Homeless and up a tree by @TommyHolgate

Can you remember the first time you saw a homeless person? Or tramp as ‘they’ were called in comparatively ancient times. I recall, as a 7-year-old, being scared by what seemed like a monster man. A bearded bloke coated in earthy tones [in reality his colour scheme may have boasted myriad hues but was all browned up with grub and filth].

“What is that?” I asked my father.

“That’s a homeless man,” he replied.

Me: “What? A man who doesn’t have a house?”

Daddio: “Yep.”

Me: “But I thought all men had a house.”

Pappa: “Not all men. Some of them haven’t got enough money to live in a house.”

Me: “So where does he live then?”

Old Man: “On the street. Sometimes they sleep on park benches or even in bins.”

Me: “Whoah. That doesn’t sound like it’d be very nice…”

Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with the plight of the street dweller. How do they survive? Where/when do they wash their hands? Of course, some of them don’t (wash or survive) which is a thought most of us would rather not have passing through our spectrum of contemplation [as such, I am sorry for bringing it up].

This was the reason that, during the ‘party days’ [I had a problematic alcoholic phase for a decade between 16 and 26] I would regularly sleep outside. This irrational sense of adventure led to morning wakes in a variety of surroundings, from high school running tracks to high-rise car parks, a good few building sites [scaffolding is bed to a climb-hungry p***head], park benches, bus stops etc. 

I would usually be disappointed if it were a bench or bus stop because I deemed it ‘not original enough to warrant telling the story’ – so there are many occasions* that even my best mates, or the people I was out with the previous night, don’t even know about. Daft really.

I blame Jim Morrison.

I mean I don’t really blame him as blaming anyone for anything seems redundant. Instead, an acceptance of circumstances, followed by appropriate action, is always far more productive.

But he did once utter the following quote, on the topic of boozing:

“It’s like gambling somehow. You go out for a night drinking and you don’t know where you’re going to end up the next day.”

Rather than have this sentiment as a deterrent, I had it artistically scrawled onto a plaque on my bedroom wall. It was a mantra.

Fasting forward to the present moment [before I veer further down Boozetale Tangent Alley] and I found myself spending three nights homeless, hiding up a tree, in Spain.

Why? A combination of running out of money while visiting a mate [ah, the life of an invoice-chasing freelancer] and a burning desire to see what it would be like to kip rough in a place where I knew nobody and couldn’t speak the language. How would I survive, and where/when would I wash my hands?

 I wanted to find out. Even if it didn’t sound like it would be very nice.

*30 in total. Which is a figure that one should never really be proud of. I can honestly say that pursuing the label of ‘boozy legend’ for the approval of other individuals is not worth bothering with.


Tommy Holgate AKA presenter, comedian and columnist for many a national newspaper including The Sun.

Follow Tommy’s adventures on twitter at @TommyHolgate.