When people have tried to talk to me in the past about my life, I’ve buttoned up and held back, because I wasn’t ready to talk about it then, I wasn’t confident in myself, I didn’t believe in myself, I didn’t trust myself. But now all that’s changed, and that’s why now its easier to talk. People say you can’t change but you can change – I did, I’m living evidence. Wait til you’ve got to rock bottom, then you’ll know what life’s all about, then it’s like what [the band] Yes says, ‘the only way is up’.
I was born 39 years ago. I grew up in the Midlands, in a little town called Blackheath, up in the Black Country. I was mentally abused and physically abused by my parents. I was thrown around by my real Dad, and through him I had fits for the first eight years of my life. But I survived that. When I was eleven my Mum left my real Dad then married again. The physical abuse stopped but the mental abuse carried on. I couldn’t stand the rules. I was bullied at school and left at sixteen. I left home because I had a bad childhood – I was robbed of my childhood. I was about eighteen, nineteen. All I got was a bag of clothes and cash in my pocket. I didn’t know where I was gonna go, where I was gonna sleep, nothing…
I’ve travelled all the over country, as far as Edinburgh up north, the Isle of Wight down south, Great Yarmouth one side and Aberystwyth the other. I’ve been on the streets twenty years on and off, in a lot of hostels, night shelters, and I’ve seen life, I’ve literally seen life.
I used to be a DJ at one time in my life, I had my own disco. It was excellent. I had the decks, the speakers, the lights, the records, everything. I’ve done pubs and clubs, weddings, anniversaries. I’ve worked in factories, on machines, I can drive overhead cranes, I can drive forklifts, I’m a professional painter and decorator, a carpet fitter and window fitter. I’ve done all that type of work in the Birmingham and Midlands area. I’ve even made chain, that’s a big industry up the Midlands. The chain for the Titanic was made in the Midlands, and my great granddad helped to make the chain for the Titanic…When I did chain-making I got made redundant. Anybody can have a job, but is it gonna be safe? You can have it for twelve months and think it’s brilliant and the next day you can be made redundant. Nobody can see that happening.
I’ve abused myself over the years, I really have. In the eighties I used to take heroin and cocaine, for about five or six years of my life. I had a hundred pound a day habit, and that was a lot of money then. And I come off the heroin and cocaine and all the drugs in 1990 and I haven’t touched it since. I compensated it with drink, so basically I became an alcoholic. In my heyday, I could have got up an eight o’clock in the morning, and by twelve o’clock at night I’ve drunk twenty four cans of Special Brew and about four litres of cider. And probably smoked 120 fags. That was a typical day for me.
If you keep getting drunk like I have there’s a lot you can lose. I’ve lost a wife. I’m still legally married, but my wife walked out on me eighteen month ago, just two days before Christmas. I was left all over Christmas and New Year on my own, and I’ll admit, I went back on the drink really, really heavy. This might sound horrible and cruel but she wants to divorce me and I’m not going to give her the divorce. I’ve learned a lot about friendship over my life. Never trust anybody. I thought I’d be with my wife forever, but that wasn’t so.
What do people want through life? People want money, their own house, a car. When you’ve got all that, it ties you down. I’ll give you an example. I had a wife, a house, everything. Then my wife walked out on me. Where’s it left me? On the streets…Things like that are never guaranteed.
To come from all that to this is a great achievement. Now I’m off the streets and I’m clean off drink – I stopped eight months ago. I’m doing well. I’m living in a hostel, waiting to get my own accommodation. I’m hoping to get that then put my life back on track where I want it to go. I’m gonna go to college to get some papers, then I’m gonna get myself a job, get myself into full-time work.
Getting off the streets is easier said than done. Everybody who’s on the streets or in hostels, every single person has got a problem or have had problems. And nobody else knows what problems they’ve got or had. A lot of them find it hard to talk about their problems because they haven’t had people in their lifetime to talk to. It’s like me. I used to take drugs, I was an alcoholic. Nobody’s ever had the decency to ask me, why was you a drug taker? why was you an alcoholic? why did you live on the streets? why did you take that particular path in your life? Nobody’s actually sat down and asked me why.
The hostel where I am at the moment, Simon House, is all single rooms, which is good thing in a way, ’cause you get your own privacy. Each morning I get up, put my kettle on, then put my telly on. I’ll sit down and have two cups of coffee and two fags to wake up. I go out and get the paper, then write my horses down, and I’ll put my bets on. I put a bit a little bit of cash on the horses if I can afford it, and I like to have a go on the lottery - doesn’t everybody in the country?
I get bored, I get really bored. I try to do something to stop the boredom. I’ve got my telly, I’ve got my stereo. I hate loneliness, I hate it. Even when I was with my wife, in a loving relationship, I still got lonely. I hate being totally alone. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time on my own. How do I deal with it? People come to my room, there’s a chap who comes to my room every day of the week, and he checks his racing results on my teletext. That’s a bit of company for me.
Simon House is absolutely pathetic. At the beginning of the year I was feeling down – not depressed but down, and I asked them to talk to my key worker. That was six months ago, and I’m still waiting. I asked them to look into some college courses as well. That was six months ago and I’m still waiting, six months on. So basically, they have not done one solitary thing for me. Nothing.
I asked them two months ago if they’d pay for me to go see my Mum and my Dad, and they said yes they would, come back closer to the date. I went back last week and they turned round point blank and said ‘no’, that they wouldn’t pay. I said I only see my Mum once or twice a year. They said ‘how much do you get?’. I told them, and they said, ‘well, you can pay it out of that’. And I said, ‘I’ve got to pay my service charge, my toiletries, my washing, my cigarettes’. They said, ‘well, your fags is a luxury’. I said, ‘you what?!’ They said, ‘your fags is a luxury’. I said, ‘I’ve never asked you for anything, I’m not gonna ever ask you for anything, and don’t you ask me for anything, get out of my face’. And I walked out. After I’ve paid my service charge – which is about 35 pounds a week – I’m left with about forty pound a week. I can’t afford to pay 25 pounds travel out just like that, it’s impossible.
They give you three meals a day, OK, fair enough, but the food’s crap. The sort of food they feed you there I wouldn’t give to a dog. And you’ve got your own key, you can come and go as you please, you can book nights out. But their attitude towards the residents, all they see in the residents, is pound signs. They don’t see a person for what a person is. They don’t give you any support or anything in there. Basically it’s ‘here’s your key, pay your service charge, bye’. That’s it. You’re left to your own devices. Simon House is a rehabilitation hostel but they’re not rehabilitating people. They’ve never ever asked me once in seven months, ‘are you OK, Robbie?’ Never. All they want off me is their rent every week. That’s all they want. How I’ve stood seven months, I’ll never know. But I have. It’s because I’m stronger than they think I am, mentally and physically. There’s only one member of staff at Simon House who used to be on the street, he was an alcoholic, so he can understand what we’ve come through, one member of staff out of about thirty.
I’ve done the length and breadth of the country, and out of all the places I love Oxford. I come to Oxford about fourteen years ago originally. I’ve left a few times but I’ve always come back. In Oxford I’ve been out and begged, sold the Big Issue. Some people are arrogant towards you, they say, ‘go and get a job’. But some people out there are very understanding and they give you cash. They understand and know that you’re down on your luck. But you can never tell from one person to another, the way they’re gonna treat you. I’ve had people literally attack me when I’ve been begging. I had a man attack me and I fought back, and he came back ten minutes later and he’s given me a ten pound note. And he said, ‘sorry about that mate, here you go’. And I said, ‘that’s alright, no worries’.
In Oxford, basically you’ve got the posh gits, who don’t give a damn about other people – ‘ooh I’ve got loads of money, I’ve got a house’. Then you’ve got the working class, who have to go out and earn the money, who work in the factory or a shop or wherever, they’re working to survive. Then you’ve got people like me, who’s on the dole, on the sick. The people who are rich, and the working class, they don’t like people like me, who’s on the street. They think of us as the scum of the earth. And that’s totally, utterly wrong. We’re human beings at the end of the day, we’ve got a life, a say in what goes on in this godforsaken country, we’ve got a heart. It’s just that our life is unfortunate, the way we’ve ended up. But it’s up to us to make our life better, and we are…
I’m off the drugs and drink but I’ve had nobody to help me. I’ve helped people out in the past, done this for them, done that for them. But when I’ve wanted a bit of help, there’s been nobody there. I’ve had to do it all on my own…which I’m pleased about, because nobody can turn around and say, ‘you’ve asked me to help you on this, you’ve asked me to do that’. I can safely turn around and say, ‘no I haven’t, I’ve done it on my own, if you look at it you’ve asked me for help and I’ve helped you’. Everything I want out of life I go out and get it myself.
With an alcoholic, or a person on drugs, whoever that person may be, if they want to come off it, they’ve got to want to do it for themselves. They haven’t got to do it for anybody else. They’ve got to believe in themselves. I believe in myself, I do. I wanted to come off the drink, so I come off it. I wanted to come off the drugs all those years ago, I come off them. It was either carry on with the drugs and die, or come off and have a life. So I choose to come off and have a life. I’d have been dead years ago. People say, ‘life is what you make it’. It’s up to the individual, what they want to make of their life. I’m determined not to slip. And I won’t slip, no way. I’ve had too many years of it on the streets, on the drugs, on the drink. I’m getting too old for this game.
Life to me is a challenge, and I like challenges. I like to get out there. I get up in the morning, and I think, what’s today gonna hold for me? Fair enough, I’ve had a horrible life. But I’ve survived, I’m a survivor.
I’ve got a lot of wisdom out of music, I pick up on the words and see if they mean anything to me. Like in Brian Adams, there’s a line, ‘please forgive me, I know not what I do’. In my younger days I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I’m a born-again Christian, would you believe it. I was baptised ten years ago. Yeah, I sin every day of the week – I swear, I smoke, but He always forgives you. I don’t preach the Bible, I never have done and never will do. I don’t go to church, I don’t possess a Bible, but it’s personal to me, it’s about what you believe in yourself. I don’t know a lot about the Bible, but I know bits. You think about it, Jesus was on the streets, he was homeless. He relied on other people to pull him up and to feed him.
People will argue about a lot of things, but the top three is money, politics and religion. You look at Northern Ireland, it’s religion.
Do you think Britain and America should have invaded Iraq?
I haven’t got an opinion on that because if they want to invade Iraq that’s up to them, as long as it doesn’t involve me. If he’s got weapons of mass destruction, that’s his problem and not mine, if you know what I mean. I just don’t bother with things like that, they don’t interest me. It was voting yesterday but I didn’t vote. Why should I? Tony Blair’s never done anything for me, why should I do anything for him? These politicians, they want to get the people off the streets. Well, help them out then, build more things for them and help them. The politicians can do it, but they don’t.
Me and my wife used to have really good conversations. We used to start talking about 10 o’clock in the morning, and we’d still be talking at six o’clock in the night, and the day’s just flown. We spoke about everything – religion, politics, life in general. I miss her for that, the conversations. I don’t know how to start a conversation off, but when somebody starts a conversation off I can pick up on it…
To be honest, I’m scared of life, I’m terrified of life, I am. It might sound strange, but nobody knows what the future’s gonna hold for them. I am worried about the future. I’m hoping to get my own place in a month or six weeks, as I said, but what’s gonna happen, is that gonna be the right thing, the right move? I never plan anything, because if I plan anything it always goes wrong, horribly wrong.