Magazine article The Spectator

Sleeping Rough

Magazine article The Spectator

Sleeping Rough

Article excerpt

Low life

Normally I have my boy and his halfbrother to stay at weekends, but my boy's mother doesn't allow him to stay with me while I'm staying at Geoff's. She doesn't know Geoff, she says. He's a stranger. For all she knows, she says, Geoff could be a child-molester. So my boy and I have to stay somewhere else on Saturday nights. As I'm a bit skint, and have no friends, let alone friends with spare accommodation, we currently have no alternative but to sleep in a tent on public land. This is fine and dandy with my boy and with his halfbrother - they don't stop laughing. But, for me, the experience of putting up a small clandestine tent in the rain because we haven't anywhere else to go can be a bit dispiriting.

There's no way Geoff is a paedophile. Far from it. My boy's mother, however, is agoraphobic. She hasn't been out of the house for five years. And after being confined indoors for that length of time, one is naturally prone, I suppose, to mildly paranoid fears and delusions. But we don't complain about her over-cautious edicts. We don't dare for one thing. And for another, her agoraphobia has its advantages. She's always at home, for example. Knock on the door of her council house and it's always going to be opened by this wide bosomy woman with a lighted Mayfair held down by her side. Which must provide an extra element of security for her three children.

And there's never any question about seeing my one. Many fathers are denied what is termed 'access', which must be very hard to bear. (In my case, seeing my boy is everything.) So I count myself fortunate in having no restrictions of this kind. But the main reason I don't complain about her occasionally paranoid injunctions, however, is that I am probably one of the main causes of her condition.

Since Christmas, she's been making heroic efforts to go outside. (Fair play to her for even trying, I say. I recently read an article by an educated, middle-class woman who'd been trying to go out for 25 years with little success.) She walked to the end of the road and back after dark every night, holding hands with one or more of the kids. For a time this was so successful she bought a second-hand mobile phone. …

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