mercredi 26 novembre 2008

Poor List - fragment 2

The Poor List No. 82. Day 65. - Once we'd got past the down and outs - fucking thousands of them - the list started to make some kind of sense. The old, the sick and the out of work. It wasn't rocket science. In fact, it wasn't even science. It was like shooting shit on a shovel. 'They' were everywhere. I say 'they' in shudder quotes, because really they don't exist do they, really. I mean no one is poor in the west this day and age. The study I'm on relies on the subjective analysis of this sort of thing. Since everyone says they don't realy exist, well, they don't then, really do they? And it's not as if they're on a dollar a day or something. Take Frank Hanson here for instance. I met this guy down the Work Station in Luton. I was 'looking' for a job in the miscelaneous section of the well planned and quite pleasant centre. Some 'China Crisis' was playing in the background which drowned out the sound of the rain falling on the glass roof. Studds had instructed me to talk to all and sundry. It was all part of the programme. That morning I'd caught the bus from the hotel and made the Work Stop, as they are called these days, by nine. I noticed Frank as he was rolling a cigarette in front of the one of the boards for general labourers next to the one I was idly scrutinising. Smoking, even in the vicinity of the place was strictly prohibited. "It's a bit early for a smoke ain't it?" I ventured. He looked over. I could have come across like I was queering him up, but he was a good thirty years older than I with a tatty beard, cast-off looking clothes and yellow tinted eyes. "Fuck off." He drawled back. He smelt pungent even from the safe distance I was encountering him. "Well I could see you right for some cheap baccy." He perked up at this news, looked about him then started to shuffle over. I looked down at his busted trainers and frayed track suit bottoms. "So, what you got?" He whispers. His breath reeked of stale cider or sherry, I couldn't make out which. In fact I did have a kilo or so of Old Holborn in my pocket from a deal I'd made with Pud last week. "Two packets for a fiver?" He looked sceptically at me, his tanned thick looking skin on his face creasing around his eyes, forehaead and mouth. "Serious?" I said I was and that all he had to do was answer a few questions. That was a mistake and his shouting drew the attention of a few of the brown suited security guards. They looked over and spoke into chunky looking phones. Once I'd backed off and calmed the trampy sod down and explained what I was up to (the social enquirer, the do-gooder on the side of the undredog and all that), he agreed to let me buy him a coffee in the run down gaff down the next street. He sneered at me but snorted some form of acquiesence. We walked through the automatic doors under the sceptical eyes of a couple of suits guarding the place and made our way across the busy main road. We shook the rain of our clothes and found a table. It turned out that Frank was ex-army but definitely still an alcoholic. He hadn't worked since he's got discharged on medical grounds from the army twenty years ago. He showed his face at the Work Centre for form's sake and to ensure that his mugshot was on the surveillance camera for when he had to swear he'd been looking for work. "Though what's the fucking point eh? Well part from getting dole and that?" he said staring at me over his cup of milky coffee. I handed him the old Holborn and his glinty little eyes lit up. "Yeah. That'll do nice." he said as he stuffed the packets into his shapeless and ageless looking duffle coat. I asked him a few questions, how he got by, the local footabll team, how he managed to eat and so on, all the questions Studds made sure that we asked. I was not exactly amazed. By now, I'd got used to these sob stories. But this guy really did have nothing. He lived in a council protection area out of town. Lived on his own, divorced (long story out of which I don't think he came out smelling even of shit, let alone roses) children he's never seen for years, cold, pay meters, intentional disconnection that kind of stuff. I invited myself round the next day and verified pretty much all he had said (see document A/PL:56 for verification F.S.). I bought the poor bastard some gunge and chips and watched him wolf it down like the Russians were coming or something, beans getting all tangled in his white beard and sauce dripping on his coat. But there was a look in his eyes that I'd learned to recognise. Something to do with being watched, patronised maybe and slightly affronted. The people around us looked a bit too long in our direction and at one point I could have sworn some had even laughed at us. It was something that was becoming apparent to me slowly, all too slowly and at first unconsciously. There might not be poverty in the strict sense of people in a sub Saharan African situation of living on an Amero a day and watching their bairns die of hunger, but there was something about the humiliation of the situation these other people found themselves in was still shit somehow. But it was their choice in the long run, wasn't it. But, I thought as he pushed his plate towards me and belched, if every one is like you on an Amero a day then you can look most people in the eye. But when you're 'relatively' poor and living in a modern set up like the UK, you're pretty much gone from the social life that might be around you. I gave him a tenner and he said that he would only spend it on booze. "Have you never brought a stranger a drink?" I asked him as he stood up. He laughed, shook my hand and shuffled off. He stopped half way up the crowded aisle and turned to look at me and started to say something. But a crowd of people stood up from a nearby table and when they'd gone to the counter, he'd gone.