Part 1 of this blog series documented the preparation Karen, Shackleton Foundation trustee, underwent when embarking on her ‘My Antarctic’ challenge of sleeping on the streets for the night. Part 2 looked at her experience pre-midnight. It’s now time to look at what happens whilst most of London sleeps!
Confessions of a totally unprepared brat: post-midnight
It is noticeably quieter now. It is eerily dark. We head towards a bench which is not near any trees and we try and settle in for the night. Perhaps we should unfold a couple of deckchairs and sleep in those and we don’t even have to pay for the privilege! What rebels!! We delight in finding a bench ‘a deux’.
We then notice a police car driving in circles across the carefully manicured lawns of the park. Slowly the car approaches us and a police officer greets us politely asking us what we are up to. As I explained what we were doing there, I had to give the policemen 100% for effort, remaining patient and not saying what they were actually thinking, which was ‘toff-nosed’, ‘idiots’, ‘ridiculous’, WTF, WTF, WTF’, ‘foolish’ etc. From their perspective, all they could see was 2 ill-prepared females trying to play at being homeless. They directed us to a ‘safer’ area where there was a permanent police unit and they carried on with their erratic driving, which we worked out, was to try and chase off those who were sleeping on the grass away from the pathways. As Cassandra and I trudged over, we decided against staying there and decided to head to Victoria Station.
It was 0240 and there was a queue outside Victoria. Many with luggage. Here, we spotted a few more homeless people. One guy even had his shoes off. Cassandra was very proud that she really is ‘method’. Although our happiness rating at this stage had settled at a numb 3-4 (we were not unhappy, just tired and a bit frustrated being thrown off our ‘turf’), we still managed to find Victoria Station quite entertaining.
The gates opened at 0245. There was a very glamorously dressed woman with a 2 baby pram. Both her children were fast asleep. What was she doing there? Almost every weirdo under the sun decided that Cassandra and I needed entertaining. As we sat on some uncomfortable benches observing Pedantic Station Master 1 authoritatively command instructions to all visitors, whilst trainee Station Master (not quite of Pedant status yet) tried to conduct his menial tasks; all sorts came to join Cassandra and I on our bench. The man with the jiggly legs, the preacher, the glamorous lady with the children, banjo man and some other randoms. The cleaner man on his machine was insistent that he be allowed to do his job by making Cassandra and I get up from our bench. Cassandra and I completed a crossword and we just sat and watched.
At 0410, we had spotted a total of 17 homeless people so far. Most of these who were in Victoria station were thrown out by Pedantic Station Master 1 – we guess it’s because they looked homeless. We were both very, very tired.
At 0510, Cassandra and I headed back to St James’ Park to watch the sun rise. But there are no photos because we missed it. Duh!! It was a very cloudy morning. Seriously?? After all that!! Total number of homeless people spotted? 36. Not as many as we thought, but still 36 more than should be out there.
We both sat down and had a think about our evening. We definitely had more questions now that we had completed the evening. We agreed that the homeless themselves seem relatively harmless but we acknowledged that there are dangerous people out there, some of whom may be homeless. The police are very aware of two females running around and are keen to keep us safe. Rightly or wrongly, they seem very jaded by the homeless and arguably see ‘them’ all as some kind of ‘criminal’.
It must be hard to ‘move on’ if you already have an issue that drove you to be homeless in the first place, compounded by an incessant lack of sleep, lack of clean anything and a decent meal. There is no escaping this life, day or night, cold or warm, wet or dry. The spiral only seems to worsen with time. We wondered if at any stage, do they experience any fun at all? Do they have any friends and family? Did they have jobs etc before?
In conclusion, Cassandra and I are so glad we briefly experienced what it was like to be homeless for a night. We both acknowledge that this would have been more of a challenge at a different time of year and for longer. However, the aim of this challenge was to take on my ‘Antarctic’ – my fear of being homeless.
What’s Your Antarctic?