It’s a Big Issue

Saturday 1486 – 4th February 2012


I know this is longer than my normal Saturday posts but I hope you’ll stick with it. It’s based on a real life story.  Thanks


A real love story…

Hello my name’s John, I’m 42 and I’ve just got married to the love of my life. I know you might be thinking there’s nothing unusual in that but my story is a bit more unusual than most and if you’ve got time to hear it I’d like to share it with you.

You see the love of my life is very seriously ill and I am taking care of her. I knew she was ill when I married her and that was part of the reason why I did. I’m paying her back for changing her life completely to be with me and pulling me back from a life without love which was certain to end even more badly than it began.

But I’ve moved on too fast so let me go back.  

I was brought up in a children’s home, I guess because my parents didn’t want me, although I never really knew why. At 13 I was given heroin by some of the older boys and never had a choice about whether I took it or not; you took it or you got the hell beaten out of you. That’s the way it was.  

Anyway I liked it.

 I didn’t know what love was then and can’t remember ever feeling wanted by anyone, so heroin took me to a place that was warm and wonderful; an escape from horrible reality.  I didn’t get addicted right away though and at the time I didn’t even know you could. I was truly an innocent.

Anyway I expect you can guess what happened next. Once I was addicted I soon started to steal, got caught of course and eventually sent to prison and then quickly spiralled into homelessness. Children’s homes and prison don’t exactly prepare you for the real world so I never felt I would be able to manage keeping track of paying rent and that sort of thing.

There was something very freeing about living on the streets. No responsibility and no-one to answer to after a life of always having someone else in control.

I was pretty much dead inside and wouldn’t know an emotion if it punched me in the face. In fact when I was punched in the face (this happened a few times ) I didn’t really feel that either; the heroin took care of stopping feelings.

Apart from my dog who provided warmth, companionship and some protection, I lived alone on the streets for the best part of 19 years; except for a couple of years in prison in-between. I lived from begging, stealing and helping myself to things from skips and rubbish bins until 5 years ago I met Barbie.

Her real name is Barbara and I have no idea now why I started to call her Barbie because she’s nothing like the doll!  Anyway Barbie was working in the supermarket that I used to stand outside,  asking people who came out if they could spare me some change.

Barbie came out one day, gave me a cup of coffee and a sandwich and actually talked to me.  This is a pretty rare occurrence when you are living on the streets with most people just walking past you as though they don’t even see you;  sometimes even crossing the road to avoid you.  I expect you’ve done that?  You become invisible unless the police want to move you on or someone wants to take out their anger on you and kick you about a bit.

She came out most days after that and gave me food. She was wonderfully funny ( still is!) and so kind. About a year after we met she gave up her room in a rented house to live on the streets with me and my dog.

Most of you will find this strange and I do myself now when I look back at that time, but we were in love or at least she was in love with me.  I was still taking heroin so feelings only rarely managed to get through the drug’s control but I knew I cared about someone for the first time in my life. I sold The Big Issue because I wanted us to eat better and didn’t want to keep stealing and begging. Despite the lack of feelings I knew I was happier than I’d ever been until Barbie became ill 2 years ago, not because she was on the streets though, this was a serious unavoidable illness which threatens her life but probably saved mine.

I knew we couldn’t continue to live on the streets and with a struggle we managed to get housed by the council, on account of Barbie’s illness, and I started a methadone course which I’m gradually weaning off now.

It’s been very, very hard to adjust to settled life and even harder to experience emotion but I’m determined to succeed. I’m determined because just as I had no choice about whether I took heroin or not at the age of 13 I feel ( yes I feel !) that I have no choice but to be capable of caring for my wife Barbie because I love her so much; an emotion I am glad to be able to feel. As each human being does ,she deserves to be cared for when she needs it the most.

I’m telling you this story because I want you to know that few people set out in life to deliberately become junkies, alcoholics or homeless. It could happen to you or someone you know so try not to judge too harshly.

I’m hoping the next time you see someone begging on the streets or selling the Big Issue you’ll stop for a moment and say hello or smile at them even if you don’t give them money or buy the magazine. Just treating them like a fellow human being and acknowledging they’re there makes such a difference.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to me and wish me luck.



John and Barbara are not the real names of the people involved and the photo of the Big issue seller is not a photo of John but the story, though a little fictionalised, is based on someone’s real life.

Thanks for reading.

If you want to know more about the Big Issue you can do that here



You can see my photography blog Photomania here


27 comments on “It’s a Big Issue

  1. […] weeks post It’s a Big Issue was pretty serious and as this Saturday was both my Birthday and World Happy Day  ( which you can […]

  2. nuvofelt says:

    I’m so glad you have posted this. I don’t often shop, but when I do I go with cash in my pocket and actively seek out the Big Issue sellers. I know that they are trying to turn their lives around, and that they have bought those magazines in the first place. In effect they are a ‘small business’, just starting out, however, they are also ‘just starting out’ on the rest of their lives, too.

    Thank you

  3. mj monaghan says:

    Great post and story, Hellen!

  4. Emotive story, Helen. Well done for bringing it out here. I’m always aware that sometimes, by no particular fate or reason, people can find themselves homeless. The thought of it scares me. I curse the tabloids for the stories that Big Issue sellers are all from eastern Europe and live in mansions ( I exagerate to make my point) but you know what I mean.They fall foul of “scrounger press” . I feel for everyone of them. There but for the grace of some geezer above go I.

    • hellenjc says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting Al… I am terrified of poverty ( haveing come from it ) Homeless people are often those who are the least able to cope with life.. and therefore the ones who need the most help..

  5. scillagrace says:

    Yes, with Kate Winslet starring. I did see that one; brings up many questions.

  6. Many years back I helped a few times to feed the homeless. I learned a lot. Some of them were actually very kind people. One really liked his life and shared a lot of his life-story with us. He was not actually homeless, but always sitting on the streets, scrounging (which he used instead of begging). But there were others with really terrible stories, like someone who started living in the streets after he came out of prison (after murdering his wife’s murderer). So even if I’m not always giving money to them, I at least look them in the eyes, saying no thank you, if they are being friendly (many of them are!), with a friendly smile.

  7. Oh my! This is my first visit to your blog and… and what? Many things. ‘The Big Issue’ is such a great thing, the whole concept. Building self esteem for those who have been to terrible places both inner and outer. They get a portion of the proceeds from every copy they sell. It helps them to help themselves and educate people about the plights of people on the margins of life – like your story here. The magazine often includes stories like this, they are sad but hopeful.
    I hope people follow your suggestion to buy a copy if they can or stop to say hello. It’s a cool magazine! The quality of the articles is high and by no means only about homelessness, poverty, addiction and so forth.
    I could go on and on, this is a subject close to my heart. I am in receipt of a pension (not old age). If I lived in the US, just for an example, and had not my loving family, I would probably be homeless too.
    Some people start life with less than half a chance, like the fellow in your story. Sometimes one mistake, one accident of fate, one anything, can derail a life.
    I still have much more to say on this subject but I’ll stop now with this : I commend you for this post and the heart that made you post it.

  8. Thanks for sharing this story with us Helen. The lives of Big Issue Sellers usually run on similar lines and I have nothing but admiration for them for getting up, going out in all weathers and being cheerful. Puts most people’s “problems” in perspective. The tragedy is very real though.

  9. Lisa says:

    That is a sad story but one full of positive tones as well, I feel very moved by his strength and attitude, all of us need to be thankful for the smallest of things, you never know if or when you can end up losing everything, love is the most important thing to me, possessions are just trivia really a way to make life run a bit more smoothly and comfortable. Glad I read this Helen, thanks for sharing xx

    • hellenjc says:

      Thank you Lisa.. I like the way you describe possessions as being a “way to make life run a bit more smoothly and comfortable” good way of putting it.

  10. drawandshoot says:

    A beautiful-sad story Helen. Thank you

  11. totsymae1011 says:

    Wow…I’m a bit speechless. So many dynamics to homelessness.

  12. scillagrace says:

    Great post! Thanks for taking on The Big Issue. I wonder if we’d ever see sex offenders like that, too? I’m sure they don’t set out with that as their life ambition,either.

    • hellenjc says:

      Thanks Scilla. That’s an interesting point and much more difficult to answer.

      • There’s a film called Little Children that deals with that – the plight of the sex offender. The character was not a pleasant person at all, but he loved his mother. Her last words to her son before she died were ‘Be good’. So he cut off his genitals because he knew he could not control his illness. He had no one left to love or be loved by.

      • hellenjc says:

        Oh I haven’t heard of that film.. sounds terribly sad.. thanks for telling us about it.

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