Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Tonight I was reminded of something that happened to me some years ago when I was living in Kilburn (Queens Park, TBX) and came across an old man slumped in the corner outside the tube station. He was waving his arms around ineffectually as he tried to stand up. Already imbued with the Londoner's cautiousness - though I was relatively new to the city then - I looked around and hesitated before deciding to try and help.
He wasn't completely pissed, as it happens, just a little confused and very frail, with the watery eyes of the very old, wearing a sheepskin jacket, and a few pints inside him. What could I do? I leant over and asked if he was all right, reaching out a hand to help him up. He mumbled something and vaguely pointed somewhere to his left or right as I eased him to his feet. He was reasonably compos mentis I began to realise, and was showing me the way to his home. His small frame was light as I guided him across the road, listening carefully to what he was saying:
"I just need to get meself in... I'll be all right once I'm in me place..."
"Is there someone there to look after you?" I asked, thinking that he could not possibly survive for long without the assistance of others.
"I'll be all right..."
After an interminably slow crawl along the street, every small obstruction of dug-up paving slabs or shop displays turning into a major expedition as he clutched my arm, we at last approached a nondescript block of flats and followed the path to a door which opened into his place. Once in, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. The 'place' was no more than a room with a single bed, a tabletop hob and a small sink.
He flopped down on the edge of the bed, which I remember as having an overhang, like the lower half of a bunk bed, and sighed deeply. There was an A4 poster of a football team tacked to the overhang, and I'm ashamed to say that I can't remember for sure which team it was, though I KNOW it wasn't QPR, and feel convinced that it was Arsenal.
"Are you going to be OK?" I asked, looking around for some reassurance that I could not find. His eyes unfocussed for a moment, and he said:
"My son comes round sometimes. He's doing very well for himself..."
"That's good." I hesitated.
"Do you want a cuppa?" he asked, trying to lever himself up out of the bed as he spoke.
"No. Thank you," I said, "I've got to be heading off... As long as you're all right."
"It's no trouble..." and his efforts to raise himself out of the bed increased.
"No, really, I've got to go. But thanks. And you take care, OK?"
He said nothing more, but I turned around and scrabbled a little for the door as I hurriedly left.