating them so as not to over irritate.
My car at that time (the time of the lift to Cameron Toll)
had an awful damp smell that I was embarrassed about.
There’s something wrong with the seals on the doors and
so when it rains it leaks and you get little forests of
snowy mushroomy mould on the carpets.

You hear of these people who sleep every night in
their cars. I’ve slept in my car once or twice and once
recently I was in my car getting two or three hours sleep
when there were a few raps on the window which
woke me obviously from my asleep state
and it was a policeman and I was like “oh hello”,
no I wish I had been like that but I wasn’t and
anyway he said “have you been asleep?”
and I groggily nodded and said something affirmatively
virtually still sleeping and he said
“why?” And I said “oh, I had some trouble at home and
wanted some air and I needed some sleep” and he took
my number plate and began to radio it in when
his superior came over and she said “it’s ok – everybody sleeps.
No need to radio it in but your lights were on. Have you been
drinking?” “Yes” I said I had been drinking but I hadn’t been driving,
I had just returned to my car which was parked here from earlier
as I had been meeting up with some friends. “OK” she said. “We’re
going to leave it at that but we could do you for having the ignition
on so please don’t let me drive back round here and find you sleeping
in half an hour. I won’t, I said, I don’t think I could get back
to sleep even if I wanted to. I’ll walk home. Maybe get the bus.
But I doubt I’ll sleep. Thank-you, seriously, I appreciate it.

A few weeks ago, the last time I met up with John after
he said he’d had to have a couple of outdoor sleeps,
he had just got a place in a B&B and needed to buy new
bedding because the stuff there was all pock marked
with cigarette burns and smelled awful.
We met at Sainsbury’s which he called Tesco when giving me
the instructions on where to meet. Near Haymarket.
I said he must have
done it to put me off the scent but he didn’t really get what I meant and just said that he hadn’t even realised it wasn’t Tesco, even as he stood outside it, half asleep, these hessian bags under his eyes that I
really hope don’t turn out to be bags for life.

I tried to ask him seriously whether he’d made any improvements
in the relationship with his family but things, he said, were worse,
if anything. He couldn’t even get in touch with his mother now.
It felt to him like everyone had abandoned him as if they all
just woke up from an eighteen year sleep and it was back like
he didn’t exist any more. I must have been half asleep myself because
I asked him about Subway, as if it would be vaguely possible to keep
up even a zero hours contract while sleeping rough,
sleep the last of his worries, to be honest, washing and
cleaning clothes and eating and maintaining a sort
of regular appearance more important at the minute.
He seemed like he was trying not to sink into accidentally
becoming something that he didn’t feel he was. I have to say
it was heart breaking and difficult to see him.
I need to get in touch with him.

Photo credit: Angie Spoto

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