It is over 10 years since I worked at the Caravan, a very green therapist who was only matched in intensity by the dark green hue of the Caravan itself.
My appointed slot was Sunday, 12 noon to 3pm. An unusual time, habitually associated with long lazy brunches or traditional Sunday lunches, as a time when friends and family come together to share the most convivial of times.
As the good student that I was, I had faithfully absorbed the instruction that the Caravan was not intended to be a tearoom dispensing free drinks. Of course, in my very first session, one of the resident homeless who slept in the courtyard of St. James’s knocked at the door with the words: “May I have a cup of coffee?”
My chronic ingrained inability to say ‘No’ (inherited from my absent father syndrome) overruled the good student in me. I dutifully made the coffee. And so a pattern formed. As soon as I arrived at the Caravan, the man would soon knock at the door and in he would come for five minutes. Often we would sit in awkward silence, as I brooded on my guilt at giving him the coffee, and he nervously drinking it as soon as possible as if he somehow knew the unspoken rules too. Nothing could have been further removed from the therapeutic encounter.
Approximately two months into my ‘counselling training’ I arrived at the Caravan at 12 noon and no knock came. By the time it came to quarter to three, I was really becoming quite concerned when I saw him scurrying across waving his arms towards me.
“I’m late” he said. “I’ve slept in. I’ve only just woken up? Can I still have my coffee?” The mother hen in me smiled with relief, and made the forbidden cup of coffee. His words came tumbling out of his smiling animated face. “You see, I have had a great week. I took loads of money last week, nearly £40. So, I sent £15 home to my daughter. That’s why I do this job to help look after her. I went to the charity shop and bought some new shoes, trousers and a shirt for £3.” He proudly pointed to his new attire. “So I decided to take my friend out on a night out. She sleeps outside Green Park Tube. So we went out clubbing last night. We had a great time, so that’s why I am late.”
The tall, dark walls of all the prejudices and hideous assumptions I had built up around the homeless were torn down in a millisecond. We smiled, we laughed, our convivial brunch time meeting flowed, and the least understood aspect of therapy emerged. Shared good humour eliminated the obstructions between ourselves and the Absolute, God, Goddess, Allah, Tao, the Universe. The barriers between us that were never there to begin with simply fell apart.
Even now, it was the best and most enduring 15-minute therapy session I have ever had.
Thank you, Caravan. Thank you, Zak. Thank you, Nigel.
Janet C Love