Big Christmas Issues

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It’s hard to believe three years have gone by since I wrote a blog about the Big Issue. A lot has changed since then, Bob the Cat has become famous… and a lot has not changed. The price of a Big Issue is the same, £2.50 and £3.00 in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Sellers buy it for half that price.  Homeless people are still with us. Not all Big Issue sellers are homeless, but I’m pretty certain they are not living at the better end of the housing market.

James, the chap I bought my first Big Issue from, was on his pitch for a good while and was easy to chat to; Big Issue sellers are as varied as any group of people and the ones standing up, who are easy to talk to make it more comfortable. It is better to be looking up to someone as an ordinary person earning a living, than looking down on someone huddled on the pavement.

One day James wasn’t there any more, then another chap, Mark, appeared and said James had got a job and a place to live. The page I first turn to is the seller of the week, giving a glimpse into lives on a positive note. Mark has somewhere to live, but it doesn’t sound very secure or salubrious.

Of course the issues remain the same as in my first blog, you pass other Big Issue sellers and feel guilty because you already have this week’s edition. We have a woman at our local shops who I often buy from and have ended up buying the same issue from her and Mark. But buying the Big Issue is a much simpler issue than our attitude to the homeless or those who approach you asking for money.

Shoppers, eyes lowered, pass hurriedly by people huddled in shop doorways; they are embarassed or not sure, or wonder why people from all over the world have jobs in their local shops and restaurants, while this young able bodied person is just sitting in a doorway. Perhaps they would rather spend their hard earned money buying goods for the food bank box. The local council has homeless outreach teams, but people aren’t always easy to help. On local Facebook groups it is always a topic guaranteed to raise disagreement; give food or money? Genuine or con artist?

If we have very cold weather this happens…

Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

St Mungo’s, the rough sleeper team, will be making every effort to offer shelter to all people sleeping rough during extreme weather.

Does that make us feel less guilty because we know for sure  something is being done?

 

As for the magazine, it is a good read, so if you have never bought a copy try it, spalsh out three pounds on a Christmas edition. The cover in the picture was the winner of a competition for children to design a cover and had many entries.

Read my blog from 2016.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/christmas-issue/

 

Friday Flash Fiction – 900 – New Shoes

He was there again, outside the station, selling the Big Issue. Giles never bought one because he didn’t want one, or at least he didn’t know if he wanted one; you could hardly peruse it then hand it back. On the tube Giles had The Times to read, he subscribed to it on his Kindle. He had also downloaded 563 books, 13 of which he had read. Occasionally he wandered into WH Smith for the pleasure of browsing amongst colourful, glossy magazines: photography, computers, music… perhaps buying…

‘Can I interest you in a half price Galaxy Sir?’

Yes, he would take a treat home for Judith.

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‘No thank you.’

‘Have a nice day Sir.’

Why did the Big Issue seller have to be so polite, making him feel more guilty?  There was a whole minefield of BI behaviour he had observed over the years, over the cycle of half a dozen sellers. One man regularly bought a copy and dumped it straight in the bin a few yards further on, others proffered a pound or a handful of change without looking the seller in the eye. This morning he observed a woman offering a shiny two pound coin, holding out her hand to receive the magazine.

Keep the change.’

‘They cost £2.50 each love’ the homeless one answered curtly.

Flustered, she hurried away clutching the coin.

Giles was glad to get out of the biting east wind, down into the warm depths of the underground, but he wondered where the Big Issue seller lived. Did he really have to sleep out on the streets in this awful weather, or did he slip round the corner and drive home in his Jaguar?

A truly good person would offer a homeless man shelter not just buy a magazine. Giles had spare bedrooms; well not exactly spare, where would Judith put her sewing and what about the computer?  Sarah’s bedroom looked much as it had when she left a year ago. A vision passed before him of the homeless one sitting on the pink bed clutching Big Ted.

5

Over dinner that evening Giles said ‘Do you think we should downsize?’

‘What?’ exclaimed Judith. ‘We’ve only just finished paying the mortgage, we deserve to enjoy this house.’

‘But we don’t need four bedrooms.’

‘What if Simon and Tammy have a baby, we’d need room for them to stay.’

‘As Tammy isn’t pregnant yet and they are going round the world, we could help a homeless person get on their feet.’

‘Are you feeling alright Giles? You couldn’t wait for Simon and Sarah to leave home, now you want to… what are you suggesting?’

‘Imagine sleeping out on a night like this.’

‘There are hostels; besides, we’ve only got one bathroom and we’d have to hide our valuables.’

‘We haven’t got any valuables.’

‘Imagine explaining to the police or the insurance company that we invited a total stranger into our house and he rifled my handbag and your wallet for drug money.’

‘We don’t know that he’s a druggy.’

‘Precisely, we don’t know anything about him, I don’t even know if he’s a real person or hypothetical.’

‘Hypothermic probably.’

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He was there again the next morning. At least he’s survived the coldest November night for years, mused Giles. How would a stranger fit into one’s home, lodger, son… how old was he? Hard to tell with that woolly hat. If they went out to dinner would they leave something in the oven for him? Judith might take to him if he scrubbed up well; some of Simon’s clothes were still in the wardrobe. What would he do all day while they were both out at work, odd jobs perhaps?  If the real man emerged, clean, witty and intelligent, they would be proud. Judith might take a shine to him, too much of a shine, he could become her toy boy, like one of those novels they read at her book club.

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The idea came to him at lunch time when he was in the new shoe shop. He found a decent pair of comfortable black leather shoes for work.

‘Two pairs for the price of one sir, opening offer, today only’ said the girl at the till.

‘But I only want one pair, on second thoughts have you got another pair much the same?’

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He was there when Giles came out of the station concourse carrying two carrier bags, shoes and WH Smith. Giles almost lost his nerve. He mumbled to the Big Issue seller.

‘You’re on your feet all day, are these any good to you… have a Galaxy as well.’

The man looked suspiciously at Giles, but it was a start, perhaps tomorrow he would start a conversation, find out what the man’s situation really was.

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When Giles turned on television for the local news the next morning there was a picture of the underground entrance.

…and in further cold weather news, the body of a man believed to be a Big Issue seller was found early this morning by the locked gates of an underground station. First indications are that the cause of death could be hypothermia, but police are not releasing medical details until a post mortem has been carried out. They are keen to speak to commuters or anyone from the Big Issue Community, unusually the dead man was wearing a brand new pair of good quality leather shoes.

Read tales for all seasons in Hallows and Heretics – take a peek inside the book.

A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.

 

 

 

Christmas Issue

‘Big Issue, Big Issue’ a phrase heard by most of us quite often unless we live in the remote countryside. Until last week I always said ‘No thank you’ or slipped by in the crowd, feeling guilty when the seller said ‘Have a nice day.’

Lots of people no longer carry cash, but that was not my excuse. There is no issue with selling the Big Issue; it is not begging, but a straightforward transaction, without the minefield of indecision when faced with people begging. The police and councils urge us not to give directly, but to support homeless charities. If someone is busking, playing an instrument well without electronic backing and cheering everybody up, I’m happy to put some money in the violin or guitar case.

I have always thought, are there not other jobs in the warm, not standing all day, that these people could be given? One thing I know about the Big Issue is you should always take your copy. The Big issue Manifesto says ‘…a handout up, not a handout… always take your copy.’ A while back a family member told me  ‘I bought a Big Issue, well I told him I didn’t want a copy, but I gave him £2.00 and told him to keep the change.’ ‘No… ‘ I cried ‘what about his pride… and anyway, it costs £2.50!’

Magazines have a strange habit of piling up unread. Over the years I have bought magazines I need or want, Radio Times because I love the radio, ‘Parents’, gardening, knitting, writing. I  avoid glossy magazines about ultra successful glamorous women or ‘Real Life’ supermarket mags about distinctly unglamorous women.

So it would be hypocritical to buy a magazine I wasn’t sure I wanted because I couldn’t browse through it in a shop. Are the many Big Sellers I have passed grateful I have spared their pride? The other issue; even if you buy a copy every week, you will probably pass half a dozen different sellers and have to apologise that you already have a copy.

The other week we passed a new chap on our way for coffee and my friend remarked she had seen him before and he wasn’t selling many, because he wasn’t engaging with the public; we had soon invented a back story for him, ex serviceman etc. Before we got to the table to meet the other friends she had delved into her purse and disappeared back outside, returning with her Big Issue. I felt doubly guilty, so last week I bought a copy off the same chap and had a nice chat with him.

As I had a long bus journey that evening the lightweight magazine was ideal and in a couple of days I had read it from cover to cover; it was full of engaging articles about people of all sorts and what could be more interesting for a writer? I was filled with virtuous zeal and determined to buy the next issue and tell him how much I enjoyed it. I passed by another half dozen sellers in the meantime, but this week he wasn’t there!

Plan B; the least I can do is e-mail the letters page of Big Issue to enthuse and buy this week’s copy from the next seller I see.