There’s something here that I want to share with you. It happened last evening, but I didn’t have time to write about it then, so here I am at six-thirty in the morning, doing so now. My husband and Biffo our dog went out for a walk. As they returned through the town's shutts and passageways, they came across a lad standing beneath an overhang sheltering from the rain. My husband nodded and said ‘hello’. The lad said he needed help. When my husband came home with this news, wondering if we should bring the boy in, I immediately thought of scams and robbers, cunning tricksters, rapists and murderers – all the stuff you read about in the papers [though I’m happy to say that here in Shrewsbury it’s not our common fare].
At any rate, I was happier for us to take orders for food and drink and carry them out to the overhang than to invite this stranger in. Isn’t that awful? I’m sure I did the wise and sensible thing, but sometimes, for the greater good, shouldn’t we take risks on people in need and not do the sensible thing?
Anyway, we didn’t take the risk, but we did make cheese sandwiches and take out a mug of tea. While it was brewing, I kept company with the boy while he told me a bit about himself. He was adopted. He didn’t have an easy relationship with his parents. He kept getting into trouble, and some of it I gathered involved Social Services and the police. His mum had thrown him out. He’d been hanging around with friends all day, but they’d gone home. He’d phoned a few people but they hadn’t replied. He had nothing on him and nowhere to go and, no, he said, he didn’t need a coat. His aunty had bought him some thermals, and they were thinner than the ones he’d had before, but twice as warm. So he was fine.
With the boy’s agreement, I returned home and started phoning round, trying to find somebody who could help him properly. What I needed, I was told, was a number for the out-of-hours Social Work Team. But could I find it? Could I hell. I knew for a fact that there was such a team, but completely failed to contact it. In the end I phoned the police, and they didn’t seem to have the number either, but said they’d come themselves. This sounded like the sort of thing that they could sort out.
I explained that the boy wasn’t violent. He wasn’t making trouble. He wasn’t threatening us or anybody else. He was just standing there. Then I returned to his overhang. It was obvious by now that this boy wasn’t a mass-murderer, and if we’d invited him in our lives wouldn’t have been at risk. But we stayed out there, the three of us, waiting for the police to come and sort things out. By this stage it didn’t seem worth doing anything else.
While we waited, we got the boy chatting about school, the subjects he was studying for his GCSEs, his ambitions to get into cookery some day - become a chef or something like that. It was his GCSE year. He was good at maths. He always got 100%. He could easily be in a higher group. He wished he could be moved up.
The police arrived. They had the boy’s name. They were gentle with him. He shook both our hands. His face is before me now as I write. He could be any boy in any town across the country. Nothing extraordinary. Bad stuff happens in some people’s lives. But he’s here in our town in 2013, as much a part of our town as anybody else.
So here I am now, writing My Tonight From Shrewsbury and including him because I’m committed to recording this year with both ups and downs. This is his Shrewsbury too. I hope he gets sorted out. I wish him well.