“Real Artists Ship”

Colin Johnson’s blog

The Squeezed Middle (1)

A few years ago I was having dinner in London (around 50 miles from home) when I felt ill towards the end of the meal. As a result, my journey back to the train station was delayed—I had to walk slowly, pause from time to time to avoid vomiting, etc.—and so I arrived at the station with only a couple of minutes before the last train home.

That got me thinking about what would happen if I had missed the train. I could have dealt with this by myself, by trying to find a hotel room or paying a fortune for a taxi all the way home. But, there are circumstances where this might not be possible—a smaller town with little accommodation, someone who, rather than being ill, had lost their wallet and train ticket and only realised this at the last minute, or who just didn’t have the money for this circumstance.

Had I been more seriously ill—say, if I had collapsed unconscious—then I would have been whisked to hospital and kept in overnight, even if the eventual cause had turned out to be fairly trivial. Bizarrely, I would have been in a better overall situation to have been more ill than less.

But what would have happened in the seemingly more minor situation? Would the police be in any way sympathetic, or would the situation be dismissed as trivial? Would a request to sit (awake, without disturbing anyone) in a police station foyer or a hospital waiting room be acceptable? If so, why is it acceptable for me (as a person with a house and job to go to who has just fallen on bad luck of an evening) to make such a request whilst a similar request from a homeless person would be dismissed out of hand.

This can have serious consequences. In the news this week was the story of Caroline Coyne, a severely drunk woman who was murdered. Earlier in the evening she had asked a police car for help with getting home, only to be dismissed with “we’re not a taxi”.

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