The Comfort of Strangers
On Tuesday, Terry and I decided it was time to re-introduce Rubin to the outside world, by resuming his daily walk, which we’d temporarily halted after The Episode, thinking it might be best to try and keep him quiet for a couple of days (and ignoring the fact that Rubin was anything BUT “quiet” during this time). So we drove to a local park we’ve taken to visiting lately, and, of course, halfway there it started to rain.
“It might stop,” Terry said optimistically, so we drove on, and parked up next to the children’s play area of this park, which was empty but for one lone figure hanging out in a “bus shelter” style seating area, presumably in order to shelter from the rain, which had now turned into a downpour. We were just about to give up and go home when the figure in the shelter stood up. Terry just had time to utter the words, “Wow, that guy’s DRUNK!”, when the man abruptly fell over, going down like a tree being felled.
Now, from the way the guy had stood up, not to mention the manner in which he’d fallen, it was very, very obvious that his problem was what’s colloquially known around here as “the bevvy”, as opposed to anything more immediately life-threatening. Still, he was a human being falling over in a public place, so Terry and I were more than a little surprised when a couple of dog walkers, who’d appeared just in time to see him fall, passed close by the man’s prostrate form without so much as stopping to check he was OK.
Then two more people did exactly the same thing.
Terry had just started to open his car door to go and help, when the man on the ground tried to sit up. I say “tried”: I have honestly never seen anyone quite as drunk as this in my entire life (and bear in mind, I was a student in Edinburgh for four years). He literally couldn’t stand, much less walk, so after crouching on the ground for a couple of minutes, during which we wondered what on earth to do (we weren’t sure how someone as drunk as this would react to an offer of assistance), he begun to crawl on hands and knees back towards his shelter. Only he couldn’t even crawl: he had to basically drag himself the few feet to the shelter, and, once there, he tried once again to stand up… and fell flat on his face into the mud.
At this point I must confess I started to wonder if we were on one of those TV shows where they secretly film you reacting to outrageous situations, because these falls were like textbook slapstick comedy: the kind of falls only a very, very drunk person, who can’t feel the ground hit him, would do. And having admitted to that, I’m also going to admit to a couple of other unpleasant truths about my initial reaction to all of this:
1. My first instinct was to snigger a little: drunk people are, after all, sometimes mildly amusing to watch.
2. My second instinct was to roll my eyes and engage in a little bit of tut-tutting. “It’s only three o’clock,” I said, self-righteously. “And it’s a children’s play park! Won’t someone think of the chhhiiiillldren?!”
Of course, there were no children in evidence at the time. There was, however, a very drunk adult who, having fallen face-first into the mud, had apparently given up on the idea of movement, and perhaps life, and was just lying there, motionless. Wordlessly, Terry got out of the car, and ran through the now-torrential rain to try and help him, while I sat there and wondered what the hell we were supposed to do now. We were in a totally deserted park, with the nearest house being a good half-mile away. Given that the man couldn’t even CRAWL, it seemed unlikely that Terry and I would be able to get him to our car (which was parked at some distance from the shelter), and even assuming that we could, I wasn’t at all confident that he’d get through the journey home (wherever that was) without throwing up all over us, which would’ve been exactly the kind of thing that happens to us.
Oh, and obviously neither of us had our phones with us. OF COURSE NOT.
Well, I sat in the passenger seat and watched through the pouring rain as Terry approached the man, and helped him back onto his bench. I waited. And waited. And waited. Terry and the man appeared to be deep in conversation: in fact, it all looked very cordial, which made me wonder just what on earth was going on. WAS the guy drunk? Was Terry trying to help him? Or were they just talking about, I don’t know, football, or some other kind of MAN thing? Who knew. (Clue: not me.) By now it was raining in that kind of way that will soak through your clothes in seconds. Not exactly relishing the thought of being soaked through in seconds, I didn’t want to get out of the car to find out what was happening, but I didn’t really want to just drive off for help and leave Terry in a deserted area with a drunk guy either, so I decided to sit tight.
Finally, Terry returned and slid into the driver’s seat.
“Give me your phone,” he said. Er, DUH. “This is me you’re talking to,” I reminded him. “Obviously I’ve left my phone at home, where it can be of no possible use to anyone.” Terry opened up the glove box and searched through it in vain. “WHY DO WE NEVER HAVE PHONES WITH US?!” he said in frustration, before abruptly getting out of the car and running back to his new friend without so much as telling me what was going on. Or giving me time to present him with my “I will take the car and get help,” plan.
With no other plan of action suggesting itself to me, I sat where I was, and watched as Terry once again approached the shelter and was greeted like an old friend by the man inside it. I watched them sit and talk, and then I watched the man lean forward and embrace Terry, several times. They appeared to be getting on like a house on fire. They also appeared to be drinking from a bottle of vodka: or at least, one of them did, and it’ll come as no surprise to you to discover that it was not Terry. Every few minutes, the rain seemed to get heavier. Finally, just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse… it got worse. And that was the moment Terry chose to leave the shelter, and return to the car.
“Yeah, he’s drunk,” he announced, getting in. “Are you absolutely SURE you don’t have your phone with you?”
I started to roll my eyes in response to this, but at that moment my rolling eye caught a welcome sight: a police car, heading towards us. “Wow, how did you do that without a phone?” I asked Terry, impressed.
He hadn’t. It seems that one of the people who’d simply walked past the man without stopping had, at least, had the decency to call the police and tell them where to find him. Terry got back out of the car again (by this point he was soaked through anyway) and had a quick word with them, before leaving them to get on with it.
“That was so sad,” he said, when he finally got back. It turned out the man was an alcoholic whose partner had kicked him out, and who’d been sleeping rough for three days. He’d told Terry that dozens of people had just walked right by him before we’d turned up, and not one person had stopped to ask if he was OK. Not one. ”I think you’re the nicest person I’ve ever met,” he told Terry, tearfully. “In fact, I think you must be an angel.”
As Terry’s wife, I obviously have to agree with that assessment (maybe not the “angel” part: let’s not get carried away here.). I have to agree with Terry, too, though: it wasn’t comical, or even something to be sneered at - it was all just very, very sad. I hope the man managed to get some help.
EDIT: I just noticed that an awful lot of emails from readers have somehow ended up in my spam folder – huge apologies if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t replied: I’ve dug a few out of the spam folder tonight and will reply to them as soon as I can, but I suspect some older emails may have been lost, so if you think yours could be one of them, please re-send, and accept my apologies!
Also, I’ve had loads of emails and comments now about the links at the top of the page not working – again, I’m really sorry that this has been an issue for some of you: Terry has been really busy with work lately and hasn’t had time to look at it, but he will get to it as soon as he can!