So here I am sheltering under some scaffolding in Covent Garden trying to avoid the pissy rain. It has already turned the dapper gent that I imagined myself to be when I set out earlier in the morning into a bedraggled soggy mess.
Next to me in a fire exit doorway sits a homeless chap also avoiding the rain. His legs are deep in a sleeping bag, his elbows on his knees, a hand props up his chin.
A look of resignation is etched into his face as he looks out towards the raindrops hitting the pavement.
I decide to talk to him, having nothing better to do and thinking that people probably don’t talk to him that much during the course of any given day, so maybe I will.
How are you doing I ask him. Yeah not bad, considering he says. We make eye contact & I am struck by the clearness of his eyes, he looks remarkably together for somebody living on the street. In the conversation that follows he tells me he doesn’t drink or do drugs, that’s a mugs game he explains, I keep myself clean he adds. How and why he is here doesn’t come into the conversation, something tells me he doesn’t want to talk about it. We exchange names, his is Steve.
I glance down the street and look at the four figures heading our way, I’m struck by the group, they are beneath two umbrellas, two blokes, two women. The women are hot, very hot. The men are not.
The shorter of the two men is formally dressed, his hair is thinning, he wears a navy suit, the taller man – greyer, skinnier and older, though likewise in a suit he has a boho chic vibe going on. The women that accompany them are both gorgeous & both younger, maybe there is hope for me……………..
Hang on a minute, the little bloke, it looks like…….. it is, Ian Hislop, of TV & Private Eye fame. And…. And the other guy, fuck me it’s Bob Geldof, it’s Sir Bob.
The foursome pass by & I pretend not to notice, that’s the British thing to do, pretend you’ve not recognised them. Of course what I’d really like do is go up and say hello, to get a selfie, but of course I cannot, that would be thoroughly bad form.
As they walk past I hear them talking about lunch, I wonder where they are going. As they head away up towards Long Acre and their figures grow smaller I remember that I’ve a Tescos cheese & pickle sandwich in my raincoat pocket.
I look towards Steve, he didn’t notice the Celebs. The sandwich feels like it’s getting heavier in my pocket. I go to take it out and hold it towards him & ask if he is hungry. No thanks he says, some French kids gave me a Burger earlier, I’m full. I put the sandwich back in my pocket, remarkably it doesn’t feel as heavy anymore.
As I Iook down the street two women are heading my way sharing an umbrella, one looks familiar.
No way, it can’t be…… yep, it is Helena Bonham-Carter. Doesn’t London have a way of surprising a person. Of course I want to snap her but I cant. It’s such a painful temptation.
Then blow me for the next quarter of an hour I stand there and watch as a stream of the Who’s Who of TV & Movies & Music walk right by me, it is utterly surreal, what the fuck is going on?
Her from Fleabag, that bloke what’s his name the one from, oh look it’s her from Shameless, always had a bit of a thing for her, they walk past me quicker than I can remember their names,
Really what is all this? Then I notice that quite a few are carrying a white pamphlet, I try to read the text, I make out one word, McCrory, then it registers on me they’re coming from the Church, it’s a memorial service for Helen McCrory, the actress that died last year.
I listened a while back to Desert Island discs, an iconic BBC Radio four show, which had an episode of Helen McCrory. She must have recorded it when she knew she was terminally ill, not once during the show did she mention Cancer, or being ill , instead it was a celebration of her life. She talks about many things, including her husband, the playfulness in their relationship, of drinking whisky & smoking cigarettes, I really liked the recording, she came over as a delightful woman. The episode I think gives some idea of the woman she was. Do listen.
Perhaps the crowd that came to remember her was another sign that she was a good woman, gone too soon.
The rain like the celebs begin to thin & peter out. Steve remained oblivious to them, it seemed pointless to mention them to him, what relevance did they have to his life? And for that matter what did he mean to them, none seemed to notice him as they walked by, for no other reason than their thoughts were elsewhere. Steve asks me if I am homeless, this cracks me up, I wonder if I look that crap, in a strange way being mistaken for a homeless person is like a little badge of honour, of acceptance, though its a club nobody would really want to be a member of. I bid Steve goodbye wishing him sunshine & a better day as I head off down the road.
Just fifty metres down the road I pass the actors church, the paparazzi are packing up and heading home, pap snaps are complete & the story has moved on.
I do a circuit of Covent Garden, window shop at places that if my bank balance were more impressive I might step into, but actually, do I need anything now, no not really.
A few minutes later I am approaching the tube, two men carrying guitars in cases whizz by, one is a red head, he looks familiar, he looks like a man on a mission, he talks to his companion as they both rush by. Then I clock who the guy is, Damien Lewis, the husband of Helen McCrory.
My heart goes out to him, that man on a mission, what a day he must have had, what a year.
And still he’s going, full of determination, but less a wife, bless him & bless her.
I trundle on towards the tube, thinking of London, this vibrant city, full of life and of stories, of princes and paupers and the paths that cross each other, of people meeting and almost meeting and sometimes never realising just who is there on those streets beside them & how I love that.
PS the photos, first and second are from The Sun ‘newspaper’, the third mine, the fourth from The Mirror & Getty images.