It is about 9:15am I am talking to 'Don', the roughsleeping man from New Zealand for a long long time by the bench near his temporary bench top home by the lake in Regent’s Park He asked me to go and meet him for a cup of tea later at the lakeside cafe later. I didn’t want to waste time. I had a long to do list that wasn’t that urgent unless I made it so and was thinking this is not a good way to spend my day but he seems fairly jovial.
I go and have a cup of tea with him later in the cafe by the side of the lake.
He sits down outside.
I go inside and order a tea.
He comes inside and says’ do you want something to eat?’ ‘No I’m ok ‘ I say,
he insists and gets me 2 croissant filled with ham and cheese. I can’t say I’m not grateful.
He tells me that he bought a van to live in before he left NZ. It should be waiting for him back in NZ. He hopes. I don’t know what his true story is. Do I care? I sense a lot of what he is telling me is true, even though he monologues constantly. He trusts me. I don’t sense any threat from him, nor he from me. I feel he has chosen me as his confessor
I ate and sipped my tea as I listened to him monologue: he is a retired professor, 68, I checked out the uni he mentioned: It rings true: he has deep vein thrombosis he tells me when I notice, shocked, that his right leg is purple, the skin is scaly and there is a bloody wound on his shin. Is the flight back to NZ on Oct 30th going to be Ok for his leg? He insisted yes and showed me his blood thinning tablets. Will they let him on the flight? He claimed his leg wasn't hurting, and all was ok. Was he denying his condition? was he likely to be stranded in England? Compassion? Worry? He seemed to have it all figured out, he insisted and I believed him.
His sister is in the security services, he tells me, and guards political heavyweights in NZ, both local and travelling. He mentioned both Clinton and Obama. He was brought up on a sheep farm: he talks fondly of his dad, his childhood, he doesn’t mention his mum. He knows a lot about being at sea, sailing from islands in the Pacific Ocean to NZ. He definitely knew how to survive, how to rough it, he was neat, he slept on benches but always tidied away the cardboard he slept on, taciturn and polite, talked about the good people and bad people he had met in the park - he referred this time of rough sleeping in the park as his 'holiday' and was surprised how nice most english people were here - his impression of the English he had met in NZ is that they were very snotty and distant, not what he had found here, but occasionally when annoyed by the English he resorted to ‘we helped you guys out in the war. And lost a lot of lives.’
He remarked of boorishness and officious little Hitler of some park security at night. And he berated a nasty woman in the cafe who told police he might be an 'overstayer' - someone who stays beyond the dates specified in their visa.
He stinks, he thinks it is just his feet but it’s him, it’s partly why people leave him alone. He amiable, homeless.and smelly. Olefactory self defence. its why I don’t want to go within a few feet of him. He honks. His smell lingers. I still get occasional whiffs. He is going to the barber today to have his beard cut off and head shaved, a preparation for his trip back to NZ on Wednesday
When underground once and he was scared and didn’t like it, so he came back to where he felt safe: on a bench in the open air possibly the most beautiful spacious place in london. Location location location! hotel developers would pay lots for a view like that.
The next day, in the afternoon, I bumped into him at Marylebone station looking all clean shaven scrubbed and smily. He hasn’t gone home yet. ‘I’ve booked into the Travelodge’ he said. I looked t him and then asked him round for dinner. ‘I don’t smell do I? I’ve had a shower and bought some new shoes.’
I didn’t smell anything at the station but when he came round there was an aroma. He struggled up the stairs he said it took him half an hour to get his new shoes on. He seemed disoriented and withdrawn. It turns out I was the only English person who had invited him into their home in his 6 months in England . He told me all his family smell, they have smelly sweat he doesn’t like crowds; he panics and sweats when he panics. Then people notice the smell and look at him and move away, and he is lame and diabetic. He doesn’t stay long,he is awkward but grateful. He mumbles that he has to go. I walk him back to his hotel. I hope they let him on the flight and he gets home ok before the nights turn cold here. He said he is looking forward to going home. Mad? Probably. Bad? No.