Eastbourne’s famous homeless guy

Making the best of a terrible situation

Two weeks ago local fame came unexpectedly to an Eastbourne homeless guy after I posted a picture of him on Facebook which went viral. I was strolling along the seafront on Valentine’s Day, killing time before my weekly writers’ group. I looked up and saw Steve smiling at me as he sat on his bench, surrounded by red balloons and his worldly possessions. We both started laughing and a connection was made. His smile and the love and support for him that resulted from that Facebook post were, for me the best Valentine’s present.

I went on holiday the following day but as soon as I returned I was eager to visit Steve’s bench to see how he’d been getting on. He has been overwhelmed by such amazing support from the people of Eastbourne. When he saw it on Eastbourne Facebook page he was initially a bit worried. He thought it would lead to lots of negative, hurtful comments. But within hours there were pages of wonderful comments and offers of help and support. They weren’t just empty words. People came down to the seafront to visit his bench, bringing him food and hot drinks and useful gifts. ‘What can I do to help?’ Was the most asked question on the thread. But the most incredible thing of all is that people have been writing to Steve, at his bench. He showed me several letters, delivered by the postman and one brought a tear to my eye, from a young boy enclosing £5 of his pocket money.

The weather on the south coast was dreadful today and I can’t begin to imagine how homeless people like Steve cope. It was a gothic sort of day, grey with a howling wind and driving rain. Dramatic waves crashed to shore. As I chatted to Steve all I could think of, selfishly was how cold I was. My legs were getting wet, my glasses were spattered with water, rain was dripping from my hat into my collar. But Steve smiled and said, “You get used to get. Immune almost. I love the storms. They give me energy. What choice do I have?”  When he leaves his bench and goes into somewhere warm he said the change in temperature isn’t always good for the body because he’s become acclimatised to the cold, but the warmth does makes him feel human again.

Part of the whole experience of being homeless, Steve says, is that “people come and go.” I hope the support doesn’t go. I really want Steve’s life to change. He’s positive, he doesn’t blame any misfortune and he hasn’t turned to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain. He has turned to God though and puts his faith in God, but as Steve said, looking up at the clouds, “he’s really testing me.” But “when God lays his hands on you, you have no choice, you’re in his hands.” And I guess whether you believe in God or not that’s true. None of us know what our destiny is. But many of us are just two pay cheques away from being homeless. It could happen to any of us. If we do nothing, then nothing will change. People like Steve are trying to change their situation.  Like so many homeless people Steve grew up in the care system. When he left care there was no support. I don’t know what things are like today when children transition from care into the world but there must be thousands of homeless people up and down the country who are victims of this system. It’s time the government faced up to the failings of our Social Service system. They are responsible for these people and their plight.

There’s often a lot of negativity surrounding what we often refer to as the ‘evil’ of social media but in this connected world of ours, it can also be a good thing. Let’s continue to use Facebook to drive change. Steve told me there are lots of basic things that councils could do and relatively cheaply. The homeless need a locker, somewhere in the town to keep their belongings. They need somewhere to shower. And a meal. Above all they need to be safe. But the greatest danger is other homeless people who might steal or hurt them. Every minute of every day they have to have their wits about them, never properly sleeping, waking if someone approaches, always fearful of the worst things that can happen by living on the streets – somebody setting them on fire while they sleep or peeing on them.

We mustn’t forget the compassion we’ve all shown these past two weeks and use this to do what we can to end homelessness. Write to your MP or your local council and stop to chat to the homeless. They are real people!!

Thank you for reading!

Star Trek funeral for a fan

 

A ‘themed’ funeral service – Star Trek

Much of the change within the funeral industry is driven by the consumer and nowhere is this more evident than in the funeral service. In the past there wasn’t much choice. Grieving families had to settle for a service led by the local vicar. That’s great and totally appropriate for people with a faith but with fewer people these days  attending church and with religious belief in decline many families just want the opportunity to remember their loved ones in a more personal way. The idea of a vicar reading from a standard script used at everybody else’s funeral doesn’t appeal to some families. Funerals are now looked upon as  a celebration of life in the same way that a birthday or an anniversary is.

As a funeral celebrant I work with families to make the service personal. Today I conducted a service for a Star Trek fan. The family chose  ‘Star Trekkin’ to come into the chapel and at the end of the service I gave the Vulcan salutation; a hand gesture popularised by the TV series, although I found it very hard to keep my fingers apart! The man was also a darts champion so I found a great poem which the family and mourners loved.

I made the service personal by weaving in some phases used in Star Trek.

In the opening words and welcome I talked about the circumstances that led us to be here and then I said:

“I hope you enjoyed our opening music. XX was quite a Trekkie fan. He watched every episode on video and had folders of Star Trek memorabilia. He was a proper Sci-Fi addict. This TV show was magical and moved us way beyond our own life, a glamorous utopia where men could boldly go. From rubber-suited monsters to the shiny scary Borg, all across the generations these stories always conquered evil and filled XX and his generation with wonder and imagination.”

At the end of the service we stand to commit the deceased to our loving hearts and minds. In a religious service we would be committing him or her to God. These were my words:

We are nearing the end of our time here together when we must make our final farewell. Death is that state in which one only exists in the memory of others; which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes, just good memories. As Terry Pratchett said in one of his books, no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away. So keep the memory of XX alive in your hearts and in your minds.

 Before we stand for the committal, I would like to share with you a quote from Captain Picard, at the end of ‘Generations’ on Star Trek.

 “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. I’d rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and allows us to cherish every moment…because they’ll never come again.”

 XX go with love upon your journey go with wonder in your heart. May the light be there to beam you up, through the terrors of the dark. Let heaven hold you and keep you safe until we come home to you. You’ll always be beside us in a parallel point of view.

We reverently and tenderly commit your body for cremation and your ashes to the earth from where all life comes and all life ultimately will return.

I like to end each service with some uplifting words and these were the words I used:

On behalf of the family I would like to thank you for coming here today to celebrate XX life. Remember him with love and kindness wherever you may go, as XX finds the final frontier with a smile. Think of him saying Beam me up now Scotty, no delaying, it’s my turn to Star Trek high up in the clouds and beyond where no man has gone before. Give her all she’s got Captain.

 To all mankind — may we never find space so vast, planets so cold, heart and mind so empty that we cannot fill them with love and warmth.Butmay you all live long and prosper and may you go rich in your memories of XX.

The family wanted the mourners to do the actions to the final piece of music, The Fratellis, ‘Chelsea Dagger’  and when I joined in everybody else did! We ended the service laughing and smiling but it was still dignified which is important.

Here is a link to my funeral services: https://beautifulfuneralsussexkent.co.uk

My life as a ‘slashie’

My ‘slashie’ lifestyle means having lots of free time

When people ask me what I do for a job I often hesitate, unsure which job to tell them about first. I have several jobs. We refer to this as a portfolio career which makes it sound rather glamorous, but it’s often not! There are around 320,000 of us in Britain, with a multiple income stream. This has become an increasingly common employment pattern for many in recent years, creating the term ‘slashie.’ We are the slashie generation and even though I no longer apply for jobs I could describe myself as a slashie on a dating profile! I’m a funeral celebrant/author/carer/landlord/Airbnb proprietor.

There must be lots of reasons why people have several jobs. Some people have no choice and for others, needs must. Wages are low in some sectors of the economy and to make ends meet some people work incredibly long hours, flitting from their day job to their evening job. When I worked at a care home, some of the night carers dashed home for breakfast, then went on to day jobs. Life is hard. They do what they need to, in order to make ends meet.

I fell into this pattern of work, not through choice, but as time’s gone by it’s become my preferred way to live because I love the flexibility. It means I’m there for my daughter when she needs lifts to the doctor or orthodontist and when it rains I can drive her to school. It also means I don’t have to rely on one source of income. There’s so much uncertainty in every area I work in and constant change. It’s about keeping ahead and trying to predict change. It’s also about trying to be the best and that means training, development and courses to improve your skills. In an ideal world I’d like to be the best in just one of the fields. I have had a varied career from teaching to childminding to office work, but seven years ago when I found myself at a career crossroad I trained as a funeral celebrant. I love this work. In fact it’s the best job I’ve ever done. It can be quite seasonal; busy in January and February (that’s the dying season!) and flat in May/June which means I try to pick up more care work in the summer months. I take in lodgers because I can’t always predict what I will earn and they help to pay the bills.  Since the referendum of 2016 it’s become very hard to find lodgers though. Most of mine came from Eastern Europe and that is why I started doing Airbnb – because I couldn’t fill my two rooms with permanent lodgers. Airbnb is great but if I get busy with funerals, changing beds is time consuming!

Most of my free time is spent doing what I most enjoy – writing family sagas. I earn a small amount from selling these on Amazon but again this income fluctuates from month to month and Amazon’s advertising costs are rising all the time. Amazon give us the platform to sell our books, but with the hand they fleece us!

And when I’m not writing I’m promoting my books – I guess that counts as another job on the list although it’s unpaid! Here is a link to my page on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanna-Warrington/e/B00RH4XPI6/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 and here is a link to my funeral business. https://beautifulfuneralsussexkent.co.uk

Thank you for reading!

How do you cope if you were born with one arm?

Enjoying a gin & tonic with an old friend

I ate out last night with a friend in a cosy pub. Anita and I go back many years. We met at a club when we were in our early twenties. We both loved dancing and quickly developed a funny little duet. Last night we reminisced and thought back to when we were slim and could dance the night away. When I met Anita for the first time I didn’t notice that she wore a false arm. She was born with one shortened arm and no hand, but her left arm is normal. In fact many weeks went by before I noticed her disability. When I think of Anita I don’t think of her as disabled. It’s her lively, bubbly personality and interesting conversation that I think about.

Last night I told her about my new book, ‘Every Father’s Fear’ and how I approached the issues surrounding the character, Toby’s disability. When I asked her what things were like for her, growing up with the use of just one arm I realised that actually my approach to writing about Toby’s struggles was pretty accurate.

‘If you were born disabled you just get on with it,’ Anita said. ‘You learn ways to cope and  deal with peoples’ attitudes towards you, but if you had an accident which led to your disability, that’s very hard having to adjust to a new way of life.’ Anita made me think of a chap I met last week who had stepped into the road and got run over. It was a hit and run. He broke his spine and is now in a wheelchair and at just 41 he’s living in an old peoples’ home because there was nowhere else  with the right facilities and support. That driver went home, his life was unchanged, but his recklessness destroyed somebody else’s.

Like Toby’s parents, Rona and Bill in my novels, ‘Every Mother’s Fear’ and ‘Every Father’s Fear’ Anita’s parents tried to make her independent and helped her to be strong-willed and to think for herself. She’s a very resourceful lass and thinks her way around every tricky situation. Years ago she moved out of her parents’ home into a flat on her own and the first evening she fancied beans on toast for dinner but had no idea how she was going to open the tin. So she knocked on the neighbour’s door. ‘Would you mind opening this tin?’ she asked. After that they became good friends and helped each other out. ‘If you are disabled you just have to ask for help and most of the time people are happy to help.’

‘If you can laugh at yourself,’ Anita said, ‘it makes people feel comfortable with you and at ease. You must be able to talk about your disability. That’s absolutely the key to getting through life.’ Anita told me about some funny things that had happened to her and how she coped. A guy pulled her arm off during a disco. Her friend said, ‘was he trying to ask for your hand in marriage?’

‘I prefer people to ask me about my disability rather than just stare.’ I like Anita’s approach to her disability but some disabled people might find this too intrusive and personal. Everybody is different.

Like Toby in ‘Every Father’s Fear,’ Anita said she experienced bullying and nasty comments at school. She was called the one-armed bandit and other silly names. And incredibly she still experiences appalling behaviour even now as an adult living in 2020. There have been occasions when people have stared and pointed at her. And one day as she was queuing to go through the barriers on a London tube the woman behind her said, ‘I would have thought with your problem you’d be prepared.’

Anita is such a positive person. She has never let her shortcomings get her down and she is a lesson to us all.

Life is a struggle for some, but it’s interesting to learn how those people cope. Thank you Anita for sharing your story with me!

‘Every Mother’s Fear’ and ‘Every Father’s Fear’ are available on Amazon. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Every-Parents-Fear-2-Book/dp/B084KZ8NCB/