I tried to open my eyes but could not. In those first few seconds of waking, I realised pain had woken me, and panic was engulfing me as I tried again to open my eyes and could not.
I could not feel my hands, but told my brain to make them rub my eyes so they would open. They did as they were told but I felt like I had 10lb ice blocks at the end of my arms, despite the thermal gloves.
I rubbed and my eyes opened, the left first and then the right, it was as if someone had poured glue over them. My whole face felt frozen and numb.
I hurt all over - the pain was indescribable.
I rolled to my right and saw my eldest daughter, and all I could see in the dark was her face which was corpse white. In my half-awakened pain and panic state, I thought she was dead!
I managed to free my other arm and gave her a shove from my prone position. She opened her eyes and looked right at me, confused to start with, and then had humour in her eyes and a smile on her lips… was she laughing at me?
I was annoyed at her initially, and then as my brain fully engages I started smiling, even though it really hurt my face… if I looked like she did, I could appreciate what she was finding funny.
She was white from head to toe; I raised my head and could see I was too. Absurd as it sounds, we both got the giggles at how we looked. The whiteness was frost which had settled on us in the night as we slept under a tree. Giggling was making my face and every other extremity hurt. I had never been so cold; the pain was biting, and I could not even smile properly let alone speak bcause my face was so numb.
As we continued what seemed like our hysterical attempt to laugh, I felt the earth move beneath me and I started to slide.
I looked across at my daughter and the same thing was happening to her, realisation coupled with more panic flushed my system as we both started sliding down the slope we were sleeping on, gathering pace like an avalanche down a mountainside.
A split-second thought entered my head - where will we end up?
No sooner had this thought expressed itself and I hit something, or more accurately someone! To loud curses and mumblings, I could see in the freezing dark of the night, other “bodies” sliding down the slope as the frost created a ski-slope and sleepers on that particular patch of Princes Street Gardens were slamming into other prone bodies tightly wrapped in sleeping bags.
The domino effect was a farcical visual - many like my daughter and I were coated in frost and struggling to understand what had just happened.
Why the white faces? And why do I hurt so much?
The date was the 8th of December 2017, the place was Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, and the event was “Sleep in the Park” - a mass participation event across a number of Scottish cities in an attempt to work together, raise funds and attempt to get to the root issues of homelessness across Scotland.
This innovative idea to highlight not just the plight of homeless people, but to generate ideas and action, did indeed bear fruit. £3.6 million was raised and almost 500 properties were made available for occupation by homeless people across Scotland within months of this event, as a result of the collaboration between the Scottish Government and several leading Housing Associations.
Around 8,000 people “slept out” in Princes Street Gardens that night. The temperature unexpectedly dipped to -9 in the early hours on what was officially the coldest night of the year. I have never forgotten how cold I felt.
Now I know that sleeping out in my arctic grade sleeping bag, fortified by a flask of soup and coffee as well as a couple of drams prior to the event and wearing all the layers I had on that night (which included my “oh Bally Bally” T shirt) in no way qualifies me to say I know what it is like to be a rough sleeper or homeless.
I mean, we were entertained by Liam Gallagher, given an inspirational pep talk by Bob Geldof, told jokes by Rob Brydon and settled down to sleep with a hilarious bedtime story by John Cleese - this is not the experience of your average homeless person. But in terms of hard cash and action, this event did achieve something.
So we come closer to home and the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen fundraiser by Roker Report. The “Twitterthon” is an innovative idea by the RR team, who will attempt to broadcast for 24 hours commencing on Friday 10th at 8pm. An imaginative schedule, with some impressive and surprise guests is lined up, why not take part/listen in?
Of course, all we really want is your donations - please try and contribute if you can, large or small all donations are welcome to keep this vital service running. You can find out more about Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen and the fantastic work they do by exploring this link.
I was explaining unsuccessfully to my 6-year-old grandchildren twins what a Twitterthon was. They, with the innocence of their years, loved the sound of the word Twitterthon and made up a rhyme as they are inclined to do about “Papa Jibba Jabba on the Twitterthon” - it was very catchy... I hope the Jibba Jabba on the Twitterthon catches your attention too.
Aside from the money raised, I know the volunteers who attempt to keep this service functioning are invigorated and heartened by our efforts, which in turn inspire them to keep going.
I know too that the people who find themselves living on the streets, destitute and often without any real hope, sometimes are lifted by the type of effort we are making, I believe we are sending a message to those very people, that we care, and we want to help.
Please donate what you can, together we can make a difference.