It’s Saturday morning. Late morning (No work means the bed is all that matters for way longer than strictly necessary), and you’ve got Shit To Do. So up you get! Go on, get the kettle on, shuffle your half asleep backside out the door and get your fucking coat on, you got to the shops!
It’s a little out of the way, but the city centre’s just down by there. On your way you can walk, and see all the lovely people ignore you in the street, averting the gaze as much as possible to not have to deal with “human interaction”.
You’re doing the same, obviously, because there’s nothing worse than accidental eye contact with a stranger. Good lord, the embarrassment.
And so the journey goes, the streets filled with passing cars and taxis, people going here and there, some talking on their phones, some talking to each other, and a few special cases of people staring at their phones and talking to each other. One or two rarities are staring at each other and talking on the phone.
The density of people increases as you pass by the outer “commercial” layer. As the shopping centre looms ever closer so does the variety and intensity of the people around you. You notice a homeless man on the bridge you cross, trying to sell the big issue. Most people veer around him. You tell yourself it wouldn’t help, so you don’t. You do your best “No one exists except for that cloud in the distance” action and carry on.
Moments later you’re bombarded by shop windows! Store fronts! Restaurants! Deals, savings, products brand new and on offer glare off every surface, a barrage of buyable shit that that seems so unappetising. You’re wondering how people can fa-
Is that a Two for One offer on 90’s Hong Kong Action Cinema? Fuck yeah, go get ’em buddy!
Some time later you stumble out of the store with a shopping bag, now joining the masses of folks around you also carrying purchased goods. Go you.
You still haven’t got the thing you need to get though. You walk past a closed shop, and notice two bodies sleeping in a mess of sleeping bags and newspaper.
More people walk past, the queues for the various varieties of coffee shops all filled mostly with young girls and the occasional suit with a phone and a wanker’s briefcase. he looks very serious and important. Meanwhile the scores of teenagers around him are considering which variety of super frothy mega whipped cappa-frappa-cino they want to hide the taste of coffee with.
There’s another homeless dude on your way to the place with the thing. He’s smarter, picking a spot next to the ATM where he can be ignored by everyone in a queue. You also ignore him, because you have no idea what else to do. You also carry a debit card and haven’t had cash for about a month so there’s no need to use it. Luckily.
There’s a couple more closed down stores near the place with the thing. after that’s a new business, some mobile phone repair place. Glancing through the window you notice a bored looking middle eastern chap, surrounded by a sea of phone covers with signage straight out of a gypsy fair ground.
There’s some suited looking folks ahead, looking unerringly friendly, with people deliberately giving a wide berth. Then you notice the little books in their hands and the stand showing the cover title: “Are Angels Real?”
You shake your head. Internally of course, don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention from the God Squad.
About ten meters down the road there’s another homeless person. A woman walking between groups asking for change.
She wanders to you, and you hear the question, and already you’re planning the response. Which is true! You don’t have any damn change. You doubt anyone does. Shelters ain’t giving out card readers any time soon.
You reach the place with the thing and promptly search for it. Luckily this isn’t IKEA and you don’t have to navigate the dangers of Home Furniture or the nightmare layout of Kitchen design to find the item you seek.
The queue’s significant, trailing a bit. Not that you’d complain, you’re fucking British. Queuing’s more a part of your blood than fucking iron.
You get to the front, and the pleasant looking woman behind the till smiles gently, killing you inside as your usually witty and sharp mind dissolves into a fucking mess. You awkwardly fumble your payment card, and she asks rather monotonously about wanting to sign up your email for offers. You shake your head, attempt to say “no”, but it comes out as a strangled rasp, as if you’re fucking 12 again walking past your crush in a school corridor.
She offers a bag for the thing but you shake your head and pull out your own, done purely to avoid the 5p cost. In your mind it makes pure, rational sense – recycling, keeping costs down, environment, etc. But in reality you’re the tosser with the bag stuffed in his coat pocket in preparation, the retail equivalent of turning up at a house party with your own choice of hand soap.
You wander out of the store, proud of not making a total ass of yourself (this time) and almost trip over the barely breathing homeless guy parked two feet by the side of the store. you make your excuses, avoiding eye contact, and trying (and failing spectacularly) to hide the massive fuck off bag of stuff you are holding.
And you’re done! No more shit to buy, no more worries. Now you can return home and boot up Skyrim and go to fucking town on that quest line, safe in the knowledge you’ve done the things you need to do and can retreat into a virtual world, and not bother with the whole “human race” thing that you seem to struggle with in this brief adventure.
Except you gotta head home and there’s a nice little rain cloud that’s brewing above, and everyone in town starts doing the Indecisive Shuffle. Slight increases in pace and nervous glances above become the norm and you have to make a decision!
Taxi, or bus?
You feel the first rain drop spatter on you. Everyone now does the “gentle run”, usually performed when just out of reach of a door being held open, in some vain attempt of outrunning rain.
You do some mental arithmetic – time to get home, nastiness of rain cloud, cost of taxi, time for bus to not turn up, time for bus to break down – and decide that you’ll hike your hardcore ass home. The deciding factor being the fact that not only are you British, where rain is a certainty every August, but you are Welsh. The first time you saw the sun before ten was on a postcard, which was damp from all the fucking raining.
As you leave, you cross the bridge, where the same homeless man selling Big Issues has made for the nearest alcove. His shaggy dog bows in a resigned state near him, both weighed down.
Jesus, there was a lot of homeless people.
Like, a lot. A lot more than I remember last month.
This seems rather unsettling, doesn’t it?
You ponder this on your journey home in the rain.
I had this experience back in Cardiff, and more recently in Bath. There’s a hell of a lot more observation I had in mind, but struggled to put into words effectively (hence why I am an amateur doing this for fun and not for money any time soon).
The thing I noticed most was the homelessness. The rise in the last couple of years is sharp. really sharp. Yes, that’s an anecdotal reflection based on my admittedly limited view.
However, I doubt anyone would disagree that the vast, vast amount of people appearing in the public street begging for scraps is a worrying, troubling sign, that something is very wrong today.