Res John Burman
'Homeless London 1961' - Poem by Res John Burman
'Homeless London 1961'
I remember the rain, the hunger and pain
The cold that burnt under my skin
The long sleepless nights when I lost all my rights
Because homelessness then was a sin
There was Sally Ann* if you were in a jam
The Rowton House* or the Spike*
But if you hadn't the bread to pay for your bed
You could "P**s off! On yer bike! "
So at night I would stray Covent Garden way
And pick up fruit and veg from the gutter
Some porters would fuss and some of ‘em cuss
But most of ‘em would only mutter
With thruppence to pay, a nice cuppa tay
At the tea stall with it's spoon on a chain
It was warm and was wet and the best I could get
Standing out there in the rain
One could sleep in the Park, bugger that for a lark
Stretching out on an old park seat
‘Cos Old Bill would nick you or often just kick you
And then you were back on the street
If you could beg, borrow, steal, just thruppence, a deal
The best place to sleep that I found
On the Circle Line train, you'd sleep out of the rain
Going round and around underground
Another shilling a day was needed to pay
For the locker where I kept my pack
A wash and brush up just might change my luck
And a cleanish shirt for my back
All day I would seek for some work for a week
Or a day, or a meal, all that mattered
But London's a hard city and hadn't much pity
For the young and the hungry and shattered
Sometimes you just might, find work for a night
Washing up in some swank eating house
But the job was no snap and the wages were crap
And they treated you worse than a louse
Some said we were lazy but that is just crazy
Nobody starves for a choice
But the weaker you grow the less chances show
And the smaller and smaller your voice
So months of poor diet, you really should try it
It's not something you'd find very merry
Your swelling feet, see, means you lack vitamin B
And you know that you've got beriberi
To the vagrant population of this capital nation
It was known as Skipers Foot
And the agonizing pain bombarded your brain
And you thought that your life was kaput
London's such a rich city it is such a pity
The hospitals don't want to know
"Your legs will get worse, come back when they burst.
And now it is time that you go! "
Luckily I had a friend, who helped me in the end
Gave me food and a bed for a while
Then with the loan of ten bob* I soon found me a job
And soon I was living in style.
The ‘Sally Ann" (Salvation Army) , Rowton Houses and the ‘Spike" were hostels for the poor and homeless but only supplied accommodation at a price. There were ‘Receiving Stations" for the homeless but they were similar to WWII delousing centres, and the treatment received there was guaranteed to drive one out again.
Ten bob = ten shillings 10/- in old money.
Copyright © Res JFB 15th March 2013
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