At three o'clock on any morning London is a de d city. A few policemen stroll about and a tjic1de of night workers hurry home. But if you lea 'e the main roads and wander down the side streets, under railway arches or on to bombed sites you will discover another world inhabited by thousands who do not fit into a conventional way of life: the meths drinkers, the alcoholics, the drug addicts and the misfits. Most of them are just a few are women. me
E majority are in
middle age and over. So e are intelligent, articu ate and even amusing in macabre way. There are former doctors, solicitors and one or two men whd once offered Mass everly day and who can nosV offer their friends
a meths bottle. like John the Monk, a former Trappist. Now when he is drunk he talks in Latin.
Others are monosyllabic, glasSy eyed and almost imMobile, They are all dressed in clothes which othsirs have cast off, Many are Icompletely unkempt. Others still have a semblar cc of dignity and make efforts to get themselves de-lOused every two or threh weeks. Some are ashamed of their condition, Others display it openly, flaunting their meths bottle in your face.
e Welfare State has pa ed these people by. Son4e religious organisations try to help but the bread they hand out is often buttered with a thick coat of Christian doctrine. Ona Evangelical Mission rounds the men up, bombards them for an hour with Hot Gospelling, and sends them on their way with a cup of tea.
t there is one organisat on that has come to tCriiS with the kind of men wh inhabit this other wo d. The Simon Commu ity, founded four years ago by Anton WallichClifford. accepts these people as they are, recognising that the chance of rehabilitating them into norral society is slim and the alternative is not to ignore their existence but to create another society in which they can exist.
The Simon Community says that there are already facilities for those who can be rehabilitated and they pass suitable cases on. Eventually the looselyknit Simon workers plan to start a village for those who just cannot cope with life. Meths drinkers and alcoholics who have dried
out will be able to live and work there under the supervision of social workers.
The London Simon organisation has four centres: a meths shelter in East London. a farm at Canterbury, Kent, and two buildings in North London. Those who work for Simon do so for their keep, and it is even difficult to guarantee that when money is short. At one of the North London houses 29 people lived for £12 last week.
Jim Fitch, the Cornmunity Leader in North London, runs the organisation with an ever changing staff of students, seminarians, priests and young people. even former meths drinkers, who drop in for a week or two or for several months to give a hand.
Every night at midnight an old ambulance leaves the Simon house—a derelict building given to the Community by the local council. Until the early morning a team of workers
distributes hot soup, bread and clothes to the homeless people of London.
The man in charge of the "soup run" is Tony, a tough, Irish, 34-year-old former meths drinker. He took to the road when his marriage broke up, began on wine and when that no longer had any effect he went on to meths. "You drink to forget," he says.
Tony was in a "school" of meths men—six or seven who always drink together and usually live together in a "derry" (derelict building). Drinking together means that the bottle of "jake" (meths) is
passed round until either the bottle is finished or everyone in the group is insensibly drunk.
There are two kinds of drink used by meths men. One is surgical spirits which costs about 2s. a bottle at any chemist and the other is methylated spirits ('bluey"). Both are usually "charged up" with water or perhaps Tizer before being drunk. This, says Tony, helps to kill the taste.
Meths men do not drink meths because they enjoy its taste. They drink it to get drunk. When they are drunk they can beg better because they lose their inhibitions, and by begging better they get more money for more meths and so it goes on.
Tony eventually got off meths in January after ten years, came to terms
with myself," he says, "I accepted that my marriage was finished and I accepted that I must do something about my drinking. I just walked out of a 'skipper' (a derelict house used for sleeping in) one morning. I want to put to good use what I know about meths men."
Now, instead of sitting around drinking jake. Tony spends his nights feeding, helping and talking to his former drinking companions.
At midnight we set out in the ambulance. an odd assortment of people: Tony, the former meths drinker; Tamara, a 17year-old Persian girl studying for a sociology degree at London University; Elizabeth, 23. who had just arrived and wanted to do something more worthwhile than a routine oflice job: Jim, an alcoholic since 1949, turned dry; Fr. John Roberts, studying sociology at London University who gives up two nights every week to go on the soup run; Roy. the driver; Lyn. a student at Southampton
University and Alfie, another former meths man.
We pulled up under a railway arch at Waterloo Station 30 minutes after midnight. The ambulance was immediately surrounded by a score of men. They each received a cup of soup and a hunk of bread. "Thank you very much and God bless you," one of them said. "You're welcome. sir," the Simon worker replied unself
consciously, preserving what little dignity the man had left.
We met Lavelle. That might be his surname. his Christian name or a nickname. Nobody knows. Meths men pick up strange names for themselves. Names like Wee Barnie. Korky the Cat and Scotch Ann.
Lavelle has been on bluey for 15 years and his bottle was sticking out of his pocket. He was shaking. spoke, mostly nonsensically, in monosyllables. He was completely drunk, with staring eyes.
"Where do you get your n icths'?" we asked.
"Anywhere," Lavelle replied. Like several of the other men he wanted a new coat. The Simon workers gave him one.
At Waterloo that night the soup run dispensed 135 cups of soup. At 1.20 a.m, we moved on to find the "heaters." These are meths men and alcoholics so called because they sleep on the grids through which the warm air escapes from factories and hotels on to the pavement. We found four near Waterloo—none capable of holding a conversation.
The Simon workers knew them all. They bent down close to them, spoke quietly. shook hands and did what they could to make them comfortable. One of the men said he wanted to "dry out." The soup run crew promised they would take him in the next night.
Later in the night, Tony said, night workers in the factory opposite would throw buckets of water over the men "just for fun."
At 1.45 a.m. on to Charing Cross where every night in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben hundreds of men and women without homes or belongings sleep rough.. As usual they are waiting for the ambulance. We follow Tony who combs the Embankment Gardens, waking sleeping men and asking: "Would you like some soup?"
"It's getting cold," Tony says, "but these fellows don't feel it. There's one thing about jake, it warms you up. When we get back to the ambulance a man is giving a sermon about "the Master up there" to anyone who cares to listen. "This is an argument," he tells us. He gives the same
sermon every night.
A young girt and boy want some soup. One of the Simon workers thinks they are on drugs. The gill is a teenager, the boy is 25.
After Charing Cross the soup has run out so we return to the house to get some more. At 3.5 a.m. we are in Covent Garden, alive with men loading lorries. The ambulance is surrounded as soon as it comes to a stop. Tony goes off in search of the heaters. The worst in London he says.
We find them in their usual place, on the grids of the Strand Palace Hotel. Some are sitting on boxes, some are standing. Tony says they will stand all night. They say not a word. Tony asks them if they want soup. Some nod, others grunt. Another calls out "bread, bread."
They are all lousy and some have lice bites on their faces. These men are the same bunch night after night, men who have given up all hope. They are completely lifeless. They smell, just as the rotting vegetables in Covent Garden smell.
One stirs. He's known as Belfast, He tells us he tried staying one night at a council hostel, hut they threw him out because someone stole a sheet. It wasn't him, he says.
Belfast is married with two children back in Ire land. He says he will be jailed for not paying maintenance if he goes back and is pleased to hear from Tony that they no longer send defaulters to prison. He had spent the earlier part of the night in the Daily Express garages but Says someone threw a bucket of water over him. His clothing is still damp.
Like mans of his companions Belfast works when he can. The previous week he got a casual job as a stOreman in a restaurant and earned £7. Later in the night we stopped at a queue outside a Labour Exchange in the West End. A dozen men were there reserving the best places so that they could have first choice of jobs in the morning.
By the time the Simon ambulance drew out of Covent Garden nearly 500 cups of soup had been dispensed, and that, Tony says, represents only a tiny proportion of the men and women who need food each night.
As the last of the meths men shuffled out of Covent Garden and back on to their bombed sites and warm air grids a beautifully dressed young couple wandered among the colourful tulips ready for the morning delivery. "Darling," said the girl, "let's go and have a great big breakfast over at the Savoy."