At the heart of homelessness. Peter Stone, an ex-vendor shares his incredible story of how he found love
I awoke to the sound of a road sweeper. Man, it was cold. I had absolutely nothing at all, and I was all alone in the world. An unkempt young lady on the street took me to a day centre, a place to eat and wash. I was in a desperate world. I didn’t feel able to tell anyone how I ended up living on the streets. I drank tea. I was lost, I was homeless.
Soon I was sleeping out under the footpath to the Tate Modern with a friend – without him I would have not been able to survive. He showed me all the different ways of living on the streets. Eventually he went into rehab and I was alone again. I missed him but I knew this was his best shot.
One cold night under the footway I saw a small bedraggled fox; I threw it a few sandwiches and watched as ‘Foxy’ ate some and then bounded off some distance to eat the rest. For months this went on and each night she would come a little bit closer until eventually she took it from my hand.
We had a mutual respect and when I woke one morning to find her a few feet from me curled up, I welled up. When I moved, she shot off . Night after night this went on until I had to move – the curator had found my little den, and one day when I returned all my blankets had gone. My alcohol dependency had taken over, I was drinking day and night not caring about the damage I was doing to myself.
I was almost always drinking. Many people won’t understand how cold it is for people living on the streets, you feel constantly chilled to the bone. The drink helps. I began walking, looking for hope. I circled London and ended up at Waterloo, and it was here my life would change. On Waterloo footbridge I met a man selling The Big Issue, his name was ‘Peter’ and he was well known by many – he was a homeless helpdesk. We got chatting and I resolved to try selling the magazine.
We went to the Big Issue offices and they told me that I could have 10 magazines to start me off . Peter told me to stick by him to learn how to make some sales, and how to keep the right amount to buy more magazines. I slept next to Peter for many, many nights, rising at the crack of dawn to catch the early commuters through Waterloo.
And one day when I was selling I met Alison. She would stop and chat and sometimes buy an Issue, and then she would go off to work. I sometimes saw her going home, but not often, as I would be looking for somewhere to sleep.
After a while I would buy her a Boost bar to give her energy (she always seemed worn out) and she’d chat if she had time. A summer passed and each day I bought a Boost for Alison. Sometimes during the day I sat in the Peace Garden at the Imperial War Museum and drank White Lightning. I had some coloured pencils and a pad of artist’s paper and I would sit there drawing whatever came into my head. A rabbit, a hare, birds, snails. One day I drew a picture of Foxy (right), had it framed, and gave it to Alison.
Our friendship was growing but I would get on Peter’s nerves talking about her and one day he said either ask her for a coffee or shut up! So I asked her, the very next time I saw her, to go for a coffee with me on the station forecourt. She said she would think about it.
A few more weeks passed and one day out of the blue she said yes, let’s go for a coffee. I nearly fainted. I didn’t have any clothes for a date so the staff at a hostel let me go through the ‘lost and found’, from which I got a pair of white trousers and a white jacket which I washed and ironed at least three times – I looked like Lawrence of Arabia.
When I walked to Waterloo station to meet her my knees were wobbly, my mouth dry, I must have walked around Tie Rack about 22 times. And then, to my delight, there she was. We eventually went for a drink at a little bar not far from the station and it was in here that we both relaxed and really got talking, we just had so much in common. As I walked Alison to the bus stop I so wanted to kiss her, yet I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to spoil the night we had had. That evening was probably one of the happiest times of my life.
It’s now almost 11 years on, and Alison and I have our own home, an amazing 8-year-old daughter, three cats, and even though we face the same problems as everyone else making ends meet, I couldn’t want for anything more in my life. Alison is still as beautiful to me as when I would see her on that bridge at Waterloo East.