I usually go to sleep in my centrally-heated room, after listening to the comedy slot on my little radio, at about seven in the evening. I don’t spend the evening watching the soaps, as ‘others’ do in the house. The soaps, and the ‘others’ are not my thing these days. I’m sometimes woken by the noise which the person in the room above thinks is music, and if, as today, this is at 4am, I will not get to sleep again…4am is a good time for me to go out and get some tobacco. It is the day before pay day, so tobacco is in short supply, and has been for several days, so I pick up the dog-ends and roll them into pretty decent smokes. I must have been doing this for several years, and the early morning, before the sweeping machines come round to tidy the pavements, and before the litter bins are emptied at about 5.30am, is the best time to do this. To-day it was quite frosty, but it hadn’t rained, so there was a good number of cigarette ends around – especially near the doors of the pubs, and at the bus stops…I found about half a day’s worth in one circuit of the central shopping area; this took about 20 minutes. When I am out I also look into the bins to see if there are any stickers to put on my fast food loyalty card – I get free coffee this way…six stickers on a card buys a nice enough cup of coffee, and at about 6am, when the place opens, I often have enough stickers, and so I wait for the doors to be unlocked and go in and have one. I do this most days, so the regulars at that time know me…when I first got to this town, a kind man who does the overnight cleaning there, gave me a handful of loyalty cards complete with stickers, and ever since I’ve been quite a regular there myself.
So, I had a fistful of dog-ends and the means to get myself out of the cold for a while. When I had sat for a while and chatted a bit with an old girl is there every day, I headed off again – it was still dark, and cold, and the waves of workers off the buses come more frequently by then. To-day, as I left, I made myself a roll-up and I wandered off to do another ‘circuit’…I met a friend at the bus station. He ‘sleeps rough’, but doesn’t really see that as a terrible thing. We talked and laughed for a while, and he told me someone may soon be able to give him somewhere to stay. We talked about my situation – prejudice against the homeless, and against the mentally ill, the abundance of dog-ends, the sense of freedom we get in the early morning in the fresh air, in the park, under the pink-flecked sky…I took him to my room, and we had a cup of tea. We do have some quite civilised chats. I looked at my watch and told him I’d have to head off to meet my old buddy in a café elsewhere and we walked back to town together, still chatting quite happily. We will probably meet again later at the place where we eat almost every day. Tomorrow I will be rich. I will not be stuck for the price of cigarette papers…perhaps we will meet then and have a beer or two before the money disappears inexplicably back to where it came from. A fistful of dog-ends can be just about enough to sustain someone on such a day, and good company and the caring people we depend on.