I have started walking a different way home from work, often intentionally adding up to ten minutes to my journey. It’s the middle of winter and still I walk right round the block when I can clearly see the bus stop just 200 yards away at the top of the road. It’s nothing to do with exercise, or with wanting to take a more scenic route. It’s because of a tramp that has made my immediate environs his ‘patch’.
Before I go on, I have to say, this is not a rant against people who have fallen through the cracks and ended up begging for cash, far from it. I am a sympathetic person; I try to help wherever I can. I give money to people at the cash point. I buy the Big Issue. I bought a Christmas pudding where all the proceeds went to the charity Shelter. Yes, I do my bit. That said, this guy has become a real fucking pain in the arse.
It was sometime around Christmas that the street I have worked on for 13 years became his. For years I’d just popped money his way if I had it, given him the change from my morning coffee or my after work pint, a nod, a ‘hello’ and then gone about my business while he did his (more tramping). Then a work colleague introduced me to him by name. Like some kind of tramp pimp, the colleague foisted the guy onto me and with that, it was all over, I was at his mercy. From then on, the road I worked on became unpredictable, like some horror film where you never know what’s around the corner, lurking, waiting. Ready to pounce like Papa Lazarou. This was his road now, Dave. This was tramp country.
He gets into town at weird times. I know this because sometimes I manage to avoid him in the mornings. Lunchtime is when his beat really starts. His route seemed at first to be random (pub here, sandwich shop there), yet after a while, it looked more and more like he had some kind of psychic link to where I was going to be next. Time after time, he was there, stood outside the office, always with the same feigned look of surprise. Generosity is one thing; here I was shelling out sometimes twice a day, getting hit up every time I went to or from the office. The payout was nearly twenty quid a week some weeks. His timing was always inappropriate – walking down the road on the phone, he’d block my way and try to get me to hang up. I fell for it time and time again. Friends would get short shrift as the call went dead and he started talking. Then there was the time it took. The stories became more elaborate, but never seemed to go anywhere. He’d walk in from his flat (yes, he had a flat). He’d do his rounds (pub, sandwich shop, repeat to fade). There was never an Orwellian insight into the street life; it was often just babble about getting beaten up by other tramps, stabbed sometimes. He looked alright to me. This usually ended with a hard done by look from his heavily tattooed face (did I mention that bit? He looks a lot like Keith Allen in ‘The Yob’ after the final transformation, only a shrunken, Gollum like version). That look usually upped my shell out by a couple more quid.
Around Christmas, with my wallet sapped, my patience snapped. His enquiries became more outlandish. “Oi mate, have you got 3 quid so I can get a sandwich from Pret?” was the final straw. I grimly handed over his Christmas bonus and made my plans. This smiling bully would ruin my day no more. I’d change my route to and from work, even if it meant walking through rain or snow or howling rush hour traffic - that way I could avoid my nemesis. And so it’s gone on since then, a steely determination to avoid him, to get my life (and my disposable income) back.
Now, I do feel terrible for having written this, but it feels vaguely cathartic to have let off steam about it. It’s been cheaper than therapy and certainly cheaper than paying him. Maybe there will come a day where I feel I can talk to him about the way I feel, where I can ask him to back off if say, I’m on the phone or with my girlfriend deep in conversation (two of his favourite jump out times, when I’m at my most unaware). That said, he sometimes still gets me, albeit less often. Often, if there’s a meeting in the local pub, he seems to know I’m there. He’ll lurk outside, a forlorn look, but inside he’s licking his lips thinking of the sweet, sweet, foaming nut brown ale I’m drinking. He’ll get his own back. I’ll end up paying for that pint in more ways than one.