meet a guest Robert

Eventually I’d love to get a place for me and Sarah to start afresh. I’d like a completely empty shell – just a small flat and we’d finish it – make it ours. Start from scratch – a mattress, a chair, find some speakers – the first tune we’d play would probably be Herbie Hancock, maybe Chick Corea – and go from there.

I was born in Clapton in 1962, I’m 52 and I’ve lived in Stoke Newington most of my life. My mum still lives there, she’s 85 and she’s got vascular dementia – she’s ok but she gets pretty fed up with the carers. I went to Upton Park Boys School in Clapton. I was happy at school – I liked anything technical or mechanical and I wanted to be an engineer. I was in the Air Cadets and I thought about signing up for the Air Force. I got an apprenticeship at Allied Foundries in Dalston as a tool and pattern maker but I didn’t finish it because I lost my log book.

I got jobs temping in warehouses and factories – worked at Maynard’s Wine Gums for a bit.  I was a little bit naughty when I was a teenager – got mixed up with some wrong people. I got nicked for stealing a car radio – got a fine and had to go some place every Saturday for a couple of months and I think we had to run around a playground or something. But…it put paid to my Air Force hopes. I had to see a probation officer and one of their ‘partners’ offered me a job doing graffiti, where they also gave me a video camera which really fascinated me. I started a short course at South Thames College – I loved it. I started applying for jobs working with video and got a job with a hire company. I got to take equipment to TV companies and exhibitions. I did that for a couple of years till I was made redundant. Luckily in those days, I could always get work temping.

I volunteered at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield where I helped with the editing.  I applied to study editing but sadly didn’t get in – my life would’ve been very different if I had. At the time, it was a bit of a blow.

I met someone who was making a documentary about black coal miners and I ended up being the editor on it as well as being production manager.  It was called Skin and Coal – it was sold to Channel 4 and I was proud. I thought it was an excellent little film. During the editing, my dad died and that derailed me a bit.  He had a bit of life insurance and I got about £10,000 – I lived off that for a couple of years and then just lived and worked.

Sarah is a brilliant artist and I met her in 2014 through friends. She was homeless, so she came to live with me and my mum.  She has mental health issues and eventually got a hostel place with St Mungo’s. They mucked her about a bit, first they said she’d be there 18 months, then they said they’d be closing down in 6 months. This upset her, she likes things to be as she’s been told they’ll be. The accommodation they offered her was pretty poor – just small rooms with a loo and shower in them. One place we looked at, someone offered to sell us drugs.  She didn’t like any of them and in the end, St Mungo’s kicked her out and she came back to live with me and mum.

It was the last West Ham game at Upton Park and there’s this fence you can climb along to sneak in. Sarah was a bit drunk and slipped and cut her hands badly.  We watched a bit of the match, but had to get the first aiders to bandage her up. One day mum’s carers came and mum was hiding, she used to do that, but they thought it was something to do with Sarah and her bandages. A week later I got a call from my sisters to say we had a week to clear out – they thought mum was frightened of Sarah, but she wasn’t, Mum and Sarah got on well. We were up all that night, walking till morning, then Sarah went to her hospital appointment and I went to work as a Postman.  I’d been working full time as a Postman since 2008.

Sarah had a 2-man tent and we pitched it on Stoke Newington Common. We’d put it up quite late, about 10ish and have it all wrapped up by 5.30am.  We cleared all the rubbish so no one would know we’d been there and hide the tent in the bushes. I’d go off to work and Sarah would go to a day centre. It was quite cosy in the tent – we’d get picnics from the supermarket, maybe some beers for Sarah but not usually for me.  We did this for about 6months – we had 5 tents in all – they kept getting nicked. We camped in Wanstead Flats and the park rangers pinched our tent but mostly we camped in Stoke Newington so I could pop back to mum’s for some bits. Sundays we’d go to the Rochester Castle for breakfast. Sarah liked the Eggs Royale which is poached eggs, smoked salmon and rocket – I’d have the Full English with extra eggs. We’d have endless coffee refills, charge our phones and use the bathrooms – once Sarah dyed her hair in the loos. Occasionally we’d stay in a B&B for a bit, maybe a Travel Lodge which was a bit of luxury.

It was getting cold and it was tiring. Even if we found a cheap hotel, it was hard work.  I was in Catch 22 – couldn’t save for a deposit because it was costing so much for B&Bs. Xmas 2016 we stayed in a Travel Lodge and hired some Boris Bikes but Sarah fell off and broke her ankle. The pain was so bad that she had to go into hospital to have it operated on.

Finally, Sarah got a hostel place because of her mental health.  For the first couple of weeks she wouldn’t stay, so we’d hang out in Stratford or stay in hotels. I’d been extending my overdraft to pay for everything and in the end the bank pulled the plug!

Ever since Sarah and I met, even before we got together we’d always been in touch and it was difficult for us to be apart.  Sarah had to spend more time at the hostel (she was still in plaster) and I spent nights sleeping out.  I went to the Welcome Day Centre that we used in Ilford, they referred me to the shelter and soon after I got a bed.

When I first arrived, I thought this is a lot better than sleeping out. I’m used to my own company, so I find the lack of privacy a bit difficult at times.  I built up a lot of debt which I’m slowly working to pay off and living at the shelter is a big help with that –   but I’ll do it and make a home for me and Sarah.