Christmas, time of happy consumerism, but not for all

image of a homeless man in a Birmingham underpass

Homeless man in an underpass in Paradise Circus,  Birmingham (click photo for Flickr link)

During the last year, there was a chap, homeless, sitting in the arcade next to Aldi and the other shops. Every time I passed from there he always greeted me with his drunken and gravelly voice: “all right mate?” “fine mate thanks, you?” “I’m good mate”. And as I was leaving, loaded with groceries: “see you soon mate” “you too mate” “look after yourself” “and you mate”. I didn’t even know his name. He was a man chewed and spat out by life, probably an alcoholic, if not also on heroin, full of tattos, wasted. But always courteous. Many times I thought of giving him something, but the always warn you against giving money, in case it is spent on drugs or alcohol (he always clutched a can of Carlsberg Special Brew).

Sometimes I thought of asking him if wanted me to buy him something from the bakery, something to eat in any case. I always had a feeling of guilt, because our society-this supposedly developed society with its sense of superiority-leaves such people of the margins rot on the pavement. I have a reasonable job, paid relatively well, a comfortable and safe life, and he sleeps rough. I never took that extra step though, to ask him if he wanted anything, to go beyond the initial and formulaic “hello mate”.  Perhaps because my own financial and social conditions make me insecure too, just like so many of my social class.  Perhaps I was feeling too apprehensive to open up with someone with whom I had potentially very little in common.

Last Monday, when it was a freezing -6 the night before, he was found dead behind the church (oh the irony).  This passed largely unnoticed, apart from some comments on my area’s Facebook page. In the mean time, we’re all busy spending like mad, buying toys, books and food as if the apocalypse is looming. It’s fucking unfair.


The photo was taken with my old Zenit EM on black and white film.

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