World Book Night on Wednesday coincided with a wonderful display of charity by a group of RGU students who took part in an overnight sleepover on the roof of the St Nicholas Centre in aid of Aberdeen Cyrenians. I was delighted to join Catriona Yule in delivering a few bedtime stories to the hardy volunteers after being contacted by the Central Aberdeen Library to read some works on the subject of homelessness.
Catriona read her poem ‘Bicycle’, an extract from her short story ‘Crossing’ and a selection of pieces from the St Mungo’s-produced magazine Homeless Diamonds including ‘The Hostel from Heaven’ which raised a few laughs.
My work usually concerns weak attacks on Government policy, obscure accounts of jelly inspectors and over-amorous dogs. I chose instead to read an extract from chapter 30 of George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ where he meets Bozo the street artist. My barely-acceptable cockney accent seemed to go by unchallenged and I think I finished on a poignant note:
‘If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can still keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, “I’m a free man in here”’—he tapped his forehead—‘and you’re all right.’
It was with slight guilt that we said goodbye to the sleepers just shy of midnight, only too aware of how easily we take basic shelter for granted. It’s unbelievable that in a city as affluent as Aberdeen an organisation such as the Cyrenians are in such high demand. But more and more people are turning to food banks as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.
With all individual fund-raising pages combined, the sleepover raised over £13,000 – fantastic work.