It was a fascinating night out recently when London Living took a trip over to the Old Queen’s Heads in Islington to an All Ears event exploring the highs and lows of London life – in other words, the things we Londoners love and hate about our home town.
It was a thought-provoking evening as a homeless man, a London entrepreneur and a Tower of London Beefeater took to the stage to share their London stories with a captive audience, providing the unsung heroes of the city with an unlikely common platform on which to share their life experiences.
Mauritian native Vijay Jagun shared his tale of what it’s like to be homeless on London’s streets and his ongoing battle with the Home Office to gain residency in the UK, his home for the past ten years. ‘There’s nowhere in London I haven’t slept,’ he said. ‘I had prejudice about homeless people before, but after three days on the streets, I had eaten nothing. I started begging for food. It was not easy. I would walk every night until I fell asleep.’
Eventually referred to a day centre Shelter from the Storm after he was found covered in snow, Vijay describes the first time he met other homeless people. ‘It was a really scary moment. What a different world.’
At the centre, Vijay started reading ‘five or six books a week. Orwell, Camus, Alexander Dumas’, when volunteers suggested if he liked reading so much, he might like writing too. That’s when Vijay started a blog, Short Journey, Long Distance, and began to document his experiences on London’s streets. ‘The blog was a success and had a positive response quickly,’ he said. ‘I was queuing at the day centre and then giving a lecture at the University of Connecticut in Bloomsbury or being interviewed by Radio 5 at night.’
Currently waiting to find out his immigration status, Vijay hopes to find work in the housing or homeless sector but his story as it stands is a powerful reminder to us of those on London’s streets who many of us walk past but rarely stop to speak to.
The second speaker was Rob Syminton, who quit his ‘boring city job’ alongside business partner Dom Jackman to launch business, Escape the City. Set up to help talented individuals escape from unfulfilling jobs in the City, the company harnessed the shift in our relationship with our work and set up this thriving organisation encouraging people to embrace change. Their motto is ‘do something different’ and starting out at their kitchen table, that is exactly what they did. Their story is one of motivation, inspiration and spending more time – whether in London or out of it – doing what you really want to do, with ‘autonomy, purpose and mastery’ being the main pillars behind what they believe truly drive us.
Finally, Yeoman Warder (or Beefeater) Bill Callaghan, from the Tower of London took to the stage. Armed with the unusual responsibility of guarding the Crown Jewels for the Queen, Bill has over 2 million hits on YouTube for his hilarious and knowledgeable tours revealing insider’s snippets about life inside London’s most famous landmark. ‘I can’t think of a better job,’ Bill told the enraptured crowd. ‘I get to meet people every day. I live in a castle. In central London. With parking. Near the tube. You ladies can find me on Facebook.’ The gags continued as Bill joked, ‘But try and order a takeaway to the Tower of London. By the time it gets to you, it’s cold.’ In true showman style, Bill gave some fascinating insights into life in the Tower, including how some kids grow up there – ‘when the public go home, all the kids come out to play’ – and how the Beefeaters are each sent a bottle of their namesake gin at Christmas and on birthdays.
All Ears was a truly engrossing evening of storytelling which had us on the edge of our seats, and one we’d definitely recommend to any Londoners out there who, like us, enjoy a good nose around in the lives of other people. Follow All Ears on Twitter to find out about their next event.