My name is Tony. I am 68. I am getting old, and that’s the problem. I used to work on a fishing boat, in deep sea. That was my job. I worked in -40 degree. It was very cold, and you can’t wear gloves, because the line will slip. You worked with ice on the line. It was very hard work, very hard. I had done that for 25 years, and then, my uncle got cancer, so I moved in to look after him. When he died, the council told me to move out, because my name was not on their book. They couldn’t do anything for me. I was too old to go back to the fishing industry. So I bought myself a book sack, a sleeping bag, a tent, and I walked around the coastline of the Britain, twice.
I studied to be a vet, but I didn’t carry on. When I left college, I came to London. Back in the 70s, when the hippies were around, London was a big party house. Everybody was happy and joyful, so I never went back. I should have. I could have been a very rich man by now. Well, I guess we all make mistakes.
But, I enjoy my life. It’s been hard. There were days where I’d been hungry, days where I’d been soaking wet. But I don’t feel it, not anymore. I am a happy person. Everybody knows me. They call me the Chess Master. I am very good at playing chess, although last week, I got beaten by some 11-year-old boy. They didn’t tell me that he was a head champion in school! When we were on the fishing trollers, we had about six-week spare time. What else could you do? You play chess, to kill time.
It took me three and a half years each time to walk around the Britain, but I enjoyed it. I was very happy. When you wake up in the morning, you see the nature. You’ve got the birds; you’ve got the butterflies; you’ve got the deer. In some places, you’ve got the little doll deer, and they are beautiful. They’ll come right talk to you, and take an apple straight from your hand. How beautiful it is! In different parts, there are different animals. On the east coast, you’ve got the seals. You see them swimming in the sea, and it is lovely to watch. Then, you’ve got the dolphins. When you go towards Scotland, you’ve got the otters. You see them building the den, in the middle of the river. And you feel peace with the world, another world.
Because this world is crazy. Everybody is trying to kill each other. The World War III is gonna happen. I don’t want it to but it’s going to happen. No, no I am not worried. I am too old to worry about that now. I’ve lived my life. But I worry for the people.
I’ve died six times, because of emphysema. When you sleep on the street, you are laying low, so you get all the dust, the fumes, all that goes down in your lung. When you wake up, it’s horrible. It takes about two hours every morning to cough. But there are people who look out for me. Last time I died, they reached out to the ambulance. They’ve got all my medical record, so they know who I am. It’s taken a long time but things are getting into place now. They are going to get me a pension, a bank account. They’ve got my birth certificate, medical record. The other day, the manager of the council told me that next Wednesday, they have two places for me to go and see, so I should have somewhere to live soon. It’s going to be difficult for me to adjust, after being homeless for 28 years.
I don’t resent the world. It is my own fault. I chose to be homeless, so I can’t blame anybody. I’ve never been unhappy, because I am a happy person. I put a smile on everybody’s face in the morning. People pass by and ask me: how come you are so happy? And I said: how come you are so sad! Everybody likes to come over to me. The bus driver stopped all the traffic. He came over and got me a cup of coffee. The dog walkers came to me. I studied vet so I could tell what’s wrong with their dogs. I’ve got good times.
There have been bad times obviously. I’ve gone without food for about a week, which was hard. But I know, I’ll get something. It might take a day or two, but I’ll get something. It will come. What kept me going? Well, stubbornness. I am a Taurus, stubborn as a bull. If I set my mind to do something, I won’t stop until I achieve it.
Interacting with people makes me feel happy. Most of the people that I met are nice. But I’ve met unkind people. I was about to hurt them. I was not proud of it, but I was in the army. You know Buckingham Palace? You see people standing outside with the bearskin? I was one of them, for seven and a half years.
I went to Northern Ireland, and I went to Berlin, before the war came down. We had to kill a few people. I was a sniper. I was very good, so they put me in the frontline. I’ve been shot three times. I liked the army. It got me disciplined. But I didn’t like the war, because I didn’t want to kill people. But if somebody points their gun at me, sorry I’m gonna shoot them. But when you shoot them, it’s very emotional. This is what people don’t understand. If you shoot somebody, you think about their family. I just killed a man, and…what about his wife, his kids. You just take their husbands, their fathers away. It is…not nice. People don’t understand it. I’m going to the war, they say, but you don’t know what you are doing.
When you got to kill somebody, you’ve got two seconds to pull out the trigger. Once you did that and that’s it. Game over. What I used to do, if I saw somebody in the building and he pointed a gun, I tried to aim the gun, so that I could blow the gun away, and did not have to hit him. That’s a difficult shot to do, I tell ya, very difficult. But I’ve done many times.
Life for me is just live and die. You live, and then you die. You can’t avoid that grave. You are gonna get there. So, be happy with your life. Even you are in a rubbish job, you can always progress. Work in that job for about a year until you’ve got some savings, and then go and look for another job, the one you are happy with. Don’t be content with being bored all day, because that is horrible. Do something you enjoy. A friend of mine, he just gave up on work. He is an artist. He paints, and that’s what he wants to do. He saved about ten thousand pounds, and now he’s got himself a little caravan. He uses that as his studio, where he can do all his arts there. Instead of being stuck in a job he didn’t like, he now sells his paintings. He makes a living by doing something he really enjoys doing, and he is happy. I’ve never seen him so happy. He used to come to me with his face pulling down: I’ve got a really bad day today. Now every time he comes down, he has a big smile on his face: I’ve just done a new painting today. He says to me. I normally sit on the bench there, and I will put his paintings around the chessboard. It’s amazing, just a little game of chess, can make so many people happy. That’s what I’d like to see, people with a smile.
I am a joyful person. I interact with people, so that they make me smile and I’ll make them smile. There are people just sitting on their own the whole day. I couldn’t do that. Go talk to people. Or at least, get a book. I love reading as well. I read a lot of books, a hell of a lot. I am a speed reader. I could read five books in one go. I can tell you everything in any page, without putting anything in the page. People can’t believe when I do that.
I think it’s like playing chess. You are thinking four moves all the time. You are thinking your move, his move, your next move, and his next move. So your brain is really working. Talking to people, playing chess, listening to the radio, and reading books, that’s how I keep my brain active. A lot of people at my age, they let themselves get in the corner; they let themselves go; they give up. I don’t give up. I’ve died too many times to give up.