Wealth, juxtaposed with hardships.
It’s the first day when there’s real heat in the sun. People are in shirt sleeves and shorts. Those who have misjudged are baking in thick doughy coats like sausage rolls on a rack. They’re mostly the old and infirm, travelling on a bus into town.
Near the city centre the bus stops. People get off, people get on. It sets off again. Next stop is where bus drivers dismount at the end of a shift. Before it gets there, it passes a man, prone in doorway, wrapped in a sleeping bag. Spectral, he lays, eyes blank, behind a big placard written in red ink.
Please help me get off the streets for good.
He’s young, no more than thirty, and people seem not to see him. He’s somebody’s son, possibly a father, one of a multiplying population of rough sleepers, ousted by bedroom tax, benefit sanctions and all manner of income related schemes.
The bus stops again, people get off. People get on. Among them a glorious line of Islamic women, all dressed with hijabs hair-pinned in place, flowing over chemise and pantaloons. Each women decreasing in size, like a row of Russian dolls, pear-shaped, colourful, bright eyed and beautiful.
The bus travels on, rounding a corner, and an elegant prow-fronted Art Deco building, proudly proclaims from its colossal windows.
Electricity House, Restoration like now other.
Electricity House, Service like no other.
Electricity House, Security like no other.
This is a building under ‘sympathetic’ conversion into 3-5 bed apartment units , which only the well heeled can afford. And it is massive, like a luxury cruiser in dry dock on the street.
The bus travels on, passing Eagle House, an oblique Georgian four-story building, built as a family dwelling in 1740. Now it is home to the government’s benefits system branded as Job Centre Plus. The signage is discreetly displayed on one of its walls in a side street. By comparison it is an austere building.
The bus stops again, opposite The Hippodrome. People get on. People get off. It’s a sunny, English Bank holiday down by The Harbourside. And when the bus sets off past the ornate Cathedral on College Green, the image of a rough sleeper in doorway haunts me.
At that precise moment a litany enters my head.
‘Job Centre Plus, Restoration like no other.’
‘Job Centre Plus, Service like no other.’
Job Centre Plus, Security like no other.’