Easily the best feature I’ve written for Inside Housing so far.
It’s 5.30am and a small brown slug is falling. A minute before, the slug had been suspended upside down, leisurely climbing the underside of an umbrella. But it climbed too high and, reaching the pinnacle of the brolly, relaxed its mucus hold on the material and plummeted down.
The slug lands on a soft surface – the face of James MacPherson. He is 21, whisper thin, and had until that moment been asleep, wedged with three companions, in a bush under the umbrella. It is this unconventional alarm clock that jerks Mr MacPherson awake. Within moments the group – who are in the middle of a 75-mile sponsored walk to raise money for their new homelessness charity – realise they are covered with the slimy gastropods.
Twenty hours previously, I joined the four walkers in very different surroundings; the house in suburban Portsmouth where Charles Dickens was born. The trekkers are all former rough sleepers and we squeeze into the house together, padding from room to well-appointed room, some of us having to bend to avoid the low ceilings. The neat, polished Victorian furniture offers few clues that the baby who came squealing into the world here would go on to transform the way the English middle classes viewed the destitution all around them.