Byline: ANDREW MARTIN
Britain's got beggars has happened to all As 'blanket waifs' swamp our streets, Andrew Martin went in search of a legend - the genuine 'gentlemen of the road' My search for a proper, old-fashioned tramp of the sort you don't seem to see much these days was triggered by the sight of a bench outside the City Library in York. It was empty at 10pm, and that wasn't right.
I could walk up to it and read the inscription without any problem: 'This seat was provided with the generous assistance of Mrs E. B.
Cooper. . .' Twenty years ago, I would not have been able to do that because this bench was the bed of a tramp.
He had jet-black hair and a jet-black beard. His head was about 80 per cent hair and 20 per cent face.
(My dad, whose hair had receded slightly, used to say, with a mixture of admiration and bitterness, that the tramp's hair never fell out because he never washed it.) His face was brown: too like a polished antique to be healthy-looking, but the shade still owed more to the outdoor life than drink. He wore a sack-like coat with a belt of frayed string, and his trousers were rumpled and dun.
Above his big boots, he'd used more string to rig up a pair of garters.
The boots and garters were important because they put the focus on his feet.
(He walked everywhere, and he walked a lot. Eventually, he must have walked away from York - or, …