Don’t feed the rich

Late again. I’m not sure what it is with me and time. We don’t get on. Never have really. I have the same problem with men. There’s one sitting on the wall outside the building. I’ll swear he was there last weekend too. Wizened. Grey-haired. Smoking intently. Looks as if he’s got all morning. I haven’t. Like I said. I’m late.

There’s a pair of feet sticking out from the side porch. Wrinkled brown leather shoes. Soles worn paper-thin. It’s the second time this week I’ve found someone sleeping here. I hope he’s just sleeping. He stirs as I approach. He’s out cold. Hood pulled over his face. A bottle of cheap cider snuggled up beside him. He’s put the brick we use to prop the door open under his backpack to make a pillow. I don’t think it’s the same guy today. The last one was called Ben. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. He had a mop of blond curls, a weary smile and a battered paperback thriller. His backpack was green. This one’s blue. Not so big. Ben had been sleeping rough for about four months. Said he preferred it to the anarchy of a hostel. He felt safer. I made him coffee. Two sugars. Chatted to him while he drank. He said he’d come back later for something to eat. I haven’t seen him since.

We’re going to have to open the door. I’m worried our guest won’t wake up. Cider’s a pretty good way to induce coma. I’ve reckoned without the survival instinct though. He’s sleeping like a cat. On full alert. Good morning and he’s bolt upright. He’s clearly not a morning person. He doesn’t want to talk. Actually, I don’t think he speaks much English. Two sugars. And thank you. He shuffles off. Coffee in hand. Clutching his bottle.

By the time I get to the kitchen, Richard’s dicing peppers. How’d he get organised so quickly? He never appears to hurry. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s actually an angel. Long-limbed. Lugubrious. An Irish enigma. He’s been here six months. Somehow none of us can quite remember how things were without him.

An enigma’s one thing. Kate’s something else. I was on my way here a week or two back when she came out of nowhere. I had the headphones in. Desperado full blast. I hadn’t heard her calling me. She came at me from behind. Grabbed my arm. I almost had a heart attack. She was wearing a hospital gown. Topped off by a huge neon orange sweatshirt. God only knows where she got that. Or what had happened to her shoes. Her soggy red socks, squelched through the leaves and puddles. She had fresh stitches all down one side of her face. She’d been assaulted, she thought. Although she couldn’t actually remember a thing. She’d escaped from the hospital. Now she was looking for the friend who’d been there when it happened. She begged me to walk with her. Talked incessantly for a quarter-mile or so. Then she darted off up the front steps of a huge Victorian house. Screaming like a banshee. She scrambled onto the wall by the steps. Leaned across and hammered on the bay window. There was a ten-foot drop between the wall and the window. She wasn’t sober. I could hardly bear to watch. The front door swung open just as I was sure she was going to fall. She vanished through it in one fluid movement. Not so much as a backward glance. I went on my way.

My journey to work is almost never boring. Take yesterday, for example. For the first time in more than forty years as a UK voter, I live in a constituency that doesn’t have a cast-iron Tory majority. I was excited. I tucked my bags of home-made cake into a safe corner in the polling station and approached the desk. The woman scrutinised my card.

Helen Clark?

Err … no.

Ooops, sorry. I read the number wrong.

I moved along the production line. I ended up with two bits of paper. One white. One yellow. I took them to the polling booth. Picked up the pencil. Checked. Double checked. Then put a cross next to the name of someone I actually wanted to represent me in parliament. Not someone I vainly hoped might give the Conservative a run for his money. It’s hard to describe the elation. I’ve never been able to do that before. And I’m pushing retirement now. Or I would have been if the previous government hadn’t moved the goalposts. And taken away my bus pass. A cyclist with a trailer almost ran into me as I updated my Facebook status outside. The deed is done. Tomorrow we can talk about the revolution. What a difference a day makes.

Zac’s waving something that looks like a roll of paper as I come down the footpath. He’s sitting on the spar under the railway bridge.

How are you?

Not as good as I was yesterday.

I’m only half expecting him to get the reference. Voting isn’t a priority when you have a habit to support. Maybe that’s why the government has no qualms about cutting funding for addiction programmes. He’s already tried to blag a pound for a can of beer.

Oh shit. They didn’t win, did they?

Sorry to spoil your morning.

Look at this.

Zac’s unravelling the paper in his hand. It’s a poster. Torn and crumpled. Probably nicked. Feed the rich. Vote Tory. I love it. He agrees to hold it up for a photo.

Don’t get me in it, mind.

He walks with me to the café. I give him coffee. He asks for a brush and sweeps the yard. It’s spotless when he’s finished.

So yes. Today I’m talking about the revolution. Kate. Zac. Ben. The man with the bottle. All the rest of us 99 percenters. We’re faced with a government that thinks money is more important than our lives. Five more years of ‘austerity’ from the people who’ve introduced almost a million of us to the humiliation of using a food bank. The threat of invasion of our privacy and curtailment of our human rights. Cuts in support for people with disabilities. Poverty wages. Zero hours contracts. A steadily growing number of deaths resulting from benefit sanctions. Slashed spending on climate change. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. A system that provides a relentless ‘trickle up’ of resources from the poor and vulnerable to the rich.

Feeding the rich.  Is this what we voted for? I suppose there are people out there who think it’s a great idea. But actually, most of us didn’t vote for it at all. The majority of us voted against it. It’s a quirk of the British electoral system that means we now have a government backed by only just over a third of the 66% of the electorate who turned out to vote yesterday. Yet this government is able to claim a mandate to wield the power of life and death over every last one of us. We don’t have to take it lying down though. The majority of us didn’t vote for avarice and fear. Millions of us voted for compassion. Humanity. Hope. Now it’s time to stand up and be counted.

Feed the rich

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