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CHAPTER TWO

There were just two people at the funeral service and that was one less than at the inquest.

Mr Josiah Grimble had declined to attend the funeral:

"Guess I laid the boy to rest when I found him dead in bed," he said.

The coroner took very little time to record a verdict of suicide. Nobody seemed to care and nobody seemed bothered that another troublesome life had come to an end. Another soul had been sent to God knows where.

The facts were straightforward. Josiah Grimble bachelor of the parish and landlord to the homeless, the humble and the troubled - his words not mine. Mr Josiah Grimble9 a letter day Uriah Heep had found him in bed. By his side was a glass - empty as it so happens and beside the glass an aspirin bottle - also empty.

A few hours before Josiah Grimble found the body, that bottle had been full of small white pills that could both bring a beginning and an end.

It wasn't the first time that Grimble had been in such a position and it wouldn't be the last. Grimble earned a living by letting out random unfashionable rooms in the rough area of town to no-hopers.

The people he let the rooms to were scum, useless flotsam, men and women young and old who had decided to take the easy option and drop out. They had no characters. He had no thoughts either for or about them.

He collected from the social services, made a healthy profit and tidily built up a squalid empire. He very rarely repaired any of the properties. As soon as one of the scum left he filled it with somebody else. It was a simple question of supply and demand.

He asked no questions. That way he was told no lies. Some were dragged off by the police, others took their own lives. He never philosophised on the matter. He was Josiah Grimble - the man who was between these people and a life spend in cardboard city or a park bench somewhere.

He felt neither guilt nor remorse. He had no feelings at all for his victims. He gave them a home. The fact that the homes were damp, rat infested and unfit for habitation was not his problem.

Grimble argued that without the mix of junkies, drop outs and walking disasters, they would simply rot into the gutter that life and this town dragged the young and middle aged into.

The old were beyond caring. Anybody who made it to 50 was likely to complete a natural life whatever that was.

This town was no respecter of persons. It dragged everyone down. It was a stinking dump, festering in its own vomit, singling out none but stamping on all. George Orwell's vision of 1984 had nothing on this 1990s vat of imperfection.

The people who populated the rooms had no past, no present and more importantly no future. In fact their future was more unfriendly than their past or present.

Grimble blamed the system, blamed life itself, but never blamed himself. He was a man born into a sparkling upper class family. The youngest of three sons he soon became the black sheep of the family but made more money than his two brothers put together.

The fact that he made his fortunes by lying and cheating was no concern of his. Grimble had never had to fight for existence. His philosophy on life was simple. The government had a duty to look after those unable to look after themselves. He felt most of the "animals" he dealt with should be locked safely away in mental institutions.

But in the 1980s the mental hospitals had been closed down one by one by the Thatcher government. Halfway houses catered for a few but others were booted onto the street without hope or the ability to pull themselves together.

These people existed - but scarcely. They were the walking dead, their sad, sick and twisted minds trapped inside bodies that were powerful and strong. They were the wanderers of the night. They slept in parks, in bus stations virtually anywhere until they were either moved on by the police or attacked by somebody in a more brutal plight than themselves.

It was dog eat dog on the streets, the survival of the fittest and these people were grossly unfit to live outside an institution. They didn't want to. They needed the orderly calm and relatively safe life that they had been thrown out of. They knew there was no going back but they didn't know how to go forward.

And instead of gathering comfort from each other, they fought. Fought to gain their territory and once they had it fought to keep it with any means at their disposal. The worst ones spent their lives in fear, believing that they were being followed all day and talked about at every street corner. A mere glance in their direction could send them into paroxysms of rage.

Those that weren't found face down in the river survived in a limbo world. Of course our feelings went out to them all. We were socially aware. We felt sorry about them, we talked about them, we supported efforts to help them but we didn't want to lift a bloody finger to help them. We supported them in spirit those of us with a social conscience of course.

These people - and they had no names - these faceless people felt alienated, lost in a lost world, struggling to hold on to a tiny strand of reality. Some found a niche for themselves. They wasted their days and nights drinking, getting high on drugs. The unlucky ones were left in a twilight world unable to balance reality from nightmare, grotesquely inadequate, paranoid and devastated.

This was an illness that wrecked society, but it was always other people's illness. The rich and middle classes turned their backs, pretended these people didn't exist and got on with their own petty meaningless lives.

But their lives were as meaningless as "the scum" they despised. But in many ways they were worse off. They were aware of "the scum" but pretended they didn't exist And that's why nobody cared about this man found dead, unwanted, unclean. Nobody cared because there was nobody capable of caring. nobody understood that once he had been happy, once he had been a complete human being.

A man had died and those were the facts. The world would go on - long live the world and God save the dead.

Thirty-six years of life were encapsulated in one moment. That one moment was when Josiah Grimble, bachelor of this parish, fought his way through the grime to find the body. The rest was purely mechanical. This man was no longer a man ... no longer a being . . no longer anything.

Grimble had done the necessary. He needed the body removed, he had people waiting for the room. The world must go on and Grimble had a living to make. The inquest was an annoyance, the funeral something to be missed and so he missed it.

And on Wednesday morning, a day after the cremation1 Grimble relet the room. His life went on much as before. He voted Tory at the following general election, complained about the rising costs of keeping his houses and therefore he passes from our story, his usefulness used up.


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