Friday, 27 December 2013

If it's Christmas, it's Crisis

Let's start with the small print: the guests signed Crisis consent forms to release these pictures.

So. Dickens would have tried to make you weep if he'd seen Crisis in operation.

But there's no time for Mr Popular Sentiment. If you drop your guard and glimpse the enormity, the appalling insolubility of the underlying problem, or if the red rage coshes you from behind, do something constructive. Be a manicurist, make up the numbers for ping pong, unload food supplies, look after a rough sleeper's dog, give someone your undivided attention, sing.

Don't get dehydrated, don't let your blood sugar sink. Here, have a Quality Street. No, I don't know what flavour it is. Forget choice. The only reality is here, where any stray sparks of discord are quickly dampened by firm kindness and tolerance.

I'm at the West London Day Centre, the Downton Abbey of Crisis. There are tougher gigs.

We all know the chorus. There's no room for cynicism. You'll find camaraderie, instant life stories, jokes, hope.

'Put the date on this picture please. I don't intend to be here next year.'

'How long do you sleep at night? For me it's five foot ten.'

'Do you draw before you go to bed? I do. I draw the curtains.'

'Oh, don't do his picture. He thinks he's good looking enough already. He'll stick it on the wall and pray to it.'

A softly spoken guest, courteous and deferential, has a personality change at karaoke time. He knocks out I like the way you move by the Body Rockers. Cue tumultuous applause. Then he goes quietly off to the canteen on his own.

Make sure guests know what services are on offer. Would you like a shower? Game of football? Language tuition? Advice on housing or addiction? Sewing repairs to your clothes or bags? Do you just want to spend the afternoon asleep, safe, warm, dry, fed? Surrounded by scruffy and unfussy volunteers? 

I said unfussy. At this time of year I park all the crap outside - it's a relief, frankly.

The drawings here show yoga, exercise classes, the art and craft room, the hair and nail salon, karaoke. I give each drawing to the sitter as a rule, but I've kept some of the group pictures.

It's The Wizard of Oz on TV.

A guest grabs the mike and sings that Boney M song.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

She goes around showing the drawing to people. 'Look at this.'

It is herself.

Please scroll down for more images.

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