9th February 2017: Day 21 - A View From A Bridge

Say what you like about London, there’s nothing like the sight of London at night, by the Thames with all the bridges lit up. No matter how I feel, the view gives me a lift and a small sense of pride that this is my hometown. Today I walked across the Millennium Bridge for the first time.  I was a little surprised when I stepped on it because I thought it was supposed to be a wobbly bridge, so I was surprised at how sturdy it felt. Until I got to near the middle and felt a little tremor, just a little one, it lasted about 2 seconds and then it was gone. There was no real reason I hadn’t walked that bridge before, I never had the need, so I never walked it and today I crossed it purely by accident.

About 20 years ago I worked in a drop in centre for people who were experiencing some form of mental illness and /or who were homeless. We provided a café style kitchen where we served hot and cold snacks, teas,coffees, crisps, chocolate etc and a warm meal once a week. We provided a washing machine and dryer, and a shower room. There was benefits advice, a chiropodist and a nurse and we tried to get the service users who wanted into accommodation. One of the suggestions for this project was that I go to a homeless shelter and serve food. I did think it wouldn’t strictly be me doing it for the first time so I discarded the idea.

Today I had the choice of doing a couple of things but it was when I went to my hairdressers that today’s idea came to me. It was bitterly cold as I walked in to make an appointment and the first thing I said was

‘It’s soooooo cold.’

And my hairdresser, bless him, offered me a hot drink before I went.  Unfortunately, I had to leave to get somewhere on time but it got me thinking and that’s when the idea came to me. I would buy a hot drink for the first person I saw who is homeless. So early this evening, I walked through Waterloo towards the South Bank and I looked around for the people I used to see sitting under the arches and there was no one there.  I walked along the complex a little and still didn’t see anyone and I wondered where they could be and I wondered whether the local authority had got rid of any homeless people on their streets through anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs).  Of course, I couldn’t go round the streets asking where the homeless people were so I left it. I was at the Millennium Bridge by now and needed to get to Embankment so I decided to cross at that point and make my way to Embankment Station (not knowing it was at the other end of the bridge) and that would be my something new for today.

I took the tube to Sloane Square and as I came out of the station I saw a young man sitting by a shop window, wrapped in a thin-ish blanket. I offered him a hot drink but he preferred a cold one. I offered him something to eat and he asked for a bar of chocolate. He told me he had to get to a shelter in Lambeth later in the evening and he was okay for a travel card to get there. After I’d given him the things I bought, I walked away thinking

‘So you bought him a couple of drinks and some chocolate, big whoop,’

 because I didn’t think it was anything to feel particularly proud of. I would have preferred there were no more people left to fend for themselves on the streets. Seeing that man, and he was a relatively young man sitting on the street like that left me feeling sad because that could be anyone of us. I don’t know his story, I didn’t ask but I’m fairly certain he didn’t grow up thinking this was the direction his life would take.

But I actually feel blessed by that man, who allowed me to give a little something, even if it doesn’t solve his problem. I feel blessed that I had the chance to look beyond myself and my busyness and think about someone else for a change.

He was no longer there when I walked passed on my way home (about 9.15pm) and I hope that means he made it to the shelter, has had something hot to eat and is in a warm bed.

Taiwo Dayo-PayneComment