Tag Archives: London

London in Winter

London, February, 1991 Homeless


London Winter Night

London, Feburary, 1991

The icy slush water from the High Street Kensington sidewalk seeped into my boots again as I made my way out of the tube station and the cold blast of air that hit me as I came up the stairs was a reminder that night time was coming and almost here.

My hands were raw and cracked and they wouldn’t stop shaking. They would go from red, to pink and then to white when I warmed up, but the most irritating thing were my feet, I couldn’t warm them up, no matter what I did.

They were frozen, wet and numb and a large hole had worn in the right sole of my worn out boots; which were now thin from constantly walking and taking the subways and couch surfing at my friend’s houses. The left boot had a crack higher up on the left side near the seam and sole, so it wasn’t as terrible as the hole on the bottom of the right boot, but both feet and my socks were frozen and wet; all the time. The icy wind rattled right through my chest; and the combination was making me colder.

I knew wet and cold and sleeping outside and in doorways and hallways was not a good thing from all the war and history books I had read in the motels and when we were on the road growing up  in the van with Mom and my sisters. I was Joan of Arc. I was a French Soldier fighting for freedom. I was not a match stick girl. I was a fighter who could handle this. I was not a victim.

I hurried along the sidewalk, while the last of the precious warm amber light of sunset was fading into dark purple shadows in the old stone buildings; and it was already incredibly cold outside. The city lights were on and little warm orbs of lights coming from the street shops comforted me. It was early evening on the high street and everyone was going home to their families.

I found out years later that this was some kind of freak, icy cold winter of 1990 and 1991 in London and I was just one of many unlucky homeless teenagers to be caught in it. February was the worst and the coldest.

I was trying to get to my school, Ashbourne Tutors to use their phone, I had to call my mom’s sister, Aunt Nora, and beg her for help.

I didn’t have a place to sleep that night and all of my friend’s parents had let me stay at their places already and my situation scared their parents. Their parents wanted to know where the rest of my mom’s family was and why weren’t they here trying to help me? I didn’t know how to answer them.

I ducked into Marks & Spencer to try to get warm inside, and pretended to be a shopper. Sometimes I would hide the department store bathroom first to warm up and clean up.

Nobody bothered me because I was blonde and white. They thought I was just another rich American teenager. I used the makeup in the beauty counters and pretended my mom was coming soon to meet me and we’d buy some stuff as soon as she got there. The pretty ladies behind the counter would give me smiles but then when they saw my scruffy boots, they knew something was up. Rich kids don’t wear old boots like that. My coat and black ensemble leggings were passable, but the beat up boots gave me away.

My mom was in prison, the cops had taken my passport so I couldn’t leave the country in case they needed me to testify against mom.

It was two months after my  seventeenth birthday and I wasn’t old or savvy enough or emotionally stable enough to get a job in a foreign country. Every time someone asked me where my family was, I would start crying and mumbling.

I was trying to make it to my school, Ashbourne Tutors, before they closed, so I could use their phone and call my Aunt Nora. She would help me and save me. There was nobody else to call, she was the only one left who could help me.

My father was a raging, abusive alcoholic and the last time I saw him, he had his hands around my mother’s throat and was trying to throw her off a balcony in California.

My mother’s father had died; but he had stopped stepping in to clean up her horrible messes when he got remarried about 10 years earlier.

My mothers’ brother Bernie lived in Connecticut and was wealthy and had a good job, but he and his wife, who was my godmother, didn’t really seem to like me. I think they thought I was like Mom, and apparently I had too much emotional baggage for the people of Darien, Connecticut to handle.

Mom’s family would handle her regular arrests that left her children defenseless & homeless by throwing some money her way when we lived in motels for months, but it never really helped the actual problem, because she would always fail, again. We’d move into a house and live there for three months, and then move again when we got evicted.

Our mother was unemployable and mentally ill, and everyone in her family had looked the other way for most our lives and gave her minimum amounts of money to move us out of motels;  but the real problem was that she wasn’t a fit parent and nobody wanted to step in and raise four physically and emotionally violated girls; especially when they resented their sick sister so much. They last thing they wanted to do was to raise her four daughters.

Mom’s family didn’t step in when were she had the Charlie Manson types living in our garage when we were toddlers, or when we were homeless kids living in motels and dangerous situations.

They weren’t going to step in now. They had made it really clear that they had their own families and I wasn’t part of it.

My mom’s other sister, Aunt Maggie lived in California and was a schoolteacher. I had seen Aunt Maggie when we had gotten back from Australia when mom was on the game show there; and she wouldn’t let us sleep at her house when we got back. We had taken a shuttle from the airport after a 24 hour flight and she turned us away and told us to go to a motel. It looked like she was done with Mom abusing her and said stuff was missing from her house after the last time we stayed, so we weren’t welcome there anymore.

Aunt Nora was the only one I remember with any warmth, she used to take us roller-skating in Balboa Park, all of us four girls and our two cousins, little Maggie and Matt. We’d all pile into her green Volkswagen Bug and putter off to the park to skate. She was magnificent, beautiful and tall, with flowing strawberry blonde hair that gleamed in the sun. We’d listen to the album Hair and watch her dance and spin around with her hair fanning out and spinning like a gleaming hummingbird. We would make up dance routines and I planned my own rock opera and Aunt Nora would be the star of it.

Aunt Nora was there at the hospital when I was born and the first memory I have. She had lived with us until I was six years old. But in 1980,  she moved away to Texas and married the computer guy from MIT and they started their own computer company and they started having their own kids.

She was my mother’s youngest hippie sister who married a smart guy from MIT when he was on his bike; when they were in their 20’s and were now a multi-millionaires. She and her husband owned multi-million dollar a year semiconductor brokering business in Houston that they started out of their kitchen. My oldest sister Meagan was close to her. Meagan was moving to Houston soon to go to college and be Aunt Nora’s nanny. She might’ve even been there now, I didn’t know. I hadn’t talked to them in awhile because after Mom got arrested the day after Christmas; the cops locked the house we were renting and I moved in with friends and started couch surfing.

My oldest sister Meagan was a waitress at Pizza Hut and putting herself through community college. My second oldest sister, Katie was 19 and just had a baby and was raising my youngest sister, Erin, who was 15 and living with her in upstate New York. We all had been working since we were 14, because we had to. Sometimes Mom would ask for our tips.  My sisters couldn’t help me, and I didn’t want to call them to tell them I got tricked by Mom, again. They already knew. I was the only one who really thought Mom would spin our lives into gold and we’d magically start a new life in England and she’d get a job as a writer.

I had fallen for the story again. The one where we moved to a new city and she started over and became the parent I needed her to be.

But I knew Aunt Nora would save me, she would come out here and help me get out of this horrific mess and take me home to live with her and her family, she loved me. I could help nanny too. I knew she would save me from Mom, homelessness and this terrible, terrible cold shivering that I could not shake. She would send help.

My hands stopped shaking when I finally got to the third floor of my old school, Ashbourne Tutors, above Kensington market. They had these old fashioned heaters that hissed in the hallway when you came in and I would sit there and warm up until I felt better.

The Headmaster was a kind Canadian and had let me go there for free after he had found out my Mom was in Holloway Women’s Prison, but I didn’t go to class anymore.  I couldn’t sit in class with all these super rich happy kids who had houses and parents and a bedroom to go home to and things to look forward to. They showed me everything I didn’t have and parents I would never have.

I would go to the school to get warm and see my old friends. I used their phone when I needed to and leave as soon as I could. I was the homeless kid of a con artist and didn’t belong there.

Lately I was going to the school to use their  phone at night, before they closed, so not a lot of people would still be there. I didn’t want to see my old teachers anymore. Late evening was the best time to come into the school, get warm and maybe steal a hot cup of coffee from lobby without seeing too many people.

The teachers at this school were so kind to me that I would start to sob uncontrollably. It was embarrassing. I didn’t know why it hurt more to have someone be kind to me than to tell me what a loser I was.

London To Paris-On The Run


March 1991

London to Paris
On the Run

March 1991-London

Most people seldom realized my mother was insane when talking to her, but I knew.

When I was young, standing around my mother’s knees, I loved listening to her voice and watching people fall under her spell. At the time, I thought everyone loved her as much as I did. She had a smooth throaty voice that was rich yet feminine and it could turn into velvet when she wanted something.  It wrapped around you like the warm blanket of an opiate high.

With all the adventures and carpetbaggery and pills in her life; she still could keep all the lies together in that racing, manic mind and spin tales so casually when dealing with her newest victim.

Mom told tales of woe that were simple for others to understand- but her specialty was finding people with money and getting it out of them.

My mother was a master illusionist. Most people who got swindled by her would agree later on; she had a way about her.

She was witty, educated and articulate-with a genuine protectiveness for the uneducated and downtrodden.

Her face would captivate you; she had bright blue eyes of a true Irishwoman and the smooth white alabaster skin of her Mother’s Polish roots that had bewitched many a lover during her days in Greenwich Village on Jane Street. Despite being heavy later on in life, she was always considered beautiful because she carried it well.

On the day she jumped bail after several months at Holloway Women’s Prison, she called me from a pay phone at her bail hostel in Oxford. If she stayed for her court date, she said, she’d be locked up for more than a year. She told me to start packing, because she’d be by to pick me up in an hour.

Looking back now, I realize I would have done serious time had I been caught helping her escape, but, I was seventeen and thought I could save her from herself.

Anyway, I knew it was time to get the fuck out of dodge; it was just a matter of time before I caught for performing the traveler’s check scam she taught me. The con had kept me fed while I was on the streets, but it was still considered theft in the eyes of her majesty’s courts and I didn’t want to end up sharing a cell with my mother.

It was around mid-afternoon when I heard her pull up to Amanda’s apartment in a black shiny London taxi. I was rushing around, packing up the last of my shit, when I looked out of the open window, down to the wet street and saw her getting out of the cab. I dropped my cigarette with a shaking hand and stared at her.

The few short months in prison had changed and hardened her, she’d lost weight and her face was ashen. For the first time, she’d been in prison for months, not just the few days that she was used to. I had told her over and over again that the computer age was upon us, but she kept running her old scams and ended up in all the systems. I began to believe her when she told me England was trying to kill us.

“We have to go,” Mom said as she walked in Amanda’s East end apartment in Stoke Newington. She looked around at the bare living room and her eyes settled on me, she was edgy and restless. “Now.” she looked at her watch. She didn’t bother to chat with Amanda; who was by the window, smoking a silk cut.

I looked at Amanda and she understood. She and I were the same age and became friends in a strange way. Our mothers were cellmates together at Holloway.

Mom had begged Amanda’s mother to let me live with her daughter, because it was winter in London and I was sleeping on the streets or at friend’s houses. Her mom showed great compassion and Amanda and I bonded immediately.

We had a lot in common-we liked to get as drunk as we could on Thunderbird, smoke hash and laugh at the absurdity of life.

Amanda had a thick Cockney accent and was of mixed race. She wore matching Addias hoodie tracksuits and always had her hair up in a ponytail. She was Sporty Spice.  She had creamy cafe latte skin, with a spattering of freckles across the bride of her nose and her eyes were hazelnut colored with flecks of copper. She should have been a Bennetton model, but she was stuck in the ghetto and didn’t know how to get out.

Amanda had talents and one of them was being a professional when it came to rolling spliffs. She taught me how to roll quick, small ones you could puff on and toss in the bushes if a cop was nearby. Pipes were too much evidence to carry and get busted with.  Joints, as we Americans call them. Spliffs in England.

The Brits also have a different way of smoking out. When you smoke weed in a circle of friends in the U.S, you take a hit and pass it. In England, one holds on the joint for a few puffs and smokes 3 or 4 hits while everyone chats. If you pulled that shit in California, you would get your ass kicked for Bogarting the joint. Puff, puff pass, bitch. Everyone needs to get high. Now.

Oh, and they don’t have weed, grass, chronic or any of the green stuff over there. They smoke hash. And if you smoke too much or try to smoke it like grass, you will puke in a few hours.

Reality was something we didn’t like to deal with while our mothers were in prison together, so we got high. And drunk. But high during the day. We knew that if you drank during the day, you were an alcoholic. So we smoked hash.

Amanda would pull out a brown sticky square of hash and flick her lighter over the end corner of it. She would carefully sprinkle the crumbly brown hash over tobacco, which had been ripped out of a Silk Cut cigarette. She rolled it up in a Zig Zag paper and  light it. She squinted as the cloud of smoke wafted in her face.

She took a long drag of a joint and held it in as she spoke,  “Morgain, I’m just a half caste girl living in the ghetto. ” She blew it out and her eyes watered. “What kind of job can I get? I ain’t got nuffink, mate. No fucking education, no fucking money, not even me Mum.” She shook her head ruefully. She looked up at me, like maybe I had the answer.

I replied,  “At least your mum left you a house to live in when she went down in flames, my Mom left me holding a bag of shit. Pass that spliff.”

We’d dissolve into the giggles and insulate ourselves against the harsh world with laughter. The highs from the hash would take us to an innocent place where we could be like children again. She was the only girlfriend I’ve ever had that also had a mom in prison and we could tell each other the truth.

I’d smoke and smoke, taking deep long hits into my lungs, so it would fill up the aching in my chest. The fuzzy, creeping feeling that spread through my body made me feel safe.

I felt bad that Amanda didn’t have any sisters to share the misery of having a parent in Prison. At least I had my three sisters when Mom got arrested in the States. I thought about them and knew they were worried about me, but there wasn’t anything they could do. They didn’t have money to send me and were trying to stay alive themselves. And, I was too ashamed to tell them that she’d tricked me, again.

Now, Mom was back. I wasn’t sure why I felt so uneasy around her, but I could tell that she was in the dark places of her mind where not even I could reach her. My mother was gone, replaced by a strange, sinister woman with a wild, leaping look in her eyes.

Usually when it was time to run, Mom would laugh and say to us, “Let’s get this show on the road, kid!” or “You go where I go amigo!” but not this time.

I was packing my stuff in the bathroom and I caught my reflection in the mirror as I looked up from the sink. I was very pale and my eyes had a strange glimmer to them as well. They weren’t my eyes, they were like a street cat’s, skittish and not sure who to trust. Mom’s long stay in prison must have changed me too.

I said goodbye to my friend, thanking her for saving my life and from the bitterly cold London streets where I had been wandering, humiliated after I had to leave my posh school and friends in Kensington. I lugged my suitcase down the stairs and we got into the waiting taxi.

As the taxi puttered along to train station, I took a long last look out the window. When we fled from the detectives in the States, Mom told me she was going to turn her life into something good here and get a job as a writer. I had loved this city and all the hope it held for us in the beginning. Then everything had turned dark, like it always did before we had to leave in a hurry.

Waterloo station was coming up and I thought of the long trip before us. Getting out of England was going to be hard. Mom was supposed to be back at the bail hostel by now and it was getting dark. They would start looking for her soon.

Mom and I got out of the cab and headed towards the train station. She was slow and creaky from age and I turned around to wait for her. The wind whipped her grey hair up in tufts, in a comical way, like a picture of fun times from the rollercoaster rides at an amusement park. She smiled at me and I knew I couldn’t leave her. Another round in prison would kill her.

We could start over. Mom would never be able to get a job with all the police and detectives looking for her, but somehow, starting over sounded right.

Going to France would buy us some time to come up with a solution. Maybe the detectives would realize she was mentally ill and needed help, not prison.

She was supposed to be back at the bail hostel in Oxford by dusk, and it was definitely dark now. We still needed another hour on the train south to the ocean.  Then we had to get on the ferry in Portsmouth.  Somehow, we had to get on the boat without Mom getting caught through their checkpoint and sent back to Holloway Women’s Prison.

When we got to the Waterloo train station, I realized sporting events were finally good for something. The British were invading France for the weekend so see their soccer team.  A massive crowd of  rose-cheeked men from Liverpool in soccer jerseys were flooding the station, trying to get on the last trains to the ferry. The were jumpy and excited, looking for a fight and a fuck.

These Celtic men were on fire and they were determined to stay as functionally drunk as possible. They carried cases of beer under their arms and most had backpacks filled with more supplies in case they ran out on the nighttime ferry ride over.

For once, the ancient rivalry between these two countries helped women. Well, they helped two Irish American gypsy women evade the law. Thanks, soccer.

As we went into Waterloo Station, I hugged her. Then we went over to the ticket window to buy our tickets to Portsmouth, where the ferry would be waiting.


%d bloggers like this: