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“Ladies and Gents, haven’t you got homes to go to?”

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By Richard Pettinger

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Ah, the cheery, plaintive call of the weary landlord at closing time…of course we had, and of course we did, sometimes unsteadily, always advisedly. But we went home. Because we could.

At 6.30 pm on 26th March, I’m not going home (I’m not going to the pub either, more’s the pity).

That night, I’m sleeping in a doorway in support of the @ymcaderbyshire Sleep Easy, with the wondrous help of my colleagues at Nielsen McAllister, to raise funds for their terrific work in helping and empowering the homeless.

Let’s be honest here; it’s not the world’s greatest imposition (even for a softie like me), and more irksomely uncomfortable than really challenging. I’ve also done it before (from choice, I hasten to add…) so I know the score.

And here’s the score; sleeping rough messes with your mind.

I’ll be prepared, with plenty of layers of clothing, a sturdy cardboard box, flasks (both coffee and hip…) and a little food. A proper Boy Scout. But, as before, I won’t be prepared for the changes in mental focus that swing into effect almost immediately.

By 7.45pm, I’ll have had 2 cups of coffee and my sandwiches, studied every inch of my doorway, checked my phone 11,000 times for supportive messages/ reasons for abandoning my sleep out and going home, and repositioned my sleeping arrangements a dozen times. I will be convinced that my watch has stopped, and that I have slipped into some appalling gash in the fabric of time and that this is my real life, forever.

And then, I will have nothing to do. Nothing. And that’s when your mind goes weird. I’ll begin to fixate on tiny, inconsequential things, like the patterns in the cracks on the slabs in my doorway, a niggling pain in my foot, recounting again and again just how many emergency chocolates I have left and how strong an ant must be relative to humans, to be able to carry huge leaves so far…

Having nothing to do or occupy your mind causes magnification; every problem becomes huge, every worry becomes untenable, every fear becomes real.  I start to believe that every passer-by has darkness in their heart, that every cloud has a manure lining, that every positive is a negative in disguise. And it’s not even ten o’clock…I keep telling myself this is one night, it will all be over at 8 tomorrow morning, when I’ll be suffused with endorphins at my wonderful nobility.

But something inside has switched off, and all I can see is the reality of my situation. This is it. No help, no future, no escape. I’m all that I have. And tomorrow this will all happen again. It’s truly, truly disturbing.

Which it would be, if it were true. But for me, it isn’t, and I count my blessings that I’ll be going home tomorrow, and huddle deeper into my sleeping bag.

Believe me, no one would choose to sleep rough permanently. I wouldn’t. Try it some time.

Alternatively, trust me to do it for you, and donate the cost of a couple of cups of coffee by clicking here.

Thank you.

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