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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

Rethinking my thoughts about being a missing child on Piccadilly W1

Hi folks, before I continue writing this blog I’d just quickly like to say that my apologies to both those that haven’t heard from me for a while and also those still awaiting the Welcome To Leatheton bundle from a while back. I will explain more about this in another blog and perhaps even go deeper into my current state of mental health, but for the meantime I’d just like to give my apologies as I’ve been stuck in a few ruts of late.

Nevertheless I wanted to write down these thoughts I’ve been having, you see, well there’s been a lot of recent events bringing much confusion lately, and it’s brought up things that I haven’t spoken about publicly much throughout my book journey, but it’s something that has always secretly been haunting me.

I don’t really want this blog article to be about that though, but for the last two decades I’ve had some suspicions about my life, even long before I was able to reflect back on who I was, and what it meant to be me.

I think writing my book about stigma and discrimination among the homeless and care leavers has affected me a lot. For me it’s been a journey of realising some of that and despite still covering more of the spookier feelings about my life, it had brought me some further insight and understanding when being able to reflect on some events.

But then came the big crash, which I’ll explain more about in another blog, but things got spooky again, but this time were seemingly allowed to happen when usually they wouldn’t have, it’s a long story but it’s brought so much of my past back up and well, it’s a completely isolating place to be because people will instantly think that your crazy when you say that you thought things might have been happening in my life that I wasn’t always quite aware of.

It's a complete different story in itself of which I’ve just deleted two paragraphs in order to prevent being side-tracked, but I found myself thinking about something that comes in my mind from time to time, and that is the question of if the police and authorities knew exactly where I was a lot of the time during my times as a runaway child not only sleeping a block down from Green Park tube station, but roaming the streets of the west end at night, hanging out at Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. I often find myself thinking, surely they knew? Surely?

More so when I think again of not only the times they’d brought me in and continued to walk past the next time they saw me, but also the police operations in the west end where they’d woken up all of the homeless people including myself, and filmed them asking for their details. Of course, as always I’d give a fake name and date of birth, and often a different accent which would usually either be Cockney or Liverpool. So, as I often say when telling this particular little story, somewhere there was a video of me for some time being woken up by police and being searched whilst giving those details.

I’ve got a whole list of stuff that happened around those years which I could go into, but to avoid distraction I found myself wondering, well, was it better at least that the police and authorities knew where I was at least, if they knew at all.

Central London was a dangerous place for sure, and I know that I wasn’t the only runaway about, but it was almost too easy to blag to the police and stay seemingly undetected slap bang in the middle of London’s west end. When I think of other people back then on the streets of London nearer my own age, I was nearly always the youngest and so when noticing other people there on the streets that may have been as young as I was, yet also telling everyone else that they were eighteen or whatever, not many other faces come to mind at all.

Of course, many runaways and missing children live a much more hidden life, in which sadly many suffer extreme consequences for it if they’ve not been lucky enough to find a truly safe place with caring people. Child runaways are certainly targeted for exploitation as they are deemed easy pickings by predatory types, whether that be for sexual gratification or financial exploitation.

But sometimes I wonder, in the most CCTV’d place in the world and often purposefully sleeping under cameras for safety reasons, if the authorities knew and were there kind of thinking ‘well, we know where he is and he’s holding is own’. That might sound shocking at first, but what if I’d suddenly being scared off from running away to London and decided to go elsewhere. I dread to think what my life would be like now and where I could of ended up because of it.

I’m certainly not saying that the west end is a safe place, because for a child that is certainly far from the truth and I always knew that despite my mental health struggles that among those from my kind of lives I was among the luckiest to some degree. Sure, I could struggle with getting my feet on the ground at times but I was extremely fortunate to not have smoked heroin and crack properly in some of my earliest days in London. I’d been offered both at some point by the age of twelve, and having not smoked them properly on both occasions I just didn’t get a taste for it.

I seriously can’t explain how much of a lift writing that last paragraph has given me. I was half a breath away from becoming a life-long drug addict. I doubt I’d even be here now to be honest, especially knowing that I do have an addictive personality.

Someone was watching over me for sure, tips and advice to stay safe would come in the form of human angels warning me to stay clear of certain places and to not accept the offers of free crack and brown. OK, so I nearly got stabbed when I was telling a heroin dealer to fuck off, but I know that he knew deep down that I was just being a gobby and defensive kid, still my piping up worked though. I didn’t see him again.

How much of the feeling of them knowing where I was is in my mind was for real I’ll likely never know. I guess I’m just continually surprised in many ways that I was able to live the life I had growing up from such a young age. Perhaps I really did just fool everyone and manage to get away with being hidden in plain sight, especially across the park from Buckingham palace.

If there ever were people watching out for me, then thanks. But am I just being a bit deluded there. A lot of it happens on some sort of spiritual level though, those warnings and advice or people looking out for you can make such a significant impact on your whole reality that when your able to reflect on them many years later you just know they are special.

I have to share this thought because I nearly cried thinking about it, but some of the angels that came my way to make a significant impact didn’t always come in the most respectable-looking form. I always think back to one of the elders of the street girls on brick lane in my earliest days in London, and it was those people that knew far much more about the uglier side of human nature than a lot of people. It was often those types that had been through the worst, yet had a natural inclination to wise-up and protect the young runaways as best they could.

Call me emotional but I’ve just nearly burst out again here upon thinking how fortunate I really was. I’d been knocking about with a runaway girl who was a year older than me and only thirteen, and she’d got involved in prostitution. She’d often tell me where to meet her and so I’d seen her a few hours later. One time though she’d been missing a few days, of which when she finally returned she’d explain that she’d had a gun put to her head and gang raped. Before that had happened though, and still after, she’d made sure with an iron fist that nobody ever got me on crack on heroin, and even if they’d offered it out of pure politeness she’d pipe up and warn those that did sternly that there’d be trouble. What an angel.

When Joanne had been put in secure unit I’d been out on my own, and as explain also in my Poems From a Runaway book, I’d been befriended in a day centre in Aldgate by an older guy that spent all day trying to groom me into staying it his place which unknowingly to me was so he could completely financially exploit. After staying in his flat in Edmonton Green for a couple of days I was then held up with a machete and told if I made any noise I’d never be seen again.

Having took my chance to finally escape from the flat and run, looking back it scares the shit out of me thinking what else could of happened. The whole vibe of it, I just know that it could of easily got a whole lot worse.

I’d then go on to make a point of not going back into the east end even though I’d found it easier to stay under the radar whilst in Whitechapel, especially with my fake cockney and Toby Sycamore persona.

But arriving in Victoria that day was a big contrast to being in Whitechapel. Here I felt more out in the open and a little less anonymous. Having spent my thirteenth birthday living on the steps of the Apollo after another somewhat tragic event that’s when I’d started sleeping on the streets of the west end. At first I’d sleep at Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square or somewhat around those areas in doorways before establishing what became my somewhat long-term pitch at what was one of the back fire-exits of Tokyo Joes which led out onto Piccadilly with Green Park just across from it.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to see celebrities and the mega-rich on a daily basis with that area having being Mayfair. Half of the time I didn’t know who the famous people were but other people did, and just a minute or so’s walk towards Piccadilly Circus was where I’d met two of the lads from Busted that I also mention in Poems From a Runaway.

I think the amazement of such a reality has had some seriously impacts on my mental health though. The constant wondering of how it all really became to be, and if anything else really was ever happening in the background. I think despite some of the other events in my adult life that have brought much confusion, if there ever was anybody ever watching to keep half an eye on me to make sure I was safe, then thank you.

Thanks for reading.

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Huge thanks for any and all of your support.

More about my projects on my upcoming post.

Big Love.

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