Life’s rubbish

A couple of years ago we were sitting on the terrace chatting to some friends. They come to Spain every year for about five weeks. We met when they rented a flat up the road, although normally they rent a flat in our nearest town.

They are a similar age to us, they don’t eat meat – she’s vegetarian, he eats fish – they don’t smoke, they don’t have any children. They are quite into animal rights to the extent that they have been on marches – eg opposing the transport of calves for veal.

It was enough to start up a conversation the first time we met and we have kept in touch for the last four or five years. She’s an agricultural worker and he used to be in construction, but doesn’t work now because of health problems. They aren’t rich, they aren’t poor. A bit like us.

One day, I don’t know how it came up, we were talking about the homeless people who sit on the streets in town waiting for people to give them money. Our friends said they never gave them any money and asked if we ever did. We said yes.

There was a pause in the conversation, and the friends then quickly said how much they admired us – but then asked, obviously totally perplexed – why?

Well, we certainly don’t do it to gain anyone’s admiration, nor do we do it for religious reasons (we are not religious – ironically our friends are). I guess the simple answer is that we wouldn’t like to be in their position – there but for the grace of god and all that – and we can afford to give a euro now and again to help someone eke out a daily existence. Maybe it goes on alcohol, maybe it goes on cigarettes. Maybe it goes on drugs. My choice to give, their choice to spend it on what they want. My very generous donation of a euro isn’t given with the condition that it must only be spent on things I consider appropriate. If I really wanted to impose my view on them I could buy some bread, or some fruit/vegetables and give that to them instead. I happen to think a euro is more use.

Afterwards though we thought about it. We had started giving to quite a few homeless people. We decided to cut back and stick to the ones with dogs – or the ones who were around all year and didn’t just blow in for the summer holidays.

Many years ago – when we were hard-nosed and hungry – we never gave to anyone. When I worked in London I used to travel home through Euston Station. (No, this is not a Monopoly game). If I wasn’t dodging the guy yelling out “Socialist Worker” as he tried to sell the magazine to well-off commuters, I was dodging all the tramps. (They were called tramps at the time).

Why didn’t they get washed and get a job? I thought to myself. Idle layabouts poncing off hard-working righteous members of society ie me. They probably have loads of money anyway, I continued to myself. Nope. They are not getting one penny out of me. I am not a soft touch. You can tell it was Thatcher’s Britain. And I was a good Thatcher’s eighties babe.

A few years later I was back in journalism and one of my left-wing feminist colleagues said loftily that she never gave to Big Issue sellers (to my surprise). “It’s just an excuse for the miserable government not to put the correct structures in place,” she declared. She was hardly Ms Generosity either. I seem to remember she was a mature student at the time reading sociology at Hull and worked on the paper in her holidays. She married a pretty well-off merchant banker and promptly became Mrs Merchant Banker. Clearly a woman of principle. (ie self first).

So we ignored Ms Radical Student aka Mrs Merchant Banker and gave to some of the Big Issue sellers. But then stopped – for lots of reasons. I thought it was pretty insulting for people who genuinely needed money and work, it certainly wasn’t a real job, and there was also a lot of negative publicity about Big Issue generally at the time. I got bored with reading it as well.

Since I chucked my job, I have had lots of time to think. Probably too much, but at least I’m not thinking about work. I live in a beautiful part of the world. I own my house. I have enough money to buy food and pay the bills. I am warm, even on cold days. I’m a big believer in Maslow’s triangle – and I have all my physiological needs – food, warmth, and shelter. Homeless people have none of these.

We have seen some of the local homeless men walking into town, wearing the same dirty clothes, their shoes or boots falling apart, sometimes with a shopping trolley containing a few plastic bags of tat – all they possess in the world. Partner was speaking to one of them a while ago. There are a few safe places where they go to sleep. They try and team up because it is safer that way, and one might be awake while the other sleeps. It’s one of the reasons some of them have dogs.

Why are people so sick that they want to rob or assault homeless people? Do they harm anyone? No. They don’t even beg. They don’t come round sticking white heather in your hand and cursing you with bad luck if you don’t buy it. Nor do they drag a brood of tiny kiddies around with them, and stick their hand under your nose saying “My children are starving, please feed them.” Or as it is here: “Por los niños, por favor” in a whiney voice.

One of the “regulars” is Dutch. He had a good job in Amsterdam but left because of the ease of obtaining drugs. But the drugs always find you. They are easy to get hold of here too. He’s pretty honest though. One day Partner was reaching in his pocket to get a euro and the guy said: “No, it’s all right. I’ve made enough today. Keep it. But thanks.”

It’s often the men who give to them. Sometimes it is the northern Europeans – Germans, Dutch, British – sometimes it is the northern Spaniards. These homeless men are people, they have a life, they merit respect like anyone else. Who knows what has happened to them? None of us are perfect and it isn’t up to me to judge them. I wouldn’t like to be in their soulless shoes.

But when Partner came home and told me about the German man who had been found dead inside a rubbish bin, I was gutted. Partner didn’t know the detail. Maybe he had dived in looking for food and couldn’t get out. Maybe he was drunk or stoned. He died where many people consider he belonged. With the rubbish. No-one to care for him, to look after him, to help him, or even to miss him.

I think we live in a shit society when something like that happens. I think we live in a shit society for lots of reasons, but this is just one example. Nothing in place to help him. No shelter, no food, no money, no warmth. And people walking past him every day, ignoring him. Just part of life’s detritus. I guess the good news for the selfish bastards that think like that is they won’t have to walk past him any more. One less dirty scruffy homeless person on our pristine streets.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and geocaching. With other stuff sprinkled in too. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog has his own blog, but most of you know that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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20 Responses to Life’s rubbish

  1. Hi, I found your blog via “Itchy feet at forty”.I admit that I used not to be convinced by Big Issue sellers, but the equivalent here (almost) has to be the ONCE ticket sellers – a disadvantaged minority selling what the can, but legally and earning a small income from it.It used to be that most ONCE sellers were either blind or amputees. More and more though, I see sellers with mental health problems. Guess it’s better than “Care in the community”.

  2. Jean says:

    Yes, a really sad reflection on society everywhere. I felt sad reading about where he was found, he was afforded no dignity in life and certainly none in his death.The people who walked past him, and ignored him, would actually be surprised if they knew how quickly they themselves could fall from their smug perches into the gutter.J

  3. Peanut says:

    That poor man. It is all so sad.

  4. Dog Lover says:

    Thank you for your honesty in telling your stories and these stories of real people. It touched my heart.I hope the German man is in a happier place now.

  5. angryricky says:

    Upsetting, isn’t it, how the concept of cleanliness can become so toxic. Why is dirt seen as making someone morally inferior?

    • What I found upsetting was the lack of compassion, or interest. People are basically the same, some just have better luck or better lives. I don’t think I am ‘superior’ to someone else just because I have a home and they don’t. I was talking to a scruffy-looking busker the other day (his dog is better dressed than he is) and I had to laugh when he told me he had earned more than £300 a few days previously! Good luck to him I say.

  6. Andrew says:

    Pretty sobering stuff. I am inconsistent in my giving. I gave one very elderly woman HK$500 once. She was collecting cardboard to resell. One of the locals said she was about 90 and paying off her son’s debts – he had gambled away his money and more. Sometimes I just walk past – I don’t know what sparks the difference. And I don’t have a solution. But in some countries a little to us can mean a lot to them. Some redistribution wouldn’t go amiss.

    • There are so many lines to draw. And so many different points of view. I think it is ironic that when I was earning more money I was less inclined to give. OK, I always gave to animal charities, especially Hunt Sabs.

      Now, I find it difficult to give, because I have my own future to think about, and with an ever-receding – aka non-existent – state pension, feels like some time in 3020, I can’t afford to subsidise deros because who’s going to subsidise me?

      A lot of redistribution wouldn’t go amiss. But who decides on what to redistribute?

  7. Pingback: Life’s rubbish | Gotta Find A Home

  8. dcardiff says:

    I resisted giving to homeless people for most of my life, until two and a half years ago. I gave a woman a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, she said, “Thank you kind sir, God bless you.” I felt truly blessed. I have come to know this woman and talk to her everyday, usually sitting next to her on the sidewalk. I have seen the looks, heard the verbal abuse. The worst is when people, especially the ones I know, turn their heads as if I didn’t exist.

    I’m not homeless, I work a regular job, I can’t afford to retire. I don’t know the answers. I have related the conversations with these people on my blog. They discuss what they need: safe affordable housing, accessible public washrooms with showers, safe places to sleep for the night. They would like to be treated with dignity and respect as should be afforded any human being. Until you know why they are, where they are, don’t make assumptions. Each heartbreaking story is unique. It could happen to you.

    Sincerely,
    Dennis Cardiff

    • I have no issue with talking to people who live on the streets, or live rough, or busk or whatever. We are all people and no-one is better or worse than another. I usually find that snotty rich people are more unpleasant but that’s another issue.

      I can’t get a job, my partner can. From time to time, because he’s in construction, so he’s been out of work for nearly a year. Our govt (UK) keeps changing the state pension age endlessly, it’s probably 80 for all I know so I have visions of ending my days in a workhouse. Or on the streets, or living out of the back of a vehicle. Sounds extreme but financial security seems to evaporate. So I’m no longer in a position to give to homeless people. Wish I could.

      But I did spend a few good years giving to homeless people, animal charities, hunt saboteurs, charities for older people etc etc. This post is now more than five years old, which is why I am in a different situation.

      And yes, it could happen to any of us. Which is why we shouldn’t judge other people. Who knows what they have gone through?

      I had a similar discussion with a friend about rescued animals. Who knows what cruelty and abuse they have suffered? Unwanted, unloved, victimised. Just like homeless people and the man who ended up in the rubbish bin in Spain.

      You are doing something, that says a lot for you. It’s never too late.

    • What? The rubbish on top of him, or him in the bin? It’s life, but not everyone begging is a chancer or a work shy. Some people are genuinely down on their luck. His ran out.

      • Arkenaten says:

        Your acerbic wit again?
        No, not the rubbish, just the apparent indifference from those upon hearing of the bloke’s death. But, as you say, this is life and unfortunately we all have our issues and can’t put our own lives on hold to solve the issues of others.
        Philanthropy has its limits, I guess?

  9. I wish!

    But the amount of rubbish that gets chucked in can be heavy. So I conflated the literal and metaphorical.

    Giving is very difficult. Each place has its own scams. If you are local, you know the scams, you know the genuine cases. If you have a spare euro, why not?

    I leave it to them what they choose to spend it on. Dog food, bread, alcohol, dope, nicotine, coffee or tea somewhere. Rather them than me. Society doesn’t look after them, so if I’m short of a hundred euros one day, tough for me for giving it away. I’ll take that risk. Just wish I could have kept him out of the bin 😢

  10. gipsika says:

    Hi. Thanks for directing me to this. A very deep and vibrant post!

    I can’t envision how a homeless person here should not 1) beg or 2) steal. How else must they survive? They certainly can’t rely on any family support (or they would not be homeless).

    It’s often victims of crime that are found in dumpsters hereabouts.

    As for my attitude to giving, it varies from day to day and from beggar to beggar. Some are really obnoxious, spitting at you if you don’t give them anything, or give them “too little”. The entitlement attitude is hair-raising. But many are simply poor pathetic souls, some are children from squatter camps, some from the poor-white background (the minority actually, but this is Pretoria East, I’m sure in places further west they increase in numbers), many many from the African countries up north where survival under Mugabe and his ilk has become impossible. They come streaming in looking for a better life… and in fact the chances are, their life is indeed better here despite it being colder than up north, because there is more residual wealth here and more people willing to give. Add to that, better medical facilities, because the clinics here, though crowded, are indeed available for free. I wonder how many medical facilities are left over in the countries north of us. And they do need that because of the typical Africa diseases: Malaria, bilharzia, tick fever, cholera, and so on.

    • Thanks gipsika.

      I was quite upset when I heard about the death of the man in the bin. It seemed such a sad end and a waste of a life. I know tramps/beggars can be quite a controversial and political subject, with people holding very strong views either way – you only have to look at the comments on your blog.

      It’s impossible for us in Europe to envision your life in Africa, and even more-so, the lives of the have nots and how they have ended up there. I do read quite a few SA blogs, yours, Ark, Col, obviously, and a handful of others who I’d been following before that. Most people don’t write about the social problems though, so it is interesting to get some insight from SA residents from time to time. Thank you for taking the time to write that. It reminds me of all the Africans who risk their life at our end of your continent, trying to make it across the med on flimsy rafts to reach the promised land of Europe.

      • gipsika says:

        Yes, the “promised land”, that’s exactly it! Europe on your end, and on ours, South Africa (not quite as “promised” but still much better than what they have).

        What disturbs me is, what about building infrastructure and upping conditions in their own countries? It will take time and effort, probably generations of inspired people willing to give it their all, but that is what it took in all civilized countries, and the answer is not to come and destroy via crime (like they do here). How to tackle this?

        • I think capitalism and globalisation get in the way of such selfless ideas.

          But I’ll probably get political if I go down that road, so I won’t.

          I was going to say that white people have a lot to answer for, but even that’s too complex and involved for a comment.

          How about I’ll be honest and sadly say, I don’t know.

          • gipsika says:

            Yes it’s the Europeans, you’re quite right, it’s their fault. Hard work and building things up is a European concept. That created the discrepancy between rich and poor.

            I must say, it is only a matter of time here before the new African middle class will also be blamed for the failure of the poor. After all they will be perceived to have received an unfair boost from the whites. (This is not so, the boost is from their own government.)

            It’s always easier to blame those who are trying to help, than getting off one’s own butt and trying to solve one’s own problems. I feel sorry for the poor devils that come from even worse places, and also those who have lost everything (whites that were driven off their farms with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing). But there’s a big contingent who, besides organized crime, is simply too lazy to do something for a living but would rather sponge off others. For those I have no sympathy. And by their attitudes you shall recognize them…

I appreciate any comments you leave, so long as they are relatively polite. And thanks for reading.

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