The invisible man







The invisible man


I'm not quite sure what his name is. He doesn't talk much and when he does he mutters into his chest. His head is always down. Basically, he's invisible to almost everyone. The residents ignore him sullying their perfect town. The holiday-makers look straight past him like he's a nobody at a networking event. Their children are afraid; they whisper to each other and their protectors.

I think his name is Alwen or something Welsh. On the rare occasions when I have coached speech from him his voice is not crude. It has vestigial politeness from the age before everyone started imitating Jonathon Ross and there is a musical lilt to it. Welsh or possibly Irish.

His path crosses mine most days of the week and sometimes we arrive at the same point at the same time. I try my best to have some change ready to slip into his hand, or a fiver - with which I can say, "Fancy some fish and chips". He always thanks me, shocked but polite. He always mumbles "Thank you very much." There's nothing drunken, common, criminal, abusive, threatening or druggy about his demeanour or his speech.

He invariably wears a battered fleece and a hideous waterproof jacket, whatever the weather. Sometimes he stands near the beach, slightly out of view, watching the normal people and their normal lives, as if he is fascinated by their world.

Once in a while I mention him to people to see what they think. All the most beautiful girls in town are volunteer collectors for the Lifeboats. I chat to them most days when they look bored. None of them even knew who I was talking about, though he walks right past them, twice, each day. A sun-beaten local with classic seaside casuals, chestnut tan and white beard often speaks to me in broad Cornish accent. He thought Alwen was into drugs. The lady with five sheepdogs thinks he's a tramp, which is fairly obvious. My friend Keith who empties the litter bins and cleans the windows at Sainsbury's (which is right by the beach) says "…he's pitiful but harmless…" No more curious than that.

Is Alwen mentally ill? Was he released into the community? I doubt it. I can recognise nutters and feel their vibes. He doesn't give off that strange menace that crazies and hostile networkers do. Did he lose his job? Did his wife kick him out? How long has he been sleeping rough? Does he get any benefits? I doubt it: sometimes I see him picking through bins near the chip shops. I have never seen him with a drink in his hand, though I know where he goes to collect dog ends that teenage thrill-seekers have left behind during their petting sessions.

I strongly suspect from his age and the strength of his constitution in resisting that awful life that he's ex Army. One of those guys who goes into shock and never comes out. One of the heroes that we abandon after we've used them up. If I can discover the details I know where to write to get him help. I've done it before when I lived in Warminster, which is haunted by broken soldiers.

Where does he shelter on stormy nights? I'm trying to find out but he's extremely secretive. He glances behind him like he's afraid of being followed. He cowers. He wants to be invisible. He wants to be lost and unknown. He's the real thing, not some wanna-be folk-singer posturing at being a drifter like everyone did in 1966. This guy truly is drifting, like garbage in the wind as far as anyone is concerned… Even the Reserve Police Lady doesn't know who he is, or doesn't care, or doesn't want the hassle… And she's very nice.

So, it seems like it is down to me to keep him in touch with the human race and watch out for him in the snow. And I can't even walk. We don't want to take him home but I can't abandon him to the elements and the slight risk of yobs with vicious dogs that we get in the summer. Someone has to keep an eye on him to make sure he isn't ill, to check that he puts in an appearance every day, his invisible appearance. If I could discover where he lays his head I can confirm that he's OK in bad weather when he doesn't show…

This evening I thought I saw him and since I had a pocket full of change I went after him for a casual hello and maybe a nod of the head and a quick handover not to insult his dignity. As usual, he was looking back to check that no one is following. He saw it was me and slowed down, because he actually likes having a bit of money to spend for a change.

As I approached I was getting ready to speak, carefully… Same ample hair but scared white. Same battered coat but the trousers looked different. Perhaps he's found some new ones in a skip. He turned.

It was someone else: a distinguished intellectual type, dressed down, in town for the Jazz Festival. But he looked just as haunted, just as afraid in the eyes, just as bitter in the jaw, more so, in fact. Perhaps that's why we ignore those who have succumbed to the fate we fear ourselves, slipping through the cracks in society and into the gutter.

One banker's bonus could save Alwen and ten thousand others like him.








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Ann Andrews CSP

annandrews-72869

The invisible man

what fabulous news - so gratifying to hear of ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things in these times of corporate greed. No-one should ever have to be homeless......and Katie Ellen please tell your person to go and get Chinese acupuncture. I had ME for several years (I believe it is burnout) I'd tried everything and been everywhere trying to get well. A chinese doctor sorted me in 6 weeks - the cure was hideous but it worked when nothing else had. Ann

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Danielle de Valera

daniellede-valera-668759

The invisible man

This is wonderful news, Steve, I've been worried about Mervyn, especially with the winter coming on. To know that he has a roof over his head and a safe place to sleep is a great relief. A thousand blessings on you for all your care.

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RealSteveHolmes Fading away soon

cvsage-38854

The invisible man

Progress report: 1) I've managed to get him to accept a warm and waterproof winter fleece without patronising him. I told him it was too small for me because of the drugs I'm taking, which is almost true. He was smiling from ear to ear. 2)Thanks to everyone who has sent extra money. 3) Looks like a woman who owns a care home and has some other bits of property scattered around has rented him a small room and arranged for the DSS to pay the rent direct to her. This is roughly what he told me but I need to clarify it and make sure he isn't dreaming.

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Ann Andrews CSP

annandrews-72869

The invisible man

Nothing wrong with doing some 'good' Steve - if only more people would do that. Isn't there a saying something like 'having it make a difference that I lived at all!' Helping our fellow man or woman or child in whatever way we can (without the need to shout it from the roof tops), surely is what being human is all about? Keep being you - ann

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Ann Andrews CSP

annandrews-72869

The invisible man

thanks Steve - I'll post this on both my sites - we have to keep speaking up - thanks for your courage and your care. Ann

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RealSteveHolmes Fading away soon

cvsage-38854

The invisible man

Big progress tonight. Mervyn asked me why I need a mobility scooter. I gave him a brief history. He hoped I get well. I said I won't but it will take a long time to kill me. He wished me a good time in which I might as well enjoy myself... He smiled. That's a first. Bingo. Now we have the start of a conversation and overt permission to discover more.

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Ann Andrews CSP

annandrews-72869

The invisible man

Steve I love your article - would you let me reprint it on www.neverinourwildestdreams.com (a site I set up to tell stories of courage and inspiration)? Yes its a sad and shocking indictment on the society we have where we treat our frail, our elderly, our mentally ill etc as if they were flotsam - an irritant - a blot! We all need to keep shouting from the roof tops that this is NOT OK - we need to pressure anyone in our sphere of influence that giving back and caring may not go on the business bottom line, but it WILL go on our community bottom line. Ann

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Gordon Wheaton

gordonwheaton-294525

The invisible man

Great blog Steve. Very powerful Regards Gordon

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RealSteveHolmes Fading away soon

cvsage-38854

The invisible man

I got his name clear this evening in the drizzle. He's actually called Mervyn. That's a start. He has eaten today.

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Richard Alberg

richarda-1899

The invisible man

Cheap shot Jeff.

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Beth Burgess

bethburgess2-672944

The invisible man

Thank you for this Steve - I wouldn't be surprised if Alwen were a veteran. There are shockingly high numbers of veterans on the streets or in shelters. Even I was surprised when I found out how high the percentage is among the homeless. There is not adequate provision for integrating them back into society.

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Jeff Mowatt

jeffmowatt-232748

The invisible man

@If we really are going to move to an open and caring new world we must leave no one behind in the gutter. Steve, If you continued reading the thread on Violent Behaviour, you'd know that there is a step past the argument that mankind is inherently disposed to greed The colleague I describe was left in the gutter, dying alone in a seedy room far from home, thinking only of those in greater need. . You and others on Ecademy had been asked for support which was non monetary. I remember your response, that you didn't want to be dragged into my campaigning. Leaving at least one in the gutter would seem by and large to be acceptable.

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Andrew Field

andrewfield1-300430

The invisible man

Excellent and I should like to re-iterate what Lisa says... Thank you.

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Fay Olinsky

personalchef-34218

The invisible man

In todays world I am sure practically everyone, no matter who they are, fear the spectre of being 'Alwyn'. Some have actually been like him for a while and miraculously found a way back. It is not something one can do alone! F

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Lisa Bakker

lisabakker-64498

The invisible man

Thank you Steve for giving him a voice Lisa ps for what it's worth... I am glad/grateful you are still here continuing in raising your voice.

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Richard Alberg

richarda-1899

The invisible man

Steve - wonderful writing on a topic that does need airing. This is the underbelly of a complex, pressured society. The challenge of the welfare system is that it is hard to distinguish between those who freeload and those who are genuinely needy.

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Robert Craven

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The invisible man

This is a real 'thought for today'. Very moving. RC

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Jeff Mowatt

jeffmowatt-232748

The invisible man

I'm reminded of someone I noticed not long before I left South London and recognised as a quiet and distant boy I was at primary school with almost 50 years earlier. I could remember his name. He was too gentle to have ever joined the army but may well have had a breakdown or simply faded into obscurity on our crowded pavements. Not long ago, I was taking to someone from this part of the world a former SAS soldier who was trying to raise the profile of those suffering PTSD still, from the Falklands and other conflicts. In 2004 I brought a man into my home who'd been fasting for economic rights in the US. We'd met just once in Ukraine and after several weeks fasting was fading. I offered him an exit strategy, I wasn't able to help 7 years later when he died in poverty still drawing attention to those in greater need and this is part what he'd managed to achieve. He wrote this several years ago as part of an article on social enterprise: 'The term "social enterprise" in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don't address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven't enough money to be of concern or interest. Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks. Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that "them" might equal "me." Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not. ' He was, as you know, ignored to death. as an Orphan of Wealth It's all very well to be eloquent and touch others with stories but compassion that translates into action is rare among inspiring writers.

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Martin Dewhurst

martin-dewhurst-30038

The invisible man

There is of course a constant dilemma, that he may in fact relish his freedom to roam over that of any form of fixed abode. Perhaps through dialogue will you find out what he actually wants and you may be completely surprised by his response!

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Danielle de Valera

daniellede-valera-668759

The invisible man

Just checked your profile, Steve, can't find a postal address. Would you mind giving that to me here or in a PM? As Fred would say, Let's get things moving.

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Danielle de Valera

daniellede-valera-668759

The invisible man

Steve, The true measure of the greatness of a society isn't, in my opinion, its archectecture, its literature or its art; it's how it cares for the old, the sick and the ones you've described. The west isn't doing so well at any of that. Will ask my son to send you an English fiver; he's over there in Yorkshire with his wife and 2 kids. It's too much of a hassle for me to try to send it from my Aust'n account into the UK banking system. It might take a while, as we can't afford to talk very often and, working on computers 70 hours a week, he avoids email. If only 52 people sent you a fiver once a year, that's a fiver he'd have every week - helpful with the autumn and winter coming. Thanks for this blog, Danielle

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Jo Berry

joberry-638766

The invisible man

What incredible writing, I felt like I saw him through your eyes and now I care too. I have known many broken soldiers too and expect your are right with your perceptions. I have just shed some tears for Alwen and the others, our world can be so cruel. Sometimes it is good to cry, sometimes it is fine to be so touched. Thanks Steve for sharing with us and I hope you see him tomorrow.

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Martin Dewhurst

martin-dewhurst-30038

The invisible man

Beautiful account Steve. I read on Friday about someone on Olympic expenses (allegedly) paying £19,000 for a bottle of 1853 Cognac. Such things shock me now when I see how much could be done for the vulnerable with such amounts and if you spent it overseas, then you could do even more. Keep after him you'll be sure to make a breakthrough if anyone can and isn't it interesting how people can hide in plain sight too!

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Fred Rutgers

fredrutgers-186363

The invisible man

Agree Steve, This world must be shared by everybody on it! And everybody is special in his own typical way! Fred

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Fred Rutgers

fredrutgers-186363

The invisible man

A very interesting look on life!

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