Tag: homeless

Athens Tear Gas

I tripped over a syringe yesterday as I walked past a shopping trolley which was half-full of empty cans; recycling other peoples rubbish is a good way of making money in a financial crisis – I flashback to my meetings with the hordes of homeless in Japan – but this shopping trolley is padlocked to a post so precious is it and its contents. Nearby two ‘homeless’ guys sleep slumped together awkwardly. As I make my way home I become aware of an eerie silence permeating the streets and the boarded-up shops.

The silence is broken here and there by moments of quiet action as I pass small groups of people sitting outside still open cafes. Is this the new face of Europe I ask myself as the crisis steamrolls onwards unabated uncontrolled towards an end that no-one really knows.

Here in Athens people still like to live life as much as possible – with a strong emphasis on eating and drinking – it takes ones mind off the bleak harsh reality of life.

Tonight, In the anarchist run square where I am staying a live band entertains a massive happy crowd into the early hours of the morning until a loud boom is heard, and suddenly people start to move. There is a strong stench in air and my eyes quickly become weary and irritated – “It is tear-gas!” someone announces, and the crowd pushes out of the square, groups of once happy party people are forced to cover their faces with handkerchiefs as they head off in the direction of the police who (although they remain outside the quarter) have made it clear that the party has gone on long enough, that now it must end. I decide to return to my room.

As I enter the hotel I joke with the hotel manager that check-in should include a gas mask, he laughs but I am kind of serious. This is nuts. A country at war with itself in a doomsday international economic crisis never seen before in history – but the manager laughs and tells me to wait for tomorrow night “You will get used to it soon” he says bidding me goodnight as I head upstairs to watch the night from my balcony.

A Dave new world

I have to book a flight for Damascus to fly tomorrow but British politics finds me hiding from the world deep under the sheets in my bed. The news announces “Today we wake to a new day in British politics…” but I feel as depressed as I did in 1979 when the iron cow took office and proceeded to wreck the country.

The thought of having an out-of-touch toff from Eton leading us sends me back to sleep. I want to sleep for 5 years to avoid seeing these rosy-cheeked plums ‘leading’ a country they know nothing about.

The election result could also be the beginning of the end for documentary on television. David Cameron spoke about his plans to get rid of BBC3 & BBC4 if he took office. Can the usually spineless Lib Dems protect us from David in this flimsy coalition? What British TV network will there be left for serious documentary film making if BBC4 goes? Does David care, did the Tories ever care?

When I was 16 I left school and fell straight into Thatcher’s unemployed underclass. Thanks to the Tories we saw hordes of homeless walking the streets, communities were wrecked, people were cast aside, the sick and elderly were ignored and left to die alone at home. Industry was privatised and so was the individual. People took to the picket lines – I was politicised thanks to Margaret, she made me want to pick a camera up and record what was going on; as a force for change, maybe I should thank her.

My only hope today is that David will also help politicise the millions of new poor displaced working class members of British society who are going to be punished by his policies to ‘reform’ this country left bankrupt thanks to the lies of New Labour and the greed driven behaviour of their friends the bankers.

Now in office David has offered inheritance tax allowance up to a million pound to his wealthy friends whilst promising public sector cuts and evictions for the poor. How does this help anyone in my home-town of Hull? Only those like John Prescott – ‘The fat leisure class’ which emerged as a result of the deceit of New Labour will benefit.

And so today I struggle to pull myself from the sheets feeling fear and sadness for my country and anger at being let down by a Labour party that became ‘New’ to attract a middle class vote but in doing so got rich and corrupted by power, and the thrill and desire to stay in power, so much so that the working class once again have been betrayed and compromised – no wonder many of them didnt bother to vote, allowing the Tories in again!

In a glimmer of hope I make my way to the bathroom for a pee contemplating the Labour party now in opposition. I feel there is a chance for it to regroup and rethink and re-kindle core Labour values.

As desperate days under Tory rule take hold and wage freezes / cuts throughout the public and private sectors become reality, and the homeless return back to the streets again in ever growing numbers I for one hope for 1970’s style strikes across Britain again, and riots like the ones I that I grew up with in 1980, to help fuel a fire for change from within, from the voiceless working classes, from the people who are being forced to suffer because of the actions of others, so that after these 5 years of hell we can make a positive change for Britain again, with Labour hopefully representing the poor as its core value.

I only hope BBC4 is around to commission filmmakers to make the hard hitting documentaries that will illuminate this country as it teeters on the edge of change and revolution. But for now I must escape the depressing landscape of a Tory Britain to find freedom and fun in Damascus, Syria, an authoritarian dictatorship where I’m trying to make a film and where the Tories thankfully don’t exist.

Oliver Twist in Japan

I was out looking for the luxurious hotel where Lost in Translation was shot. I wanted to re create that scene in the panoramic bar with me staring over a beer into the midnight sky, staring into space. Outer ‘Space’.

This is my Japan. I said to a friend the other week despairingly, “Being in Japan is like living on the moon. Japan is my new prison”. We walked amidst the luxurious hotels that towered above us, but I was still moaning, “I hate Japan”. I declared to my patient Japanese friend.

In the distance I saw a queue of homeless people; I mean hundreds of them standing in lines of three shamelessly outside The Crown Plaza Hyatt Hotel. I had to go look closer. Bowls of rice were being handed out at one of Japans many soup kitchens. I watched the faces of the poor old men and women who come begging for food. None of them drunk, all of them dignified and grateful to the 20 odd volunteers who were serving up the bowls of rice.

Each line of three people would emerge take a bowl of rice and bow thanking the volunteers. They would move away and eat as the next three dark dirty faces emerge. It was Oliver Twist in Japan. I felt sad, sad for these people and the country that they’ve all worked so hard to build, a country which after economic recession provided no safety net for them as they fell from grace and onto the streets. Many of them lost their jobs after the economic crash in the early 1990’s. They rely on day-work for £35 a day if they are lucky.

Later I traveled around Shinjuku Park visiting the many makeshift homes with the volunteers. Tokyo city council is finding apartments for the homeless now. It is officially estimated that there are 25,000 of them in Japan, although the real figure is expected to be twice that. Many of the homeless feel free of the pressure of being in the rat race. Some described their life in tents in parks as ‘free’. Free is my favourite word in Japan. I think about it everyday as I watch this machine-like society plough ahead; where to? No one really knows or seemingly stops to think.

Later I find myself in a panoramic bar having a beer and a plate of chips. I am lost in my translation staring into the ‘space’ that is my new prison, that is my Japan. From the panoramic window I notice the empty spot where the soup kitchen and hundreds of homeless once were. Now it is vacant, they too have all disappeared into space.


Salarymen old and new have made this country what it is. But what a price to pay.

Today I went to the poorest district of Tokyo called San Ya. Here homeless Japanese live on the streets. It was like walking into the backstreet’s of China not modern Japan. I was approached in a friendly way by gangs of men standing on street corners drinking Sake and beer.

These men’s misfortune came after the last recession in the late 1980`s. It is difficult to imagine that they were salarymen who believed they had jobs and pensions for life. For them, the collapse of the company meant not only a great personal loss but a mighty fall from grace. Funny that this area is the only place I’ve seen alcohol sold from machines in the streets. It felt like a caring gesture from this bustling economy to give something back to these men who had given their lives to Japan. Like anyone living on the street the alcohol numbs the cold and the pain of the past, but unlike homeless people in other countries the homeless in Japan still get up and go to work each day.

These men queue for whatever work they can get, employed on a daily basis, they said they can earn 8000 Yen for a days work, about $70, or £40. They sleep in day hotels that cost about 2200 Yen £12 a night if they are lucky… more often than not they live in cardboard boxes on the streets that have become their homes. Most of them have lost their families. I watch them standing around sipping from little cups of Sake bought from vending machines in the streets.

In the posh part of Tokyo where I stay I’ve also been watching the armies of modern day salarymen, visible by their black coats suits and ties, file in and out of trains, coffee shops, restaurants. I watch them sleep standing up in packed trains as they make their way home late at night. They often work 12, 14, 16 or 18 hours a day. It is their commitment and hard work that has made Japan successful. An economic army who work what ever hours are needed. I read today that the country is set to grow by 5% this year, coming out of recession with a vengeance. You can see why when you observe the salarymen and office lady’s whose dedication is at the heart of Japan’s success.

Being in Japan really makes me wonder about the quality of life. To me life seems hard in the world’s second largest economy – where the minimum wage is set at 750 Yen for one hour (about £5) and where the Governments set maximum working day is supposed to be 8 hours, but people regularly work 12 , 14, 16 ,18 hours. I was drinking at 2am in a bar last night (this morning) and got a call from Mayumi the office fixer, she was still working – as was the whole office!

Society here steamrolls ahead, this powerful economy is all about moving forward at whatever cost. It never stops to question or take heed from the past, it just moves ahead.

But wealth comes with a price. The obvious despair of the homeless salarymen is hard to accept in a country so rich. It is difficult to imagine them wearing the black suits and ties today. They look like any other drunk in any other country now.

The plight of the homeless salarymen and the tired army of modern day salarymen reminds me of a quote I read before coming here, ‘Japan has one foot in the future, one foot in the past and nothing in the present’.

Today it feels true.