I’ve been selling the Big Issue on and off for a good few years now. I’ve been all over the place, me. I’m the sort that never likes to get too attached to a single location – I guess it makes me feel a bit trapped when I’m stuck in one place for too long. I’ve got to keep moving, keep things fresh. My old man was in the Air Force, so we lived all over the shop when I was little. No one house was ever home, so I guess I just kept that going into my adult life. If you don’t have a regular place that you call home, everywhere can be your home.
As far back as I can remember I was never one for staying indoors. I don’t see the point. Why be stuck inside looking at four walls and people you’ll never meet on TV when you can be out there, meeting new people, hearing new stories and seeing real life? I’d say that’s the best thing about being a Big Issue vendor – a lot of the time people like to stop and have a chat, ask how your day is going, and maybe tell me what they’ve been up to. I was homeless for quite a long time, and you get used to being ignored by people who’d rather pretend you don’t exist. I think humans can get used to being cold, hungry or scared a lot quicker than they can to feeling like they don’t exist. It’s nice to have that sense of identity back again, feeling like you matter and people are interested in you.
If you stopped to talk to people on the streets a bit more, you’d realise that they’re just the same as everyone else. I know that sounds daft, but people really don’t realise how easy it is to end up homeless. Obviously some people make bad decisions – I know I certainly did – but a lot of it is just down to terrible luck, or wanting to get away from horrible situations. Can you imagine how bad life must be for people to actually prefer sleeping on the street?
I was originally homeless at quite a young age, before I ended up in a hostel and life started to get back on track. Then I relapsed and ended up homeless again, but this time in London. That’s a completely different world, I can tell you that much. You see people who have been homeless for twenty-plus years and the effect that has had on their minds and bodies. As long as I live I’ll never see anything like that. I still think about it every day – it’s one of the main things I use to motivate me to stay on the right path.
When it’s warm, people are smiling and everyone is feeling good, it feels like the mags sell themselves. It’s just like boom - have a mag! Boom – have a mag! Boom – have a mag!
There was one guy who used to buy magazines from me who I guess I became quite close to. I say close – we didn’t hang out with each other or anything – but we’d have long chats. He was a Geography teacher, and he always used to buy a magazine from me, then go sit in a café, read it cover to cover, then give it back to me so I could sell it again. His wife died at a really young age, and it was just one of those things that gave him comfort I guess. I wonder how he is, if he’s ok, and whether he got married again. I’m not on social media or anything like that, but I hope he’s happy, whatever he’s doing.
The weather makes a big difference to how my day goes. When it’s sunny, people are just that little bit happier. I like to get a bit of a patter going, and I can be quite loud. When it’s warm, people are smiling and everyone is feeling good, it feels like the mags sell themselves. It’s just like boom - have a mag! Boom – have a mag! Boom – have a mag! That feeling of being good at something is just… it’s hard to describe. It just feels like nothing else matters. All of the noise and the shit just melts away, and you can focus on this one thing that you’re doing well. For me, that’s as good as it gets.
When it’s raining, which it usually is, you can try heading out to your patch, but you’re not likely to sell any mags. People are usually just trying to get from A to B, and don’t have time to dilly-dally. You’ve got to be a positive person in this job; at least, I think you do. You want people to buy mags from you because they want to, not because they feel guilty, and that’s easier when you’re feeling positive and confident. And that’s hard when you’re soaking wet and know that, if anyone stops to chat to you, they’re going to get soaked too.
I honestly don’t know what the future is going to hold for me. I guess I used to believe in God, at least when I was younger, but I just believe in me and the kindness in other people now. That’s all you can rely on. If you get comfort from the thought that God, or Allah, or Thor or whatever, is looking over you, then good for you. But he doesn’t exist on the street, I can tell you that much. The sooner you get used to relying on the here and now, and on the people who care about you, the sooner you’ll be happy. That’s how I see it, anyway.