Measuring out life in punches and beer cans

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The Independent Online
JOHN (not his real name) is 31 and single. He used to have a steady job and be in a steady relationship. He owned a home, which he shared with his partner. Seven years ago the relationship fell apart. He 'just signed everything over to her', gave up his job as a metal polisher and moved from Wales to London to try to make a new start.

John now begs all day with his friends on the streets of London. He turned to drink to counteract his loneliness and to help him face the hardship.

'If I get the price of two cans, I'll stop and sit down . . . Once the cans have run out we come back and beg the price of another two. We beg until the off-licence closes.' At first he was embarrassed to beg but now he cannot imagine any other life.

The past week has been 'terrible, real bad'. He constantly faces verbal abuse and physical violence. 'Quite a few times people have punched me in the face . . . I could hurt them back but I am the one who is going to get the backlash.

'The police keep you in for about four hours, then they throw you out. I always plead guilty. It's a fine or a day's imprisonment, so if you've been in a night you are OK.' He wonders why the police do not help him more.

John has not seen his family since he arrived in London, and his real wish is to see his mother again. But he feels too bad to go back and see her. He just cannot see his way out of his present situation. 'I've gone past that stage sweetheart, you know what I mean?'