portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Saturday, August 07, 2010

GARDEN LEAVE - The Disabled Squirrel and the Poisoned Mouse

Firstly I should perhaps point out that I am NOT on ‘garden leave’, the ubiquitous British expression for being sacked. I am merely taking a week off as annual leave before the Drop-in for The Homeless where I have worked for the past three years goes totally to the wall and is shut down. (It's the cuts you know! The homeless don't need ineffective places like this anymore. Under the new regime they can get on their bikes and find jobs and therefore afford somewhere nice like David Cameron's gaffe up the road in Witney) Technically I am now redundant and have been paid off as such. So for the aforementioned period of annual leave I have not had time to plan what to do with it and therefore anticipate spending a goodly portion of this time sitting in my garden [with an umbrella if necessary] and watching the birds and the bees [literally not euphemistically there’s not any level of such action going on my garden THANK YOU!]

But this is an urban garden well OK a suburban garden really but the conurbation of what is laughably called a ‘village’ [PS the biggest in the UK!] is really just a stretch of estate that extends the limit of Oxford city and is separated only by a golf course [this IS the South] Its feels urban – we have had much bigger gardens when living in the city and the current one is about the size of a comfortably large gentleman’s handkerchief

Sitting down the other day to enjoy a latte in the garden, the first thing that caught my eye was a mouse! Fantastic! Wildlife in all its glory you can just hear me thinking! Then the behaviour of said mouse began to concern me. As it ran it was clearly disorientated, occasionally bursting into phases of chasing its own tail. You know like an idiot canine. Sometimes however augmenting its repertoire by flipping straight over onto its back and in moments of respite seemed to have a head tremor worthy of the most afflicted dystonia and MS sufferer [no disrespect intended here…merely that this was distressingly violent head nodding and clearly …..not natural……..do mice get Alzheimer’s? MS? Dystonia? Or Cerebral Palsy? Not being medically qualified to diagnose I leave it to the experts to pass judgement] Suffice to say I have seen similar behaviour before.

When infested with mice in various dwellings [it would be pompous to call them flats or apartments] I have had call to but traps down and then resorted to poison. The first time in Leicester; ‘dead centre’ of England in more ways than one - the place became so infested with mice even the local feral cats of some five generations inbreeding [i.e. the size of small panthers] were too afraid to enter. The second time after moving back to Oxford we rented a property that frankly crack den owners would have been ashamed to be seen in. The mice population here was so virulent when we moved in that I could set seven traps about the ground floor and before I got my feet into bed, I had heard all of them go off!

This bijou little apartment had a hole in the corner of the living room so huge I could get my leg down it. To the hip! This place was so over grown, the slugs could make it easily up to the bedroom window in their hundreds and the hole in the living room meant that upon one occasion I had a shrew run in and straight up my trouser leg. The funniest bit is I am not joking here! Now a mouse will avoid humans at all costs but Shakespeare knew his British Wildlife and a shrew is a different creature entirely and whilst smaller than a mouse has the courage and temperament of a lion or perhaps a wounded Water Buffalo and a shrew will not back down when confronted with 6 foot of 13 stone idiot.

Now this all became highly distressing, as my wife demanded that I be the one releasing said mouse cadavers into the waste disposal system [a dustbin!] and it was getting ludicrous to fill up a dustbin with more wild life than used teabags! I resorted to poison. Not a decision taken lightly you understand and upon waking one morning to watch the effects of the poison on a mouse at the top of the stairs with my one eye open [I was not disposed to open the other for some considerable time] I watched as this creature shuddered and twitched, its body seized by spasm and jolted till I could bear it no longer.

Now I have been on ‘outward bound' courses as we laughingly call it as a youngster and learnt enough of the ways of the natural world to understand that when coming across a rabbit with myxomatosis the best thing to do is to brace the heel of your stalwart walking boot upon its neck and snap its neck. Indeed was almost forced to do so by some hairy arsed Country yeoman type at the age of 13. Here in suburbia we cannot bring ourselves to do such hearty rustic endeavours. We considered our course of action as put said mouse in a box [my good lady wife’s suggestion] and I watched it spin like a pair of tights on the fastest spin cycle in the washing machine.  Until my wife could bear my inactivity no longer, so she took it in its box to the field opposite [we call it a field – it’s another piece of handkerchief sized scrub that might have once been going to have a railway station on it] and she let it go to enjoy its death amongst the tooth and nail of the feral community of cats that congregate over by the railway tracks.

Here he is! (well, I know I can''t vouch for his gender but it helps me to think he's a bloke OK?)

Now today we had a visitor seldom seen in the back garden haven for wildlife we have cultivated [I say we…..that means my good lady wife, I rarely venture out into this wilderness you understand] This visitor was what appeared to my untutored eye to be a young squirrel and he was tempted down the branches of a large shrub, rescued when we moved in from the council planning ‘green areas’ after someone decided it needed way too much upkeep and decided to concrete it all over. This chap was what at first appeared to be a fine figure of a bushy tailed rodent [not indigenous I grant you and a psychotic little bastard at the best of times having muscled out the British Red Squirrel several decades ago. I understand the interloper comes from the Western United States wouldn’t ya know it! So we are still suffering the ‘Over paid, Over sexed and Over here’ debacle we ever did with our American ‘cousins’ – Yankee Go Home, I say!

As we watched in admiration the sheer invention of this little chap, I said to my wife as we gazed upon its wonderment and beauty, that if recent events were anything to go by it probably didn’t know what it was doing in our garden because doubtless it was poisoned or in its final death throes and about to expire at any minute anyway. Just as she had told me to “Shut up!” I noticed it dragging its rear right leg. Great! It doesn’t know what its doing because its disabled probably starving and has hustled its way into my garden because he can suss out the hanging bird feeder and the somewhat nonchalant garden owners look the type who would know what to do with a blunderbuss even if they owned one.

He performed various acrobatic procedures to get at my nuts and I was so impressed I was minded to photograph the little fellah! [See below] and then it occurred to me being disabled couldn’t account for some of his more eccentric behaviour. That is he didn’t seem at all afraid of us. Now we might put this down to callow youth but it suddenly occurs to me that it could be poisoned and the injury to its leg caused by its many and ever increasing psychotic episodes. We decide to shut the patio doors and lock all the windows

By now we definitely need a cup of coffee.

But maybe indoors.......this time

It's jungle out there people.

A jungle, I tells ya!

Friday, July 23, 2010

So...... (oh come on! Ed.) I am minded to say something about Volunteers. Now lots of the social care network, locally at least, has cause to rely on volunteer programmes and this is of course highly laudable and gets boxes ticked and little brownie points everywhere but as a colleague pointed out to me today this can result in …..er, well what shall we say, certain communication difficulties.
Aforementioned colleague told me the tale today of a hostel not too far from the Drop-in I now find myself working in about their taking on a Japanese volunteer who it would seem had absolutely no English, ….well none to speak of [oh very good! Ed.]

Now it came to pass that someone took the enlightened view that a colleague had cause to know a teacher of TEFL [Oxford is full of them! TEFL teachers that is] After a while my colleague asked the teacher how the Japanese volunteer’s lessons were going and how they were progressing as engaging with our clientele can be a bit of a stretch even if we can speak full blown Queen’s English [not that it’s hers really ed.]
The TEFL teacher explained that there was a hitherto unforeseen problem dealing with a Japanese person working in the social care field that involved not so much learning but rather a certain aspect of un-learning.

‘How so?’ my colleague enquired

“Well when asking my Japanese student volunteering for your good offices, what she had learnt in the way of phrases or words she may have heard that day she replied rather proudly, that she had learned the following –

Today I have learned “ I put a fucking bet on a fucking horse down the fucking bookies and the fucking horse fucking lost!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blenheim Park Woods

Sunday, June 20, 2010

So it goes.......it's Friday and this exchange is real.....

 One of our most frequent visitors is a gentleman who I will call Pablo, he has a distinctly Spanish handle and his surname is, lets say Smith, the most ubiquitous British last name possible....he is a delightful man and given to imaginings, specifically that he is a member of staff and frequently given to telling me what to do and give me directions, that we are to attend a meeting together later at the Town Hall for example. He has of late been given to wearing a table cloth size scarf as a head scarf almost 'shemagh' style Arabic headgear, scull cap stylie with a tied back knot which causes it to drape down his back. His behaviour can also include him making copious notes, when he is the mood, which get stapled to the walls, he has seen us do this therefore he puts up his own, they can be lists of tasks to be undertaken before the end of the day, they might be recipes for example or just some detail he has logged from the news, etc
 This afternoon he has this exchange with a fellow staff member

He chooses to point out that he has been admiring the "Avocado tree" in the back garden

'It's a fig tree, Pablo'
 "Oh, I know THAT! But that's where 'advocadoes' come from. They turn into advocadoes'
"Oh, that's........er.......... interesting Pablo, I didn't know that' says my colleague understandingly
"Oh yes, its well know. When they're small they can be figs but they grow and turn into 'advocado's'. Mind you, you have to watch out for the chickens."
'The chickens, Pablo?'
"Yup, the chickens. You need to keep your eye on any chickens wandering about in case they turn them into eggs"
'Sorry Pablo, what are you saying? The fig tree....over there......."

"Yeah, the fig tree is where you grow 'advocadoes', I've seen them and if you let chickens climb the trees they'll turn all the fruit into eggs."

He leaves the drop-in satisfied he has illuminated another ignorant soul about the fruiting trees in our back garden and the vagaries of chickens and their ability to turn figs into eggs.
He passes me on the front desk and looks rather sternly at me.

'Oh, are you off Pablo? Cheerio!'
Perhaps slightly dismayed at my familiarity, he increases the severity of the stern expression, check's  what I am writing and issues a clear and direct

"Very good. Carry on!"

and walks off into the sunny street, smiling.

As he walks away, it crosses my mind to wonder whether his headgear is in fact a tablecloth

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So I have been developing this theory that there are some days when it seems like there is something in the ether, something in the air that seems to cause everyone, all the world and his dog to ‘kick off’........ all at the same time.
Is it barometric pressure I have wondered? The weather contriving to put us under some universal headache, the pre-thunderstorm blues or some such? Is it the ‘vibes mahn’, the atmosphere in a building? Is there a group dynamic, which can set the tone for the next several hours and affect us all and thus making us tetchy,snappy and irritable, likely to get argumentative with each other? Is it our birth signs? That the phases of the planets should affect us thusly seems far-fetched to me but there is something in it.
Isn’t there?
Well how come the affects of the moon tide's pull can influence half the planet?
Is there a rising sign issue, an influence affected by the positioning of the sun the moon and stars that can bring about these days?

What days, I hear you ask?

Well today was another ‘doozie‘ as they say. It didn’t start first thing but by about 11.00am we realised we were to have ‘one of those days’…………..

Firstly, as far as I can recall, there came a 'hubbub'. You can feel it flood the building.......It seemed someone's had their bike stolen.
Now this is Oxford, you will bring to mind, the city where it seems there are more bicycles than people. It is a student town!

There are bikes EVERYWHERE.

 There used to be entire departments of the local police service given over to the thefts of bicycles. This is not the town to live if you don’t have a bike lock………………………..a GOOD one!
We will call him Harry but he is a more senior client than most who has arrived today, it turns out, on “£1700 quid’s worth” of bicycle…………….
..............with no lock.

Can we allow him to put it down the side alley for 15 minutes so it stays safe? We do not allow this generally because it is too much of a pain to accept responsibility for the number of bikes that can go missing at any given time. He isn’t going to be long, so we agree at his own risk that he can leave it down the side, a fire exit, for quarter of an hour while he does what he needs to inside the building.
Ten minutes later it is long gone.
Someone says that they know who has stolen it. My heart sinks. It is one of my very favourite of youngsters, we will call him Kevin. Now Kevin I have known, or known of, since he was about ten. He is now in his early twenties, his brother and sister having been clients of mine when I worked at the Rehab nearby, out in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside

All three siblings were born addicted to heroin. Mother died last year. I am fond of all of them, they are all cheeky and engaging, bright and funny. They have had, as you will appreciate, a difficult start to life and each have had their own troubles with substance abuse

A gang of the more hardened visitors to the Drop in are gathered out front and there is much muttering and threat making about ‘stabbing him up’, chasing after him and beating him to a pulp.

It would seem it went like this. Kevin, upon bumping into an old pal who owes him money, whereupon the pal says 'Well, I haven’t got it and you better take my bike', pointing to Harry’s £1700 bike.

(Yes, yes I know what’s someone who uses the Drop-in for the homeless doing with a £1700 bike? Just DON’T ask!)

So Kevin takes the bike and exits stage left. The guy who owed him money it seems then said, when the sticky brown stuff hits the fan, that he knows exactly who stole it and promptly grasses up Kevin.

Great fun! Scam and a half with full Brownie points for sheer cheek, right?

Meanwhile, Harry has gone straight round to the St Johns Police Station to report the theft, presumably leaving out the part about threats to kill, ‘wetting ‘im up’ and generally head bash murderous caving in technical details.
We take some 'proactive interventions' and inform Kevin’s Young Person’s Hostel that there are all and sundry chasing him for the nearly two grand’s worth of bicyclette! Staff call me back and say Kevin, whilst not EXACTLY acknowledging he nicked said bike, knows a man who has and has convinced said colleague to return said bike. I say “Well get it back round here sharpish and I will smooth things over with the owner and we should be OK.”
That’s when the police call. A really nice officer called Mike. We ascertain what has transpired and Mike seems a tad confused as to what to do with the crime details, as he has never had this happen before. That no sooner has someone stolen something, in the time it has taken to report the crime, the goods have been returned. The bike is being miraculously returned to outside the building as I am on the phone.
Well, maybe you could put it down as crime solved, couldn’t you?” I ask helpfully
“Er, well I suppose so but technically we haven’t solved it, you have!’
Well I won’t tell if you don’t and maybe it could help your crime figures?”
“Er, …….are you taking the piss?”
No, no, no no….it just seemed that it would be a shame if it was to result in a lose-lose situation as unsolved crimes go and actually it has been solved and the goods returned to their rightful owner or will be shortly and it would be a shame if we couldn’t get a win-own out of this. Wouldn’t it Mike?”

The constable rings off……….

A see Harry wandering past the Drop in. I call him back and give him his bike, which by now I have put in the medical room, as there is nowhere to put it safely! It having no lock and all. I can tell that Harry wants to still stab someone up for the heinous crime and he is still very, very angry at this lack of respect. I calm him down pointing out along the way that this is Oxford and he has £1700 quid’s worth of bicycle unlocked in a drop-in for the homeless, that he has got it back and also point out to him the original scam whereby the person who indicated the thief was the person responsible for convincing Kevin it was his bike and in order to clear the debt he could have Harry’s bike. Kevin having heard rumblings about the nature of the retribution, it was returned so fast from across the other side of town I scarcely had time to blink. No mean feat in itself.
Harry goes off muttering still about violent retribution and the 'young people of today' and beating people up and yet I imagine I have allowed him to reclaim his bruised dignity and he offers a begrudging ‘Fanx, Andy’ as he weaves his way back toward the town centre.

I had an appointment with a client today whom I haven’t seen for some months and to cut another long, long story short she is an unmarried mother of two, twenty years old and has custody of neither child, the second being taken from her at birth, the eldest in the custody of its grandparents.

She has been away, in Scotland, for three months trying her darndest to rekindle a major crack habit but she will drink and drug to almost eye-watering levels in pursuit of release from her pain and anguish with almost any substance known to humankind. She has called to say she is coming at 11.00am, she calls again to say she has just got up and will be here by 12 noon, she finally turns up after the bike debacle excitement at 1.00pm and stays till nearly three to bring me up to speed with her story to date.

This proved to be a rather taxing session and bringing me ‘up to speed’ is the most unfortunate and ironic pun possible.

 Unsure as to what she is doing at all back in Oxford, unsure where she is even going to stay tonight although frankly that is the least of her problems.

She has no idea where her relationships are heading, including that with her father who has forbade her to see her daughter, his granddaughter of whom he has custody and she can only have access visits through Social Services [the child is a toddler] My client therefore cannot live at the paternal home by order of social services
She seems very chaotic – her thought patterns are all over the place but curiously she looks well! Good skin. Lost weight [don’t even go there! The crack diet is not one I recommend) whilst she has been away for the past ten weeks she has been smoking crack, heroin and doing speed - at times when there is none of the above, drinking to excess [1-3 bottles spirits or ‘anything really’ per day] To enlighten me as to the scale of her ‘problem’ she tells me cheerfully she did a gram of speed on the train from Scotland the day before yesterday. It’s a long journey…..and she was bored.

She says she has attended AA and NA meetings whilst away across the border but she argued with the fellowship members and started challenging them as to their drug use and size of their habits and was repeatedly asked to leave. She seems to have told them that they did not know what they were talking about and that she took more drugs than all of them put together, that she had a drug counsellor in Oxford who could teach them all what they ‘should’ be doing with their problems. (ed: “Oh dear!”)

She turns to address the last meeting as she makes her way out of the rooms wuith a cheery "Fucking Amateurs!" and leaves them to it and she will not be returning there any time soon.  She did seriously seem to think that there were people at his Scottish NA who did not take “anything more than cannabis”!? This seems highly unlikely to me so I put this down to her still being under the influence of crack or speed ................or both.

She shares with me that she had been very depressed about the baby who was taken off her at birth and, in a more seriously depressed moment, destroyed all her photos of the child and set light to them all, in some kind of drug fuelled ceremony in a garden, then says she tried to take an overdose but was found herself throwing it all back up and bemoaning her fate to whatever guardian angels she felt were lloking over her, that they wouldn’t even let her do that properly
She says she has mostly come back from Scotland because she didn’t want to go to court on the 15th for GBH on her stepfather! I am by now speechless. Now GBH is serious as you may imagine and is likely to bring a prison sentence of some magnitude ............and she has only been out of Holloway a year

I had thought her family up North might be a calming influence (sic) but she discloses she discovered that not only had her cousin been sexually assaulted like she herself had, at 13, but that the perpetrator of this act upon her cousin was her own father when the cousin was 12 – my client tells me they both were ‘fed drugs’ by this man [coke speed and alcohol] and that her stepfather passed comments about the cousin’s figure specifically her ‘bottom’ as not being as shapely as when she was 12’ [sic] & further sexually inappropriate comments whereupon the cousin hit him in the face with a wine bottle, hitting him in the chin,  knocking him down and that then they “battered him” – adding that whilst this did not knock him out as such, he had been coming towards my client, she had reached around and struck him with the wrong end of a cricket bat that had mysteriously come to hand, until she switched it around and finding it much more efficacious, took a strike with the cricket bat hit him round the head thus speedily bringing about the desired affect. That is to say, until he was unconscious and bleeding from the ears. 

My client also wanted to get away to Scotland as she wanted to talk to her sister (13) who had lost her third pregnancy from fighting and my client is concerned for her safety!
I am still not saying very much…..well anything that I can usefully recall……………..

Whilst she was away she went back to HMP Holloway to visit her own mother who is doing 10years on drug charges. They do not get on generally and because my client refused to bring in drugs secreted into her body (again please don’t ask) for her mum, there had been a scene and she had ‘launched’ herself at her Mum and had to be restrained and taken off the premises…. as opposed to retained I presume

 Otherwise apart from an incident where she went into a local job centre to try to transfer her benefits and then the council offices to ask for a three bedroom house, she is now barred from Scottish Council offices for racism & threatening abuse of an Asian member of staff for being less than helpful, she thought about covered it for the day!

By now it was getting late and I suggested we reconvene tomorrow so that is how we left it, that she would try to ‘settle down’ and I ask that she at least try to control her drug and alcohol consumption, that she said she would ‘keep her head down’ from the authorities and hope she does not get sentenced to a custodial sentence in her absence as it seems highly likely to be a number of years………….

I will see her again tomorrow!
Curiously at the same time she was due today
……………………………….we'll see

update ~
11.00am today....she doesn't show.....this is not unusual

Saturday, June 12, 2010

So a caller came to the airlock today and said he was new to the area. I explained that we had to take some simple details name, date of birth and whether they are sleeping rough or not.

He said his name was Stephen Rea

So I said, "Oh, like the actor"

 and he said "Who?"
"Stephen Rea, the actor?"

and the young man said,
"Never heard of him."

and I said

"Well, you HAVE!" and I smiled

Stony faced he just looked back at me, expressionless, unsmiling, unmoved.

I don't know, perhaps it was me, but I thought this was extremely funny.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

So anyway……..(you will have noticed I start many of the written blog entries this way and it is lazy and hardly original BUT it does kind of imply a continuing dialogue (*ed: Monologue, you eedjit! A dialogue suggests someone else is reading it and then responding!) ……..OK, OK so anyway……….
…………if you believe in Astrology many Aquarius's are (should be) having a good time lately………must be a rising sign issue or some such………

……………lately at The Drop-in for the Homeless things are changing………the charity sector concentrating on the homeless is changing…there are tenders put out, take overs from well meaning organisations taking over ‘essential services’ and that there is some kind of bigger picture or ‘hidden agenda’ frankly, all over the place like a cheap sub-plot in a soap is increasingly self evident.
…..but the human clay issues don’t go away, the human flesh and bone stuff of life goes unrelentingly grinding on………we have had a sense of mortality encroaching very very close of late…………….we lost one of our clients in the river…..a drug addict sure, a not very prepossessing individual it is true but I LIKED HIM…..he made me laugh and we got on….he was almost universally loved and, if not love, then a certain fondness was always a constant. He came in the day of his death and raised a smile and challenged me directly………He WAS almost COMPLETELY off his head……a heroin addict? you ask……Well, no not really….it would seem by and large his drug of choice was Valium, diazepam if you prefer and indeed it easy to understand why….we prescribe Valium for a multitude of sins as it were and he was………what shall we say?…….an enthusiast……he fell asleep or ‘gauched out’ on the nod….nodded off severally into his sausage and mash that lunch time……..rousing himself at one point raising his head from his mashed potato to hear a perceived argument between me and another client, my tag line for which had been “ …..and don’t forget that twenty quid you owe me!” to which our redoubtable subject had responded “Ere, does he [meaning me) owe you twenty quid?”
Ever the ones to raise a mashed potato clad eye for the main chance of a couple of ‘dollars’, he had thought he heard an argument between a staff member and a client whereby the client was owed a considerable weighty sum by a staff member and was about to join in the reclamation process ever hopeful of a couple of pound’s bonus
….wrong end of the stick as only Valium can produce! I encouraged his quiet and he fell back into his mash.
Later he went on the nod in the front room, right in front of the main window in plain  view of the entire population of Oxford………I had to wake him you understand…..it wouldn’t look good….needles in the drains and people openly ‘gauching’ in the window….he couldn’t see the problem but after the usual belligerent defence and knowing gap toothed smile he weaved his perilous way out into the street, narrowly missing a peerless exit by hitting the door jamb with his shoulder as he wove his intricate exit……..later on that day he was fished out of the River Thames by the authorities, seemingly having fallen off the bridge. Never a swimmer, his girlfriend told us, he was actually afraid of water, in fact it has crossed a number of minds as to whether someone had hurled him over and into that famous river.
Whereabouts was this? He appeared to have fallen, or was he pushed, off Foley Bridge. The name of this bridge not being lost on me. Gangster? No. Junkie? No, not really. Dirty filthy homeless scum? Definitely not. In fact a father of six, beloved and everyone called him:

We have a ‘mental health patient’ recently released back into the community who pops by when he can on a regular basis and we are fond of him too. He is of Oriental extraction and has an endearing way with him to these tired old eyes of occasionally dressing in full drag and of calling me ‘Mr Andeeeee’. We shall call him Henry, indeed there is mystery even around his name. We have only recently learnt that at least part, if not his entire name, is complete invention. We have known him for years and always call him by the name he wished to be, and that which he introduced himself to our services by, Henry Lawless. The authorities have recently informed us his name is at least Chan…….. somewhere. Well, anywhere really they’re not sure exactly… forename, surname, beginning middle or end. But that neither Henry nor indeed Lawless are real strikes me as incredibly funny! Lawless! Brilliant! There is intelligence at work here.

He was recently been hospitalised [again] under section 136 of the Mental Health act whereby he is sectioned by law to be admitted. He comes out and is vulnerable, uncertain at first as to whether we may remember him or acknowledge him maybe. He is always kindly spoken and gentle and always polite, at least to me, and greets me with a smile and a cheery
‘Hello, Mr Andeeeee!’

I notice that morning he is walking with a really pronounced limp and I check with Henry as to whether he is OK and what he has done and does he need to see anyone a doctor or the nurse coming in on Thursday and Henry reassures me he is fine and has just pulled something and if he rests it will get better………the next time I see Henry his limp is worse and he struggles up the steps indeed seems to be finding it difficult to walk at all.

I think you should see the nurse Henry. Where does it hurt?”
He then makes a Michael Jackson style crotch grabbing signal and my heart sinks a little.

“What do you mean, Henry? Have you hurt yourself ‘down there’? “
“Oh it’s nothing I think I must have pulled a muscle or something…it’ll be alright”

Finally, later on I realise he is in with the nurse from the Luther Street Medical Centre who comes in on a Thursday and tends to those who haven’t a GP or won’t got to Luther Street for whatever reason. She comes out of the medical room to find me and tells me its bad. I listen as she tells me he has two abscesses, one on his groin and one on his arm….the size of a fist! The abscess on the groin has burst and whilst she has cleaned and dressed it as best she may she feels he needs to see a Doctor with some urgency and maybe needs a spell in hospital.
The Mental Health Team arrived later on to talk to Henry. A senior MH Worker and an assistant or two and he loses his temper with them relatively quickly even for Henry and promptly tells them to “Fuck off!”….I go out into the street after him to calm him down and he does so but wanders off up the street.

Now Henry has an interesting attitude to his health, as is common amongst so many of our clients who are treated with anti-depressants or mental health treatment medications that they are like Paracetamol for a headache….you take them once and the confusion or the depressed feelings go away. A regime of taking major tranquilizers to be taken daily and effective only in the longer term does not tend to signify as they take a few feel better and therefore stop. Yet Henry has another string to his bow, as it were, as regards to his health and some of this requires ‘self-medication’. It is at this point in the proceedings I recall the previous time Henry required medical interventions. He had a sore red shiny angry patch of skin on the back of his hand, the remains of a burst abscess that he showed me and this was some months ago now before Christmas, so it is with sudden dread I realise what he has been doing to bring about these abscesses on his groin and arm.

He has previously at some point in his life been a high functioning and intellectual man not unintelligent somewhere but the wires may have been getting crossed in more recent years and his common sense eludes him somewhat. But it seems to me that what is involved here is a kind of pure logic.
What Henry has been doing is when he feels an ache or pain, a twinge when pulling a muscle or some such similar physical sensation; he gets a hypodermic needle and injects the effected area. With petrol in this case.
 It can be toilet cleaner, household bleach or engine oil dependant on what he diagnoses is at fault. If it is dirty, the area concerned then clearly it needs cleaning so he injects bleach or Harpic. If, as he ages, a part of him doesn’t seem to be ‘running’ quite so well he will inject petrol…. to make him go better. Or engine oil to make his ‘engine’ run more smoothly.
I receive a call from the hospital some days later to say they have tended the infected areas and there is still some work to be done but generally he is in good health. I am surprised at the candour and frankness of the health worker at the hospital to disclose such information about a client so readily indeed they haven’t really asked who or what I am but I make appreciative noises and thank the friendly staff member of the hospital and he interrupts me….”You see, the thing is we need him back in sooner rather than later……Henry has discharged himself …….and if you see him can you phone me and we will try to get him back in?”
I agree of course and ………well, we haven’t seen him since.

One of our most regular clients has been having difficulty with a ‘trapped nerve’ or a ‘pulled muscle’ in his shoulder and his arm appears to have lost its strength. I will call him Billy. Now Billy is an ‘old stager’ as I say and has been around Oxford since the 80’s. He is musical and a dab hand on the guitar if you want someone to bash out a hymn or Carol at Christmas, a free festival jam session or a rock n roll set at the Cowley Road street Carnival. An old time ‘Speed’ and ‘Coke’ freak, he is clean for many years and may have a ‘bifter’ of an evening but nothing more serious than that. He is well liked amongst the community of the homeless and has been in supported accommodation with the City Council for quite a few years now. Once on the fringes of the hardcore criminals of the East End, Billy has quieted down as he gets older and set into a daily routine and pattern of places he goes to, he proudly tells you of his recent NVQ in social care and occasionally can think he is staff and behaves accordingly. At times he can have a ‘hissy fit’ of temper and behaves like a dry drunk, I have wondered if he gets flash backs of the feelings around withdrawal from speed. We deal with it when it happens and it does not impede our affection for him but some staff are prone to moaning about this occasional display of temperament.

I notice a week or so later Billy has not shown any signs of improvement in his arm. Indeed it is hanging down like a limp rag doll’s. I ask him if it is getting any better. It soon transpires that after seeing the nurse at The Drop-in he has done nothing about the afflicted arm and I chastise him gently to go see the Doctor. “Well the nurse said it was probably a trapped nerve. So I thought it would get better”
‘Did you go to the Doctor’s like she suggested?”
Sheepishly he shakes his head. Showing that male thing of not really wanting to bother anyone. The homeless too do not regularly visit a GP ……..”What can THEY do?”
He can hardly grip my hand now to shake it Good-bye.
The next morning Billy is waiting with a stocky young man who possess a passing resemblance to Billy
“Erm, Morning Andy, can I introduce my son to you?”
‘Why indeed Billy, of course you can. It’s a pleasure to meet you’
We shake hands and I can see the solid young man in his thirties is a bit of a chip off the old block”
“Only the thing is, I came in to tell you, I went to the Doctors yesterday like you said”
‘Oh good, well done. What did he say?’
“Well the thing is that’s why Nigel’s with me. I’ve got a brain tumour”

It transpires that not only have they found a tumour on his brain but also one on his lung. This is what has been cause of the loss of use of his arm for the past several weeks.

I am ashamed to say at first I thought he was joking and asked him so. Such a shock was it, I went into a complete freeze and did not respond for what seemed like ages but in reality was probably only a few seconds at most. It did seem entirely possible that Billy could have actually been joking. The street can make for a blunt and often rather dark sense of humour. We stand there in the hall and look at each other. Suddenly Billy appears to crumple and looks very small and tired, older than his years [he is nearly as old as me] and I ask him if he wants to sit down. This entire conversation having taken place in the reception hall and I haven’t even taken my coat off since arriving at work.
He agrees and we repair to the medical room to talk things through…………

Over the next few days there comes a story, over the radio at first, that someone has drowned near one of the local swimming haunts on the river. It crosses all our minds that there is an enclave of our ‘clients’ that stay in tents around that area and the thought crosses my mind that I hope it’s not ‘one of ours’ as it were. The rumours start to fly around the building……who is it? What’s happened?
In this sunny summer [at last] the homeless and the traveller will pool around the favourite haunts and some stay under bridges when it’s warm enough. Other times there are several groups of youngsters who may well gather at the swimming holes around the town. To drink and enjoy the heat, a drink and to score, smoke cannabis or snort various chemicals and the cooling River Thames
Again it crosses my mind that we really cannot stand any more bad news…………

Eventually the news comes through. Firstly from the local police…………….
 It is ‘one of ours’
Not a ‘regular’ as such but still known to everyone in the place today……the news sweeps through the building like a crackling radio signal and the atmosphere changes in an instant. A young man comes to the airlock (the reception entrance has always been referred to as the airlock but given the occasional temperature and the smells it can contain, it’s just as well it isn’t actually airless

“Andy can you put up a notice about Stevie? Him what drowned. I was there. We all was. We thought he was just messing about, waiving his arms and that….. and well, we had all been taking drugs but he just slipped away into the current and was gone”

He bursts into tears and comes inside for a cup of tea.
Later I put up a notice saying ‘rest in peace’ and all that knew him might care to contact the guy who came in to ask me to put up the poster. By now there is something in the paper about his sudden death, how much he was loved by friends and family alike and his ambitions to be an artist with a nice picture of him looking happy and cheeky and upbeat.

I put this all together on a four sheet paper poster and just as I am finishing it, the guy who came in to tell me the news, sees what I am doing…..he asks to look at it. I apologise for not putting it up sooner and he reads it…the extracts from the paper……the pictures ……some of it makes him smile….some of makes him shudder ……I realise he is overwhelmed by each additional thing I have put o there….respectful….but unexpected……each item on the poster brings out an emotional response he can scarcely contain…….and then I realise he is racked with sobs, by turn sobbing and laughing, nervous and shoulders shaking with the pain of it……he looks up at me and tears are streaming down his face…….”Thanks man!” and he rushes off into the street.
Just another start to another day, …………………….