This time last year, I managed to get a mortgage on a small two-bed flat in a suburb of south London, known for its reasonable rail links and prolific knife crime.
There are a fair few things I dislike about the area. The rubbish for example, that collects outside my block every morning, picked at and half emptied by the foxes and rodents. Or even more annoyingly, the random sofa, wardrobe or computer desk that miraculously appears overnight by the side of the road, cast out by an owner who can’t afford or be bothered to take it to the dump. Then there are the cars that park beneath my bedroom window pumping out high-tempo tunes until the early hours. All of these things I have come to accept as part of the package I bought into. But it’s not all bad. In fact, as time goes on, I’ve begun to warm up to my neighbourhood and some of its flaws and eccentricities.
My favourite part has been getting to know the local characters. Every town has them. We have several. First up there’s Blade. I call him that (not to his face) due to the fact he dresses like the vampire hunter played by Wesley Snipes, clothed in full regalia, including long black leather coat, shin pads wrapped in silver foil and a stab proof vest worn over his t-shirt. Blade sits on the stairs outside the entrance to my block writing poetry. We’ve never talked, but over the past year we’ve come to acknowledge each other with a mutual expression-free stare. It’s neither hostile nor friendly. I expect that years after his death, his genius will be discovered.
Then there’s the man known to locals as ‘Jack the Hat’. A grey-haired senior citizen that resembles the ex-Tory Prime Minister John Major. Jack can be found most days wandering through the town, hands clasped behind his back, stopping to greet passing women with a shallow bow and a tip of the hat. I’ve met him a couple of times and on both occasions he managed to work into conversation the fact that he considers himself one of the last gentlemen in the area who appropriately interacts with ‘the ladies’.
And now a new guy has recently appeared on the street, causing a bit of a stir. He’s probably mid 40’s, black, skinny and dresses on a daily basis in a pair of short-shorts, loose fitting vest, sunglasses and a USA bandana. He spends his days either lying prostrate on a bench, smoking his vape or dancing on the spot to club anthems, rocking his hips and extending his arms upwards like a young catwalk model on a night out with her girlfriends. He’s probably my favourite, but I don’t think we’re friends yet. I got a nice smile off him last week but a few days later I heard him shout “f*ck off” and when I looked round to see who he was talking to, I realised I was the only other person on the street.
I’ve spent some time these past weeks with another trio of characters. Julia was one, an ex-Sky Sports broadcaster who broke two world records after rowing the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness for human trafficking. Then there’s Hazel, an investigative journalist who scours the world to uncover stories of injustice. And most recently Justine, who decided at a young age to pursue equality at the very highest levels and became a fundamental part of forming the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) and the country’s modern slavery helpline. The one thing I noted that united this trio of characters was their very clear sense of purpose. A mutual desire to use their lives to see the world changed for the better.
Julia, Hazel and Justine are the first three guests to appear on The Justice & Coffee Podcast, coming out this October, and I can’t wait for you to hear more of their stories.
Watch this space.
Written by Bryn Frere-Smith
Founder of Blue Bear Coffee Co.