Frankie’s story

18 Oct

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s Frankie walked into my then office in George Square in Glasgow.

He was brought in by another guy who was a friend and client and simply introduced – “This is Frankie!”

He was a couple of years younger than me, mid twenties maybe, had dirty reddish blonde hair, was of medium build with a red faced complexion which had seen a thousand bad nights and a thousand fights.

You didn’t need a B on one side of his face or a Z and an E on the other to know instantly that his eyes screamed the word BOOZE.

Frankie had been arrested, placed in a police cell, used his one call to call the other guy, who had been waiting outside the police station when he had eventually been released without charge several hours later.

Given that he had been released without charge, I listened to this tale but wondered what I, as a solicitor, could do for him and why he had been brought to see me.

“ It was me who suggested he comes to see you” said the other guy. “ You see, this will happen again, and when it does he will be charged and he will need someone other than the likes of me to be at the end of the phone. Besides he needs help with the DSS and his benefits as they are being withheld from him.”

Frankie said very little.

Over the next hour or so I discovered that Frankie was, in effect, homeless.

His background was a familiar one. A Father that drank, beat his mother, his siblings and himself. Frankie had left school without many qualifications, had found a job, been laid off, found another job, been laid off and on it went.

He had begun to drink his wages rather than go home to his parents’ home where all he remembered were bad experiences. He moved away, went down south, found a job, some digs, but eventually got laid off again.

He came back to Glasgow for his mother’s funeral, found his dad gone, and his siblings moved on but struggling.

He had found a job, stayed with a friend, but eventually had outstayed his welcome. He knew he drank too much, but part of him found it easier to drink than to face the fact that he was very much alone and had always felt he was dependent on other people – for a job and for a roof over his head.

Over the next few years I represented Frankie on a number of occasions.

Usually, he was arrested and charged with breach of the peace.

Why?

Because he was a vagrant. He slept rough, was boozed up, and was occasionally argumentative when police officers “moved him on”.

That’s what the police did back then; moved you on or charged you with a breach or some other minor offence when things didn’t go quite smoothly.

In those days, I used to take my turn as the duty legal aid solicitor at Glasgow District Court in Turnbull Street.

When the calendar headed towards December there would be an increase in the number of homeless people who were arrested, because some simply wanted to be “inside” for Christmas. In other cases, I am sure the police thought they were doing some of the homeless folk a favour by charging them with something and getting them inside and off the street.

They weren’t criminals as such, but some deliberately broke the law to get off the streets and a smartly concocted argument with a “polis” was always guaranteed to lead to the coppers eventually having enough and charging you with Breach of the Peace. If you had no abode and enough previous convictions for a similar offence, then you could guarantee that the magistrates would have no option but to sentence you to 7 days or 14 days or 28 days – or even just to deny you bail.

And that got you inside for Christmas or for a few nights at least.

To the best of my recollection, Frankie never played that game.

I can recall him getting a job as a kitchen porter and wearing his KP scrubs.

However, the wages were low, and there was a problem with getting him help with a council house or temporary accommodation. If he was on benefit then a room in a hostel or in a “licensed” B&B for the homeless or those on basic benefits could be found.

However, if he had a job, then the DSS, as it then was, couldn’t place him in a hostel or put him in a B&B.

So , even though he was working, Frankie slept rough.

He would finish his shift in the kitchen, gather his things together – he kept everything in a “roll bag” —  and then find somewhere to kip for the night.

He regularly used the showers that were then available at Queen Street station, but no matter how often he did, the shower could never disguise that he was homeless.

Anyone who saw him would know that he was in effect what used to be called “A Tramp”.

He looked like a tramp no matter how hard he tried not to.

I knew he was going to AA meetings and was trying to get off the booze. However, it was clearly a hard struggle and every now and then he would fall off the wagon, would get boozed up and either lose his job or get arrested for being too drunk to simply move on when asked to do so by the police.

Back in those days, a lot of homeless folk would attempt to sleep outside Central station on Gordon street.

There were big grills there which allowed the heat to escape from the boilers and machinery which were housed underground. Loads of homeless people would hang about the city centre at night waiting for the time when they could hope to claim a space on those grills and get a warm sleep without being moved on by the police.

They often had to wait till the queue at the taxi rank died away.

Frankie slept there a few times, though in the summer months he would tend to sleep in Kelvingrove Park and then walk into town to whatever job he had.

I know of a famous Edinburgh QC who was found sleeping homeless in Gordon Street one night. He had a drink problem. He had left court for the day, gone to the pub and just got plastered. When he found he couldn’t get back to Edinburgh and literally did not have enough cash for a hotel, he simply gathered his coat around him, placed his bag of papers under his head and slept on the grills outside Central Station.

He was quite a gallous guy, drunk or sober, so he could pull that off if the police came.

But not Frankie.

When the police came he would quietly move on, or on occasion get into an argument if he was too drunk – in which case I would find him in the cells the next morning.

On those occasions he would be very depressed, hungover, fed up and fearful that whatever job he had would be gone.

On those occasions, there seemed to be no escape for Frankie. He was on his own, struggling with the booze, struggling with life, struggling with himself and on a never ending downward circle.

One day, and it took me a time to realise it had happened, I just never heard from him again!

When I was training to be a solicitor, I was taught that publicity is not a good thing. Clients don’t want to read in the paper that their lawyer did a brilliant job of acquitting them – they would prefer that other people never knew they had been accused of something in the first place.

I was also taught that sometimes, people don’t want other people to know that they have even consulted a lawyer about this trouble or that – whether its divorce, or debt, or a criminal charge or whatever – and over the years I have been introduced to people whom I have already met but for one reason or another have had to greet them as if I was meeting them for the first time.

Given that I gave up the practice of law some ten years ago now, that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

These days, I am lucky enough to earn my living in such a way where I don’t need to visit police cells at unsociable hours, and if I am honest, I no longer face stories like Frankie’s other than on a voluntary basis.

No, these days, me and my cowboy boots can wander down Byres Road, enjoy a coffee, a slice of pizza and watch the world go by in between meetings and phone calls.

I am dead lucky.

However, I have never forgotten the Frankie’s of this world and Frankie was only one of many people I met over the years who were in a similar position.

A couple of months ago, the cowboy boots took me on the usual walk down Byres Road on a sunny afternoon.

I was headed for my favourite coffee shop where the espresso is good and I could sit at a big glass window and look out on the world as I made my next phonecall and got on with my day.

As I walked down the road towards Partick, I was just taking in the Byres Road vibe, watching the world go by, looking in the charity shop windows ( you get a good range of interesting stuff displayed in the charity shops on Byres Road ) when something caught my eye.

Walking in the opposite direction, engaged in conversation with someone else, was Frankie.

I had not seen him in decades – and to be honest – I presumed he was dead.

As we walked towards one another, our eyes met for the briefest second. I am not sure if he recognised me or not, but I sure as hell recognised him.

The reddish/blonde hair was touched with grey now but still evident.

His complexion still made him look weathered and older than his years, but you didn’t need a G and D either side of his eyes to read GOOD in his face.

Frankie, was doing good.

Of course, I didn’t stop and introduce myself and ask how he was doing. That might have brought up a past his companion knew nothing about and which might cause a problem.

But my curiosity was peaked and so I did something that I am not conscious of doing at any other time in my entire life.

I turned on my cowboy booted heel and ever so discreetly followed Frankie and his companion back up the crowded street.

I just wanted to confirm for myself what I had read in those eyes – namely that Frankie was doing good.

I was able to walk just a few yards behind them and in that two hundred yards I heard Frankie say more than I had ever heard him say in my life.

He chatted away, was confident in what he said, shared a joke and was in control of what was clearly a chat with a friend.

He had a satchel slung over his shoulder, and, by the looks of it, it contained papers, books and the kind of things a student or an office worker might carry.

There was no bedroll,  no spare clothes, or sleeping bag in sight.

There was no suggestion of anything other than sobriety and contentment in his demeanor.

Everything said Frankie was doing good and that Frankie had a home – somewhere!

My legal training was, in the main, provided by a man who was an alcoholic. He himself had beaten the booze, but would always have his own insecurities and demons. He was, undoubtedly, one of the best men I will ever meet though he was not, and never claimed to be, perfect.

One of the most important things he ever taught me about the vulnerable in society was that there was always “hope” and that even when things might seem hopeless for someone, there is always the possibility that things will turn around if that someone just gets a helping hand and finds a bit of courage.

Clearly, somehow, somewhere, Frankie had received that helping hand and had found that courage to move on,

Frankie is doing good!

=================================================================================================

I hope anyone reading the above story enjoyed it.

The only piece of fiction in the entire piece is, of course, that Frankie is not the real name of the person involved. Other than that every single word is true.

One of the great sayings I have hung onto over the years is the following:

“In order to comfort the disturbed – first, you have to disturb the comfortable”.

On 12th November 2016 I am giving up the comfort of my own bed and the roof over my head which I take for granted every single night in life.

I am going to sleep “rough” for just one night in an attempt to raise some money for the Frankie’s of this world of whom there are far too many.

The number of homeless people in our society is on the increase and we are returning to the bad old days of the 1980’s and the 1990’s whereby there is little or no help for people trapped in their situation.

My sleepout is being organised through the Celtic FC Charity Foundation.

If you enjoyed any aspect of the above story, or indeed any of the other stories I have written on the Strandsky Tales and Stories Pages, then please donate something to the my donate page that I link below.

A couple of pounds would be great and if you can spare more then that would be even better, However, every penny counts here and no matter how great or small any donation may be, it is greatly received and hugely appreciated.

All the money raised will go to help people like Frankie – with food, toiletries, underwear or whatever – and maybe, just maybe, it will help someone in a way that money just can’t buy.

I hope, that the above story has disturbed you in the nicest possible way.

No matter who you are, or what the circumstances might be …… there is always hope.

Thanks for reading.

Jim

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/jamesmcginley2

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4 Responses to “Frankie’s story”

  1. davie October 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

    I own a café in Maryhill I open about 6 most morns getting ready for the workmen who come in from 6 40 onwards my door opened there stood a disheviled young man obviously homless he said mate im starving any chance of something 2 eat I motioned him 2 sit at the table at the door sit there I will be a minute I gave the young man a breaky and a cuppa asked why are you homeless he said don’t get on with my dad he through me out I said that’s sad try and get yourself back in the mainstream go 2 social services I gave him some money he left I never expected 2 see him I forgot all about him one morning about 7 30 man walked in can I have one of those great breakys you do I said wont be long I was thinking while cooking don’t know him never been in in morn before mibbe comes in when girls are on gave him breaky he asked for another tea I took it over he said that’s the second best breaky ave had in here the first was special that’s good I said pity it wasn’t as good as the first noihing could be as good as that you don’t recognise me do you know you are the person who changed my life looking puzzled my mind racing he just opened his mouth and it came flooding back my face lit up he knew I had realised who he was he held his hand out I shook it proud I had helped him we chatted in between customers he had asked for help got in a hostel got a job he looked smart shirt an tie as he was leaving he came too pay he said I will pay for my last breaky an give you that money you gave me I said no just todays breaky will do you have already paid me thanks he said I will never forget you I never got his name it doesn’t matter there is plenty more like him and all the like you and the rest of the cqn boys do great if it helps its a start hail hail

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan October 18, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

      Davie,

      That is a great story. Nothing makes you feel greater than helping someone out and doing them a good turn.

      I come through Maryhill most days on my way into town – maybe i will drop in one day.

      Cheers

      Jim

  2. Dermot October 19, 2015 at 6:31 am #

    Brilliant story young yin,proud to have you as a pal….great wee story raising awareness of the plight of our homeless folk..

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  1. “Frankie is Doing Good!” « I'm not actually Irish, Boyo - March 15, 2016

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