THE BROADER PICTURE: POCKET FULL OF I

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The Independent Culture
THE BROADER PICTURE

If you have nothing, what do you have? Photographer Moyra Peralta went to some of London's street people - homeless or uprooted or in some sort of flight - and asked to see what they had on them. They emptied their pockets and pouches for her.

These are not survival kits. They are identity kits. They do not seem to answer the obvious question: how do I stay alive on the streets? Instead, they answer, sometimes triumphantly, the questions: who am I, and do I still exist? There is a mixture of physical necessities (medicines, small change, the odd orange or sachet of sugar, tobacco) with gear for keeping in touch with others in this world or the next (religious medals, a Remembrance Day poppy, a foreign coin, a postcard). Several were carrying leads, bones or collars for dogs.

When he froze to death in the Alps over 5,000 years ago, the man they now call Itzi or "the Iceman" was carrying a lot of fascinating gear. Materially he was far better equipped than these men on the London streets. Among his kit were fire-making tools, bow and arrows, a copper axe, a bird-net, a tiny punch for sharpening flint blades, and moss to wipe his backside on. But he also carried with him up the mountain charms and keepsakes, whose ritual meaning will probably never be known.

It was the same with the German poet Gunter Eich. After his country's defeat in 1945, he found himself a vagrant with nothing but a rucksack. In a poem which became famous, written in short words as hard as pebbles, he listed his few possessions: a cap, a razor, a tin plate on which he had scratched his name "with a precious nail". But "what I love most" was a bit of pencil-lead, and a notebook. While he still had those, he was more than a body tormented by hunger and cold. Like Max and Darren, Sean and Rory and the others, he wrapped himself in hope, dreams, pride and good memories. With their help, he got through the winter. Of these men whose kit is shown here, Simon has already died in an accident before the cold weather began. As for the rest, the world has given up on them, but surviving means not giving up on the world. !

Tommy: `Big Issue' magazines, vendor's ID card, spectacle case, cigarettes, peppermints, nailclippers, wristwatch

Max: pipe, tobacco, tobacco pouch, penknife, Remembrance Day poppy, ballpoint pens (Ladbrokes), broken keyring, piece of hessian

Simon: tobacco tin, dog-ends, matches, candle stub, loose change, paper towels, dog biscuits and bone, collar and lead, necklace, combs, prescription, notebook, paperback, two photos, stamps, `In & Around Covent Garden' magazine, tape cassette, button, envelope, pencil, bullet, plastic knife and fork, three tubes glue

Michael: Social Security book, moneybag, spectacles and case, religious picture and prayer, crucifix and chain, pounds 5 note, London Underground ticket, loose change, US coin, lighters, pencil, comb, chewing gum, Boots Medilink card, postcards

Rory: miniature elephant mascot, address book, personal stereo, two paperbacks, passport, Virgin Atlantic docket, inhaler, brush, two cigarette lighters, matchbook, pen, hammer, torch (belonging to friend)

Darren: dog, dog leads, keys, penknife, cigarettes, lighter, matches, loose change, shoppers' points card, religious medals on string, prayer printed on metal, photo of dog, paperclip, safety pins, nine packets of sugar, paper serviette, personal papers, paracetamol tablets, emery board, plastic change bags

Sean: begging placard, orange, money tin, loose change, paper hankie, cashew nuts, pair socks, origami flower, pocket dictionary, postcard, religious picture, whistle, shoelaces, plaster, broken pencil, Irish coin

Chris, Jimmy and Malcolm (collectively): personal stereo, lighters, cigarettes, vitamin tablets, legal and medical papers, photo of Jack Nicholson, cartoon drawing, loose change, match, wristband, sprig of heather

Ray: wallet, notebook, tissues, address book, news cutting, Outreach contact card, phone cards, dice, stamp, loose change, combs, spectacles, watch, pen, playing card, cigar stub, pen cap, mouthwash, matches, buttons, shaving cream, soap, string, needle, thread, safety razor in plastic case, throat sweets, scissors, antiseptic cream, wire and wire springs, paperback

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