I heard a story about a man who nicked a telly and hid it in a bush
“Talking a load of old crap in there are they?” Danny asked.
I pondered the question for a moment. “You know...not at all,” I replied. “It makes a lot of sense really. It’s pretty good stuff.”
Danny took another swig of his superlager and raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
“It’s all about doing things differently in the future,” I continued lamely. I felt reluctant to divulge the details of how we’d time travelled together, that we were in there cutting up newspapers and sticking cardboard boxes together in a bid to build a better world. “I mean the world’s pretty mental and messed up at the moment,” I added.
“You’re right there!” he exclaimed. He spat on the pavement and took a drag of his cigarette. “London’s the biggest hell hole of the lot. I fookin’ hate the place man.”
We’d met a few minutes before when Danny spotted me sitting smoking on the steps of the Battersea Arts Centre as he lurched down the street, clutching his can and swearing.
“You got a light?” he asked. “Christ, I’m talking to mesel.” He wiped his brow and grimaced. “Rough. Can’t remember fook all about last night. Only that I nicked a telly. Fook knows why. I don’t need a telly.” He laughed wheezily. I handed him a lighter and he lit his roll up and sat down on the step.
We chatted for a while. Danny hailed from the Midlands, had lived on the streets, in hostels and been in and out of jail for years. He picked up on my accent and told me about his Scottish wife who had died in her early 20s. He’d gone to the funeral in handcuffs, it had been awful. He’d remarried, had kids, never saw them nowadays, they'd grown up without him, he didn't know where they were. He’d been in the army, back in jail, back out, on the streets, drinking, drinking for years and years. A fresh start by the seaside went pear-shaped. He'd ended up London, blind drink most nights, begging, roughing it, loathing the place.
“I’m heading down to the supermarket to beg but it’s Sunday so it’ll be crap,” he said. “Still, I’ll get a trolley to put my telly in. If I can find it that is, I think I hid it in the bushes somewhere.”
“What would you do with yourself if you could do anything you wanted?” I asked him.
Danny gulped from his can, took a thoughtful last drag of his fag and ground the butt under his tattered trainer. “I’d get on a yacht and go sailing round the world,” he said finally. “Mind you,” he added with a bitter chuckle, “I’d be too drunk to sail the bloody thing. Probably fall over the side.”
When I’d headed out to the steps, back to 2012, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the future. A persistent part of me kicked against the wholesome atmosphere of hope that pervaded the hall. Sunday’s group process had got a bit stressful; I couldn’t work out where I fitted in. In the end I’d signed up as a journalist in the Transition Town Anywhere Talking Shop, but my heart wasn’t in it. Lingering cynicism from 'media career' days had seeped in and soured the scene. An urge to escape for a roll-up had overtaken me, add a wee bit of nicotine and cyanide to the toxic mix.
Now the cigarette was finished and I'd been away a while. “I’d better head back,” I said to Danny. “Good luck.”
“Yeah, I’m off now too,” he replied standing up. Suddenly, he swooped on the pavement and scooped up a long cigarette end. “Might as well have this first.” He grinned at me triumphantly, plonking himself back down. Reduce, reuse... I gave Danny a light and left him, peacefully puffing the stub in the sunshine. I wondered what he’d make of Transition Town Anywhere.
I returned to the future, wandered up the High Street, then went to mind the Talking Shop. I arranged some collaborative projects with neighbours on the street. Stories started taking shape. Someone from a wonderful sounding bakery and brewery dropped by for a chat. We made plans for a feature. I’d take a wander up there some afternoon, meet workers and volunteers, have a blether, do some interviews, take some pictures, stop for a sandwich and pint of elderflower ale.
Finally I was getting into it. Straightforward truth replacing distortion and spin, positive stories, a slowed down world, time to talk, swap tales, build trust. Maybe I could be a journalist again after all. One day I might even write a story about a guy called Danny who became a wandering seafarer, sailing the oceans.