For all my posturing, for all my immersion and deprivation, I never truly became a tramp. I just bit at the heels of the lifestyle. Even when I was most down and out, I always had something others did not; I had a home, and it was ready for my return whenever I felt the need.
Charlie Carroll, No Fixed Abode
I promised a review and it’s a very easy one to write, because Charlie Carroll preempts the most likely criticisms in his own conclusion.
Carroll’s mission was to walk from Cornwall to London, sleeping rough whenever possible, not paying for transport or accommodation, but accepting offers of a sofa or a lift when given. He bent some of these rules slightly, but only occasionally.
All in all, I found it an enjoyable read. I love Cornwall, so found that stretch of his journey pleasantly familiar. His stint living rough in Bristol featured some interesting characters and his account of living in London, during the time of Occupy’s tent city outside St Paul’s Cathedral and when protesters were allowed to camp opposite the Houses of Parliament, was also enlightening.
However, it was a lonely experience and Charlie was never accepted as a fellow ‘homeless’ person, because he wasn’t one. The people he intended to write about – tramps – don’t really exist any more. Homelessness has changed, even since I was a child and was moved by the sight of a tramp sitting on the pavement near Dudley Zoo. Something Charlie was forced to acknowledge in his book.
Still, he did something I hope never to experience – sleep rough on the streets of London. Although there was a comfortable sofa available to him in Hackney should he need it, he shared most of the privations and discomforts of homelessness.
Charlie often puts his lack of acceptance by other homeless people down to his educated, middle class accent. Which brought the song Strange Town by The Jam to mind:
You’ll be betrayed by your accent and manners
I honestly don’t think that this was the barrier to acceptance, as I’ve met homeless people with university degrees, including one fluent Russian speaker with a PhD in Russian Literature. What this person also had, however, was a drug addiction.
As someone who didn’t do drugs, Charlie was already marked out as different. He looked the part, but he had never experienced the trauma of having the rug pulled out from under him – the shock of losing everything.
He didn’t have a mental illness, he wasn’t fleeing an abusive relationship, he hadn’t been kicked out by his parents, he hadn’t just been released from prison, he wasn’t an alcoholic, a bankrupt or a drug addict… the myriad ways people end up with nowhere to live, Charlie hadn’t experienced firsthand.
He didn’t know the despair of not being able to see a way out, for he was a writer with a wife waiting for him back home and a hundred pounds sewn into his jacket for emergencies.
For Charlie Carroll, there was always a safety net. There was always a means of escape.