We’ve been away for a while and now it’s back to normal life and work. Over Christmas, when we came back, we looked for Eric and were delighted to see that he wasn’t there. Good- he’s taken himself to a “nice” shelter for some turkey. But alas, the next day he returned and we were presented with our usual problem. What the hecky-peck do we give him/do to him/say to improve his predicament? So Pat went off with the hot-water bottle at around 11.00pm and found Eric shuffling around a piece of polystyrene, in his usual outfit. I imagine he was pleased to see Pat as it had been a while- over a month in fact. Pat questioned him about the polystyrene, and Eric told him it had been given to him by a nice man called Roger. We know Roger, he lives on one of the boats next to us, and he is indeed a nice man. When Pat told me about this, I was a little miffed that Eric had accepted Roger’s polystyrene but not the ‘arctic-ready’ sleeping bag we had offered him a few weeks before. Maybe Eric likes Roger more than us, I thought. Maybe Eric thinks we neglected him by going away for so long. Probably he just didn’t feel the sleeping bag was a necessary addition. I guess he’s better equipped to decide which materials best suit his needs. And I guess polystyrene is probably a very good way of keeping yourself warm, and it offers some ‘squish’/comfort underneath you.
So Pat and Eric had a chat, and it turns out that Eric has a store unit where he keeps his things, somewhere in central London. And when it got REALLY cold before Christmas he took to sleeping in there secretly. Phew. Because being outside during that cold spell, well, it wouldn’t have been advisable. Eric told Pat more about his work, and what he did over Christmas and Pat took a secret mental note of the company that Eric said he worked for.
To be honest, I think we both imagined that Eric didn’t really go to work at all in the day, but just pretended to. Although, when I’d spoken to Eric about it he sounded very convincing. I definitely wanted to imagine him waking up in the morning, getting on the train with the rest of the work-force, grabbing a latte on the way and arriving fresh-faced for a day at the office. With his rucksack, sleeping back and polystyrene. But I kind of thought it very unlikely.
Happily enough, I was wrong. Pat made a call to the alleged company and spoke to a nice lady who knew exactly who Eric was, and expressed grave concern at his situation, which she already knew all about. Pat explained to her that he’d been worried about Eric, but that actually, it was reassuring to know that at least he did have somewhere to go every day, that he could therefore probably afford to eat, and even rent somewhere if he really wanted to. Which then made the whole situation even more interesting, because he really is choosing this way of life. Which I’ve said before, but the difference is that now, I KNOW he is. Because he could get himself out of it if he wanted to.
Last week I went to a ‘Zumba’ class near the boat, (don’t know what I was thinking- and I’m not even going to explain what it entailed. Use your imagination) and I was terrible at it. There I met some well-heeled local ladies, who told me about what other classes they’d done and what leisure centres they frequented. When I told them where I lived they looked a bit baffled- not excited or curious, just plain confused. No- not confused, SUSPICIOUS. Yes, they eyed me with suspicion and changed the subject for a while (presumably to let the information sink in a bit). Then they came back with a string of questions, which I attempted to answer without making myself sound like some sort of freak. But the general gist was- “WHY? Why, on earth do you choose to live in such a way?” Without, of course, actual saying that. More in a “so what’s it like not having any utilities?” or ”and what do you do about sewage?” (Which could be translated as ‘so what’s it like to to be dirty?’ and ‘what’s it like to poo into the river?”. (It’s quite normal to ask these questions but they shouldn’t be the very first/only questions asked to someone living on a boat.) So anyway- in a roundabout way, what I’m thinking is- I AM ERIC! In this situation. In this very specific situation.
So, now I feel it is not my place to question Eric’s choices. They’re his. And in the meantime, we can just keep an eye on him- as we would any neighbour.