John & George

Friday 20th April 2012

Walking home after a few work drinks, I spotted my good man John sitting on the footpath, drawing with his good dog George. He was doing a pen drawing of Shoreditch High Street, which I wanted for my wall. I sat next to him for a few hours and watched. It was interesting. He says he's not homeless,  just "financially embarrassed". People asked if I was homeless. John used to work in advertising, wrapping up the work to send out to clients. People walked past and kept giving him money. I asked why I wasn't getting any money. He said "stop laughing and look a bit more sad". That made me laugh. John calls himself an artist, not a beggar. He says people can give him money if they take a photo of his dog (who's wearing a coat) or if they buy his artwork. A Northern Irish guy passed and left some steak for the dog. I thought that was nice. John thought it would have been nicer if there was a note in the box. He told me about how he used to shoplift and how to break through doors and when to hit a certain place to take all the weekend's earnings, how he used to rob building sites and sell all the equipment on the market the next morning. I told him he was a baddy. He disagreed. He said he's been to prison a lot, says it's like being in hospital but even more boring. I went and got us some burgers and chips. We watched the people across the road sitting next to the cash machine. He said you earn about £90 a night sitting there. He pointed out the man standing in the phone box, said he was waiting his turn to sit there. There is a rota. John doesn't sit there unless he's desperate. He thinks it's a little invasive and says he wouldn't give people his money.  John found his shoes in an Office shoe box that day on the street corner. As we sat, a man gave him a Tesco bag full of sandwiches - he got cigarettes, a lolly pop, a beer, coins and notes. He did alright. Most people talk about the dog. Some people ask about his drawing. A street patrol were out from the local church. They asked where I lived. I asked John why he sat in this particular spot. He said it was because of the women. I laughed. He wasn't joking. I went and got us a coffee. John said he would love to know what people think when they walk past him. I told him they probably wonder what he thinks. He didn't think so. He finished his drawings, gave me a Tesco bag and told me not to get them wet. He said he is famous for drawing faces, but the high street one would be the money maker. He asked if I'd get home okay and told me to say hi next time I walked past. I said I would.

A few years later... John went on to do quite well.