No 15 - Summer 2011
My Life in the Cemetery
CHAPTER ONE: Counting the Blades of Grass in the Sepulchre
For seven years Sean MacDiarmid, a red-faced Irishman probably suffering from exposure and chilblains, lived with me and Iroquois Johannes on the wooden-paved veranda at the back of Branch Hill Cemetery. A beggar and a sarcast, Sean told the vagrancy squad he was a millionaire and ascetic saint. I very much doubt his information was true.
Every day he would scrounge £1 on Fitzjohn's Avenue and score two-litre bottles of scrumpy cider. He would drink until he fell asleep on a wooden bench on the veranda, with no walls or heating.
After four years of singing The Ballad of Jesse James to ward off the frost and boredom, Sean, Johannes and myself, who used to urinate on the graves whenever nature called, decided to count the blades of grass.
Sean counted up to 1,080,000 then gave up as he was too sozzled to concentrate. There were also 40 trees in the cemetery.
CHAPTER TWO: Futility: What a Waste of Potential
We three hobos could not even get one foot on the property ladder until eventually, thanks to the christians, we had a sleeping bag each and a snack each morning at 19 Bridge Lane, Hendon's nunnery.
Life was so futile we used to puke up in the cemetery and laugh at funerals, our eyes glazing over.
We were forced by nature to be cold-blooded. Temperatures were often below freezing. Someone stole Sean's woollen gloves – a dastardly act – and my sleeping bag too, which I had hidden in the bushes.
Futility was extremely obvious. As a comical but unintentional contrast I would read all the books in the local reference library on the subject of the Italian Renaissance. I remember vividly ‘The Renaissance’ by Edith Sichel, about the ruthless, treacherous and opulent courtiers of Florence and Rome.
CHAPTER THREE: Kicked Out of Hampstead Chess Club
Sean of Limerick, (a lifelong drifter but no curiosity-seeking stalker,) Johannes Kwermor (an Iroquois brave interested in shamanism) along with yours truly (high on pneumonia and anaemia) decided to go to Hampstead Chess Club in the crypt of Heath Street Baptist Church.
Although we knew the biblical axiom that cleanliness is next to Godliness we had not washed or shampoo-ed for nearly a year. Within ten minutes there was a rumble and ostracism as the owners of 15 pairs of eyes once concentrating on chess, tea cups and cucumber sandwiches, smelled our presence.
Ousted by greater numbers than us, Sean was fuming and violent. He stole nine chess pieces including two bishops to ruin their regular games.
CHAPTER FOUR: Bridge Lane: 50 Drifters Every Morning
It was the early 1980s and Thatcherism was the clamour and the glamour throughout Britain. Out in northern Camden, Brent and Haringey the charity commission and welfare committee made sure that tramps only got one free meal a day instead of them trampling over god-forsaken itineraries to three different food distribution centres. It was 8.15am when the service window at 19 Bridge Lane nunnery opened up with a clattery.
Fifty of us, including Anthony Haden-Guest (that famous beast ridiculed by Toby Young in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) were in the queue. He was trampled as he tried to get his gratis packet of crisps, cheese sandwich and cup of sweet tea. We all laughed heartlessly as he moaned: 'Please don't hurt me, be careful! I'm the beast of the Apocolypse!'
CHAPTER FIVE: Vagrancy Policing.
For strategic reasons the Tory controlled state wanted to patrol the haunts of the homeless and nomadic tribes but when it came down to the nitty gritty of stopping, searching and banishing at the street policing level there was reluctance since there was no profit in it.
Vagrancy policing was profitable to the state and propertied classes but not of much use to the careers of ordinary jocks. These cops matched up to their description in Yellow Submarine where John Lennon called them 'blue meanies'.
To get arrested without wherewithal gets one three months in Pentonville or Brixton prisons and a much higher standard of living involving showers, clean bedding, a half ounce of tobacco and three meals a day. The lads would inevitably jump at the chance.
'Whoops! Mind that shop window! Stand well back! The police will take eight minutes to arrive!'
CHAPTER SIX: Lack of Proper Footwear.
The Contact Club was a social meeting project for tramps and the local clergy in Hampstead which convened every Sunday night in the crypt of Heath Street Baptist Church near the heath.
Johannes shod in holey (not holy) pit-boots, Sean with stenching galoshes and myself with no footwear whatsoever tried to get into the club but were blocked at the entrance by Sir Godfrey Le Quesne.
Sir Godfrey, a posh civil servant, was the grandson of a missionary to Africa. He said the club was open to the poor but not the destitute. Ha ha ha.
That night Sir Godfrey served biscuits, tea and cucumber sandwiches to the middle-class poor who had two overcoats each. We were too poor to get over the threshold. So excluded, Sean left his grimy, fetid socks at the church foyer.
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Scrap-Iron Business.
Marginalised to the very fringes of the ostensible civilisation, tramps (who may be illegal immigrants, native squatting communities un-housed or even escaped criminals and lunatics) desperately need ready cash for pies, socks, cider, chocolate and tobacco but the welfare state's DHSS will not finance the no-fixed abode homeless as they are regarded as potential marauders. Thatcherism was a harsh denial of rights to the poor.
So, for seven years Paul Andrews and I mucked about with skips obtaining free copper, lead and iron and even bits of brass which is the best alloy. We hauled maybe ten kilos a day to Hendon Bridge – halfway between Brent Cross and Harrow on the Hill – and there we haggled with a blacksmith called Ron Dearden who sometimes gave us £2 per kilo.
War-whooping with joy I got £7.50 a day and together with Paul bought beer, chocolate and soap but still we did not pay rent for our gaff at the back of the cemetery!
CHAPTER EIGHT: Tramps and Automation
Directly proportional to the rising numbers of homeless and unemployed persons is the rising rate of capital-intensive production that is automation.
Redundancy, obsolescent skills and the falling demand for skilled labour are all linked according to German and Swiss sociometrists such as Franz Pappenheim. What can labour markets do to rectify this crisis in their midst? Most of the new 'structurally unemployed' are willing to work and are very loyal but unlucky that their jobs are computerizable and automatable. Retraining for the disappointed and disillusioned? There are 62 million redundant in Western Europe and North America already. Once they were machine minders but would they make community wardens or patrollers?
Kurt Vonnegut wrote about the nihilistic anti-state activities of the reeks and wrecks who suspect that socialism is the latest stage of capitalism and just as miserable, exploitative and treacherous...was Christ a homeless, unemployed carpenter after all?
Page(s) 22-23, 32-33
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