I went for a weekend to visit an old friend who ran a pub in Belgium. He needed a break and offered me a job working at the bar.
The work was hard; from 9 am until 4 am the next morning, but I enjoyed the life there, just off the Grand Platz in the centre of Brussels, the Opera round the corner. Then one lunchtime I unexpectedly collapsed in the street on my way to deposit the bar takings in the bank. Four days later I woke up in hospital and could remember nothing about how I got there. My first thought was for the money I had been carrying- where was it? I was amazed to find it in my bedside cabinet and even more amazed to discover that I was seriously ill and that my boss thought that I had ‘done a runner’ with the money. Anyway I sorted that out but in the end I had to stay in hospital for two years, although it was not until just before I left that they told me I had been seriously ill with TB.
As I had been so ill they wouldn’t let me out unaccompanied, so my brother came over from England to fetch me back. The hospital gave me a letter and told me to sign up with a new doctor. The doctor took one look at the letter and got up and walked out; a minute later a nurse came in with a mask on and told me an ambulance was coming for me. They took me to a special clinic under observation for four weeks in case I was incubating TB. They obviously didn’t trust foreign doctors.
When I came out I couldn’t work as I was still on medication and classified as disabled. Social Services put me in a hotel in Southend. I didn’t like having nothing to do so I got a small job delivering leaflets and spent a lot.
I thought things were looking up when I was given a Springbourne Housing Association flat. I settled in, paying my rent every week, and thought everything was going right until a letter came saying I hadn’t paid the rent. I knew I had paid it as I had taken it regularly to the local Post office. When I went to the Post Office I found it had been closed down and the Post Master imprisoned for swindling people like old age pensioners and me out of their money. So I was evicted had no money and nowhere to live.
I found a night shelter in Chelmsford. It was OK, only 10 people lived there and everyone had their own single rooms, not dormitories like St Pat’s. One of the staff knew about Emmaus Brighton and she drove me here, Mathieu interviewed me and I moved in at once.
I like it here, the work’s enjoyable — and I was surprised to find how well it all runs. I’m not thinking of moving on and I am now a Community Assistant and have a bit more responsibility helping to run the place.