I'm standing outside B&Q in the Old Kent Road where two school-age chav truants are trying to light a spliff, a dishevelled amputee is waving his arm stump in my face and a black crack whore is begging for small change. The crack whore is wholly unsuccessful in her mission, the sizeable clump of South London's walking wounded at the bus stop clearly has its own problems and shrugs her off - she wails genuine tears of anguish which merge with some lip-corner spittle and a light drizzle to bathe her face in a sheer patina of despair.
I almost want to hug her.
Most of the walking wounded have come from the adjacent Asda, and overflowing from their flimsy carriers I see the stark red and black labelling of its "Smart Price" range which might as well be branded "Poor People's Food" featuring as it does the 8p strawberry "flavour" yoghurt and the 38p jar of coffee-flavour granules. This de-specifying of nutrition and value from food destined for people on low incomes upsets me almost more than the crack whore, because it's so commercially institutionalised.
I feel invisible. Not belonging, not even suspiciously regarded by the other people waiting for different buses, and yet also in a way as if I have the third eye and can see what's "wrong" with the big picture. I get this a lot, I hope it's not arrogance.
I also feel grotesquely rich, even though I am waiting for an off-peak bus in the Old Kent Road and the driver will probably wave me through thinking I'm a pensioner. I'm on the bus because I have the decorators in at my flat by Tower Bridge, barely a mile away and currently for sale (see below) at an amount of money which could set up this entire bus queue in comfort for its collective retirement, and I've been despatched to get some more paint. I don't have the car because the decorator needed my parking space.
I don't feel too smug about it either, as if my relative affluence has somehow been achieved at their expense, which it hasn't except in the Newton's Law sense that all actions have an equal and opposite reaction therefore if I am comparatively well off, someone must have suffered financially as a consequence.
I am concerned that this massive population of disadvantaged and disenfranchised people lives literally on my doorstep, and feel helpless to do anything political or practical to effect any improvement. In the harsh fluorescent of the bus, they look so defenceless and defeated, until two black women start a vicious, screaming, gynaecologically-expletive cat-fight over the last remaining seat, and everyone perks up and looks suddenly cheerful.
The irony that this scene is being played out in Old Kent Road is not lost on me. I guess I first learned about property trading as a 12-year old playing ferocious tournaments with my Monopoly-mad next-door neighbours in another Kent Road, in Harrogate. Even then, I always wanted to own Bond Street.
Thanks to everyone who joined Erin Kelly, Melanie McGrath and me at Mansfield Central Library on Saturday 25 February. We had a panel discussion and Q&A, ...