Julie Hamill: Ready to eat at the London Palladium

Julie Hamill: Ready to eat at the London Palladium

I’m pulling on my gloves as I come out of Oxford Street station and there’s a homeless guy on Argyll Street.  I’ve seen him before at the exit by the Palladium, just next to the Costa. He says “Spare any change?”, and I think, I don’t carry any change, so I say that to him, but I feel guilty, even though it’s true. He looks back at me blankly as if this is all he hears nowadays.

I’ve got ten minutes before my meeting near Carnaby Street starts. I jump into Pret to grab a sandwich and I think, I’ll get him one too. Then I think: What if he doesn’t like what I like? I can’t assume he’ll enjoy just anything for God’s sake. Maybe he has a favourite thing.

There’s a queue in the Pret and I stand in it, thinking how nice and warm it is in there in the centre of the smells of coffee and fresh bread. I look over to the selection and notice that the warm counter has these new breakfast sandwiches on it. It’s ten to twelve, so I think, everybody likes an omelette. I’ll get that hot omelette roll for the guy outside. Maybe he hasn’t had breakfast, or this could be his lunch. He could have been out there all night.

As I’m thinking this, he appears in the queue behind me. He’s rubbing his hands together and shifting from foot to foot. I wonder if he’s popped in for a heat or maybe someone gave him money and he’s in to buy something. I turn to ask him, but as I do he walks swiftly to the counter, grabs one of the breakfast roll sandwiches I was going to get him and holds it like an orange, his sleeve down over the knuckles.

Initially, I think it must be warming his palm. Then he leans around me and looks at the servers, who are distracted. At that, he turns on his heel and quickly leaves. Once outside he starts to run.

Now at this point, I want to shout to him, “Hey! I’ll pay for it!” but if I do, I’m highlighting the fact that he’s walked in, nicked a sandwich and walked out, and I don’t want him to get in any trouble. So I stand there, full of regret and mad at myself for not offering to buy him something on the way in. What if he gets caught?

But in the next second I smile, because he didn’t get caught, and if the Pret people saw him, they didn’t cause a fuss. I get to the front and think about telling the young server: “A homeless man came and took a sandwich, I was going to get it for him, so I’ll pay for it.” But I don’t, because deep down I’m glad he nicked it, and maybe they are too.

Julie Hamill is a novelist, a radio presenter and more. Follow her on X/Twitter. Photo by Mrs Ellacott via Wikimedia Commons. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE.

Categories: Culture


  1. DAVID KANER says:

    Most homeless people in the West End don’t want money for food or for a night in a hostel. They want to buy drugs, which they cannot shoplift. Giving them money is fuelling the drug market with all its accompying issues and consequences on gangs and violent crime.

    Giving the homeless food directly is always a better option. Watch this video for some other ideas: https://youtu.be/KpYAMQo-p2I

  2. Roger Griffiths says:

    55 years ago, when I was a student, I was approached by an apparently homeless man who asked for money for food. I had no cash, but gave him a pack of sandwiches, intended for my lunch. I walked on, then turned – I don’t know why – just in time to see him deposit my lunch in a litter bin. He saw that I had seen this, and walked quickly away.

    At least he disposed of it ‘thoughtfully’! I still wonder about this. I guess he wanted alcohol – he was way too old for the Hippy scene.

    But I do sympathise with all involved. My usual thought process includes ‘Surely you are on the dole, doesn’t that cover a bit of food’? Of course, that can easily be nowhere near enough. But today, as then, I generally don’t have cash on me. Is it cruel to ask if begging has become a loser’s game?

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