Where did you sleep last night? (Soup Diaries #06)

by George on 3 March 2013

1366 x 768 Revisited

Saturday night 9.45 pm and I am on time at the homeless shelter. The 11 guests’ beds are already made up and half of them are lying down. Very little more to be done before lights-out at 11pm and everyone seems relaxed. We catch up on the last week where I am told there is some food if I want to make myself dinner. Savoury rice and a cup of tea are welcome and all is calm. One guest asks if he can watch TV to which the answer is no. A twelfth lady guest has not turned up. She had let another guest know she would be late but I am told that admission is only between 8 and 8.30 pm – arrive any later and you are not admitted. This raises the question where will the lady sleep that night and next week’s shelter is the last one for this particular church and the whole programme, which only runs December – March. It gives Ralph McTell’s Streets of London a whole new meaning

Three of us are doing the overnight shift so it’s time to sort out who does their 2hr 40 minute stint in what order. For a change, I am excused the middle shift and given the last one meaning I get woken at 4am. While most are ready for bed, the men’s toilet floor is very wet so I spend 10 minutes mopping up, not forgetting to put out the safety sign. Ear plugs are available for sensitive sleepers, but there are no takers.



It is time for the main organiser to go home and I am thanked for what seems a modest contribution to the scheme. Much of the food is ready for breakfast in the morning, and off she goes.

Time to make the volunteers beds up too and I am given a decent air-filled mattress which does not deflate overnight. Last session left me sleeping largely on a hard floor meaning I hardly got any sleep and spent most of the next day in bed. However, a firm air mattress on top of a camp bed is not stable and I am warned of the dangers of falling out of bed – not for nothing are all the guests mattresses on the floor, it seems. Curiously, it reminds me of the Duke of Wellington’s answer when asked why he preferred sleeping on his camp bed when back at home after years of campaigning “When it’s time to turn over, it’s time to turn out!”

My call at 4am shows everyone fast asleep in the main multipurpose room and no one is snoring. This gives me time for my book. Having read Peter Atkin’s Four Laws that drive the Universe last time, it’s nice to get stuck into a thriller where Simon Conway’s A Loyal Spy is an object lesson in how to grab a reader’s attention. The first few pages cover atrocities in Sierra Leone where hundreds have their hands amputated freelancers employed by MI6 whose success is measured by the amount of ammunition used, and the transport is a helicopter manned by a better than average Ukrainian crew where the pilot never takes a drink before lunchtime. Best of all, is an inspired way to leave this world – get cremated and have the ashes rolled up into joints which are smoked by your friends.

6.30 am and dials are being turned and stuff switched on in the kitchen. For a change it’s fried eggs rather than scrambled, and the sausages and bacon go into the oven. As the beds are cleared away, breakfast dining tables plus a serving table are put out. In a rush, comes a large urn of hot water for making tea or coffee, two toasters, jam, fruit juices, milk and cornflakes but the chef is struggling with the fried eggs. The frying pan is old, warped and has lost much of its non-stickiness. Amazingly, there is no spatula either to get the eggs out of the frying pan. Unusually, I take over and with more oil, a lid and a large serving spoon, 11 eggs are quickly turned out and served with the sausages and bacon. One guy says he likes his fried eggs done with the yolk hard-cooked, but I am not in the mood for à la carte and three minutes later, all are served.

Like any catering operation the clearing up and cleaning take as long as the setting out, but all is eventually finished. Back home, I wonder how long my new book will keep me awake?


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