Cigarettes and Smiles

By Milhouse Storey, BA Arabic and History

Steve – I’d walked by Steve because I didn’t have any cash on me, but stopped further down the street in a quiet place to wait for a friend and smoke a cigarette. It was dark and already cold, although it was only early evening. I saw Steve pick up his bag and cup and head over to a corner next to me, where he’d been spending the nights. As I rolled my cigarette and he lit a butt, I nodded in greeting and remarked at the cold weather.

“Tell me ‘bout it. I lost two this week…overnight to hypothermia.”

“You wouldn’t believe it, the way people treat you, it’s outrageous. People will stand right in front of me and have a conversation, ‘Ooh we’ve just gone shopping, and we’re off to Spain…’ It’s like you’re not even there.”

“I get people stopping in front of me and counting pennies, that’s right, counting…I don’t need your f*cking 5 pence. (He throws and kicks a 5 pence and it ricochets of the side of a polished car, leaving a small but discernible dent. He doesn’t clock it. Some people standing nearby chatting glance over then disappear.)  What the f*ck do you expect me to do with that, wait until I get 200 one pennies and then I’ll have £2 for a hot drink? I need £15 to get a bed for the night, but no one would give me that. And I get people offering me hats and gloves – I’ve already got ‘em otherwise I’d be dead by now. I don’t mean to be ungrateful. But it’s just that people don’t understand the half of it. They couldn’t last a night, that lot, they’re soft. Us: we’re made of steel, cos we have to be to last.”

“People see me smoking a cig and they think, ‘he’s alright, he doesn’t need money, he’s got tobacco.’ What do you think I’m smoking? I’m smoking butts off the ground someone’s dropped. The only thing I bought is the papers: 30p in Sainsburys, 40p in Tesco and 60p in most corner shops..”

“People say, why don’t you get a job and buy a house. No one will give you a job, ‘cos they’ll say, ‘What are your bank details,’ and you can’t open a bank account if you haven’t got any money, and who’s gonna give me that money?”

“I can’t even stay in one of these hostels, cos that’s where the paedos and what-not are. They come out of prison and find it hard to get housing – they got nowhere to go so they go there. And I can’t be with ‘em.”

“The Muslims are the best ones. A Muslim guy bought me this bag of food. Just came up and gave it to me. Cos charity’s still important to them, and they mean it. But the Christians…it’s in the Bible too, but they give nothing. I’ve worked it out. White Christians, British, they’re the worst. Like that place (gestures to a Catholic Church), just guess how much money they have! But are their doors even open? No. There’s nowhere to go.”

David –David and I met when I’d been napping on a patch of grass in Little Venice by the canal, a quiet spot in the mayhem of Paddington. He came towards me when I sat up and smiled at him, and he offered to share a cigarette with me. In return, I shared the tangerines I’d bought for lunch w

ith him, and we sat in the summer sun and I listened to him.

“I walk miles and miles every day. I get up with the sun and don’t stop till she’s gone. This morning I walked from Victoria to here and I’ll walk back and forth a few more times today. Keeps me active doesn’t it. And the whole time my brain is going, it keeps

me thinking.”

“I keep a lot in my head; poetry too. I wrote a poem for this girl I loved once, whilst I was walking around the Serpentine, you know in Hyde Park. I walked around it 47 times.” (David proceeded to recite to me the poem he’d composed for a girl he’d loved. It was beautiful and lyrical; I wish I’d recorded it.)

“I’m owed money you know, by the council, they owe me £-. They’re meant to send it on 18th July and I know exactly what I’ll do with it: there’s an offer on in Holland & Barrett for protein powder, for 3 tubs of -grams it costs £-. So I can buy -tubs straight off, and they’ll keep me going. Then I don’t need to worry about buying food and whatnot. I already have some in my hostel room stacked up from the last time I got money.”

“I’ve got all sorts in my hostel room, stuff I find that I take back to my room and use it as decoration. Lamp shades. I even found some Mickey Mouse leggings on the street, on the street! So I took ‘em and I wear ‘em…so what, they’re warm!”

Carl – Carl was sat outside my local station when I met him, which is in ‘Greater London’ i.e. rural suburbia, not somewhere you often see homeless people. In fact, in the last 20 years, I’ve only seen 2 people I’ve known to be homeless in my small area; they were both in the last 3 months.

– “I’m a bit down on my luck at the moment. So I thought I’d just sit down ‘ere and drink some wine and read the paper, why not? I’d normally move around a bit but ‘cos of my health problems, I’ve got health problems in the stomach area, my solar plexis. A cigarette won’t help that but I’m a smoker aren’t I, so f*ck it! What’s your name?”

– “Milhouse.”

– “Nice to meet you Milhouse, I’m Carl. Is that your first name? The Simpsons is my favourite. I like Hollyoaks too. I used to watch it with my girlfriend, Lol. Her name’s Olive but that’s what I called her.”

– “That’s a beautiful name.”

– “Yeah and she was too, a goddess. I really believe that. Anyway, she’d be watching it and the whole way through I’d be talking, giving a narration, and she’d get so pissed off! Then when I was in prison, I had to go prison for a couple years, I watched it and I thought, this is actually good!”

(I lent him a lighter and said he could keep it. He handed it back to me and said it’s alright, then he put out his hand to look at it again and saw it said ‘Rasta’ on it. He got excited:)

– “Oh Rasta! That’s so cool! I used to be Rasta you know. Can I keep it? (with a sheepish smile) I had dreadlocks and everything. I’ve had dreadlocks three times in my life. One time, when I got back with Lol, I cut ‘em off but I decided to burn ‘em, cos they’re my dreadlocks, they’re sacred! So I made a fire on this green by our house, but our house was next to a school…”

– “You burnt your dreadlocks on a school green!”

– “Na it wasn’t that it was the school green that was the issue. But hair smells you know, if you burn a wisp of hair. So I was burnin’ ‘em and it was goin’ right over everyone’s houses and people had their washing on the line and that…! And everyone was closing their windows! And Lol laughed so much, she used to call me Mad Carl, Mad Cockney Carl.”

(I explained I had to dash off to SOAS.)

– “Alright Milhouse, you go and do your thing. Have a good day! See ya babe!”



Homelessness has risen in England, 2010-2017, by


The rise in rough sleepers has been


77,000 families were living in temporary accommodation in March 2017, including

120,000 children.

Source: National Audit Office


Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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