In 2011 I’d just come out of a violent relationship and business that I’d driven into the ground – and I felt lost.
I was unhappy and in need of a distraction that would completely occupy my mind.
I’d sometimes seen my uncle selling The Big Issue in West Drayton, and knew equally that my family had come from poverty in India.
I’d always wanted to understand more about what the experience of ‘poverty’ was truly like.
I decided to live homelessly for a week.
To go for eight days and seven nights on the streets of London without any food, any money and just a Nokia ‘brick phone’ which I kept off unless I needed my support crew to call me.
The phone was really just to take inbound calls from my team (David, Sharif, Martha and Pei) when I needed it.
At this time I was trying to launch my 1st tech startup – Studiobookers; and my team (as mentioned above) for this ‘homeless project’ – were pulled from here.
In parallel to support myself, I had a recording studio (Deep Impakt Recordings) where rappers came into record (but these are different stories that I will share in time)
And so, living homelessly seemed like an awesome idea and ultimately a way of moving aggressively past a bad relationship I’d been in for several months.
As I’d discovered – already on the first day of this adventure.
I didn’t think about Maria once.
Before I left for this adventure – I’d actually just come back from running a marathon in Oslo with my good friend Dan, had posted a mediocre time and here I was a day later embarking upon this homeless adventure.
In fact – the day after my flight home – Sharif came to my parent’s place in West Drayton to interview my folks about me, what they thought about what I was doing – and this whole adventure I would be embarking upon.
The overall idea of even doing this was the following:
- Having an experience that would in some way help me identify with the poverty that my family encountered growing up in Uttar Pradesh (the poorest state in India)
- Understanding a little more about what it was like for my uncle who sold The Big Issue, had ongoing issues with alcoholism and was partially disabled
- To challenge me
- And for the adventure – for this would be an entirely different challenge as compared to anything I’d ever done before (and since)
And what an adventure it would be.
I felt absolutely knackered as I set off from my mum’s place with Sharif for the first leg of the journey.
Into the unknown.
Into the abyss with worried parents and an excited team.
I wondered what awaited me as I started making my way from my parents in West Drayton up Royal Lane towards the Uxbridge road – which would take me deep into West London.
I’d be walking around four-five miles from my parents to Southall – which I decided made sense to be my first stopping point of the journey.
Sharif – a great friend of mine I’d met through music – was the video director (that I later went on to live in Portugal with) for this week alongside a Spanish video director David whom I’d found on Gumtree just weeks before.
And so – Sharif agreed to meet me in Southall as I set off on what would be one of the most surreal experiences of my life. David and he would take turns through different parts of the week as the journey got underway.
Living homelessly….is scary as hell.
It began with a sense of glee, reflection and adventure.
Glee because it just felt like it was an amazing thing to be doing.
Reflection because I was wondering what the hell am I doing.
And the adventure part – well that part speaks for itself.
And so as I plodded up to the Uxbridge road – Sharif and I parted ways and he’d later meet me in Southall as he travelled via train & bus.
It took me around 2-3 hours to walk to Southall and once I met Sharif there we decided it’d make sense to meet some local people that looked like they were in dire straights.
This wouldn’t be hard to find at all in Southall.
As I’d discovered in later years through a friend in the Metropolitan police force, I’d discover that Southall had serious issues with sexual offences as well as issues with drugs that mostly went undetected.
Speaking of drugs – the first person we met was a Somali man chewing on what looked to be a tobacco leaf of some kind.
He was in his late 30s and looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.
His teeth appeared to be rotting from years of tobacco chewing and he spoke of his journey to go and get benefits as well as his struggles at home.
There was a look of eternal distraction about his face as he kept looking off into the distance whilst he spoke to us; as if he had somewhere to be, but nowhere to arrive.
This was the type of man you’d notice when maybe you were in the wrong part of town – and even then it would be someone you would quickly brush past.
But now I had the opportunity to stand and talk to him.
What a different world it is.
From his decrepit state, his carefree way of being, and his almost bashful demeanour there ran a series of contradictions through him and in our conversation.
With Sharif being Mombasa born (Kenya) and my parents being from poverty in India – it felt like this place –
This Southall (commonly known as Little India) by night with its dank lights and hazy alleys – felt all too familiar.
This was a town Sharif and I knew well from my trips with parents to Southall temple throughout my years growing up – alongside much of the work wedding video work Sharif did here as well.
And so whilst Jibreel (as we discovered) was more than happy to stand and talk with us – I’d be met with a very different reception when I tried to stop professionals outside of the Gherkin.
And so after a few minutes, Jibreel went on his way and our conversation ended
It seemed to be an opportune moment to finish up the day’s recording.
Sharif would soon leave me at around the 1030pm mark.
And this was when I really started to worry.
Now things were beginning to feel real.
I was growing hungry, it was getting late and it was October in London.
What would I eat?
How would I pay for it?
And even then…
Where would I sleep?
As I stumbled through Southall – looking at all the bustling places still open and wondering how I’d actually get some food –
I hit upon a chicken shop with just one lady finishing up her order.
It looked in fact (after she left) like the shop was closing up for the night.
With an empty shop…now was my chance.
I approached the shop owner with a forlorn and nervous look on my face…and said..
‘I’m really sorry I’m homeless and have nothing to eat…do you have something you could spare for me please?’.
My heart pounded as he locked eyes with me whilst giving me, how I looked and the whole situation consideration.
He looked at me.
My heart thumped as I looked back.
At this point in time, I’d been growing my hair for several months and it lent to the whole homeless look.
I’d found a baggy oversized pair of jeans and a checker type of shirt that I just hated wearing.
I felt like I looked at the part. But I was probably also too clean and had too good manners to be homeless.
What would he decide?
Where would I end up with this?
Ali finally turned and said ‘sure – I’ve got some leftovers – you can take it’.
I felt a huge sense of relief as he loaded up some chicken and chips for me into a takeaway polystyrene box.
Dinner was sorted for the evening.
As I happily wolfed down the chicken and chips in delight – my thoughts very quickly began to switch to the next problem…finding a place to sleep for the night.
My brain was balancing the joy of ‘dinner’ against the fear of ‘sleep’ as I peered out into the night from outside the chicken shop as Ali quickly closed up for the night.
Southall…once all the shops close up for the night becomes a strange and seedy place to be in.
It’s a place riddled with drugs and crime and perhaps unsurprisingly there’s another world that opens up after 11 pm.
Anyone you see wandering the streets is pretty much up to no good or in dire straits like I was.
Sleeping on the high street wasn’t an option – I’d get disturbed by passers-by and would leave myself far too exposed.
Sleeping on the concrete wasn’t an option – it was October and I’d freeze.
Sleeping with myself exposed even on a side road wasn’t an option – I’d still be exposed to the elements and would again struggle to sleep.
So where exactly then could I sleep?
My heart fluttered as I wandered from side road to side road…trying to find anything that would offer me cover.
It was approaching midnight now and as I wandered from corner to corner my mind locked into a place of extreme focus as I knew I had to find somewhere to rest for the night.
Southall had become a ghost town except for a few of us wandering souls, as well as lurkers, loungers and shadow-men who stood lightly on corners just outside the glow of the street lights – so you couldn’t quite see them.
Then there it was:
I managed to find a load of wooden pallets all stacked up against grocers that had long since closed for the evening. The pallets were pretty big and between the middle of them, there was a gap big enough for me to squeeze into.
With the night upon me, the gap looked like it offered a good space for me to take cover from anyone’s view.
And hopefully from the elements.
I quickly assessed the gap itself by edging into there and then closing the gap around me.
To find me in the darkness you’d really need to stop and stare.
I felt a small sigh of relief run through me.
For at least a little while – I’d be safe.
So there I lay.
11.53 pm next to a grocer on a side road in shady Southall in the dead of the night preparing to settle down.
I had no blanket so took to using the one hoodie I had to put on and try to wrap myself in.
And slowly…after my nerves settled….I sank into a restless night of shivering, worry and trepidation as the elements tore through the wooden pallets…and the wind took hold of me.
This is a breakdown of my first night living homelessly in London, and there were 6-more nights to follow…and the story of this night itself in more depth.
Feel free to message me for more information on this adventure.
Meanwhile – catch you in the next letter where we’ll return to running – and another challenge I decided I might just try and complete.