I’m 66 now, and a lot of the time I feel I’ve lost out. But when I think about it and write, I feel I haven’t. I think of myself as a successful failure. I like to write in bus shelters. I sit in Steadham bus shelter (near Midhurst) for hours. Especially if I’m paranoid. The emotions are so great, they disable you. I just sit waiting for it to go. When I’m paranoid, this bag is my survival. I never feel safe without my bag. I’ve got enough in it to survive. A cooker, dehydrated food. My treat is a drink. I’m a celiac. So I get expensive soft drinks. I can’t drink beer. On a really wet day I sit in the leaking old bus shelter and cook a dehydrated meal, and feel like a King. Hippies wave to you, when they’re on the road. Sometimes a friend comes and sits with me.
A beard changes people’s attitude. They smile at you more, and give you money. They give you meals. Even just sitting on the garage wall, if your beard is the right length, it all happens. If you trim it short, it’s not the same. They give you sweets, lots of things. You think, “What’s going on?” And you realise, it’s your beard. I’m not that interested in money. I do swaps – it all happens with no money changing hands. I offer to do things, and people give me a roast dinner. I sit by the fire, with the cat in my lap, just for chopping their firewood. I’ve been doing that for years.
If I’m unwell I listen to cows munching grass. That helps me recover. Or sitting under trees. I’m terrified of crowds. I can’t go into supermarkets. I creep in when it’s quiet. I’d rather sit under a hedge somewhere. My CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) knows where to take me if I’m unwell. He takes me up the hill. I can’t bear to be at home. You feel it here in your heart. And on the way home, this down-in-the-dumps feeling comes back. If I could live without a home, I would.
I was on top of Winchester Hill once, and this fox came by. It came so close – as close as this bag here. It was circling me. A family came along, and they said, “Is it your fox?” They were photographing it – and it went away, and I said to it ”Oy, come back here” and do you know, it did. It came back. Animals know when they’re safe. I used to have a robin come to see me in the bus shelter. When you’re in a bus shelter, it’s so nice to have a visit from a robin. He sits here, on my shoulder. And sometimes I write. This poem, The Party, I wrote in my house when I wasn’t well. I wanted to be out, at the party.
We’re perched on top of a far hill
The canvas flaps as we sit
Milk crates are not very comfortable
Smoke gets in our eyes
Sparks fly all around us
Nellie’s showing her belly button
Rain drops splash on our faces
Wind blows with a vengeance
Jeff strums his guitar
Large black kettle starts to pour steam
Mugs are gathered up
To see the state of them, how are we still alive?
Someone drops a spoon in the ashes
Tea’s made with bits floating in it
Emma hums a folk song
John’s dog starts to bark
A stick is thrown into the dark
Dog takes no notice
Little Jane counts stars as they come out
Dave looks happy – what’s he smoking?
A fox calls in the valley
More wood is thrown on the fire
Mick says he’s off to his van
Kettle filled for next cup of tea
John starts to cook sausages
Mary says, “Where’s the fried onions?”
The party’s starting.