Root Menu

Jeff Greaves

In conversation with Dominique Zino

Jeff does not regret leaving school at sixteen. He feels that would be of little help to him when it comes to what he really wants to be doing. He has been working in the food industry in some capacity, getting jobs where he can, for the last decade. He said that completing culinary school would make his life feel complete.

I think you’ve got to have a decent outlook in life. It’s like now where I’ve applied for about eight jobs. Whether I get them or not, I’m not worried. If you get them, you get them. If you don’t you don’t. Why worry. Life’s short enough anyway. It’s like someone said, ‘Why don’t you have a relationship?’ Like I said, I’m not really in that frame of mind to be having a relationship. I’m so used to being on my own, making my own decisions. At the moment I’m staying at the night shelter in Oxford, been there for just over a month. I was living in a place in London, you work there and you get thirty-two pounds a week, you get all your meals. I was going around to deliver or collect furniture, working in the kitchen to cook for the other people working there, working in the shop selling second-hand goods, or doing painting and decorating. I’ve been there about five or six times in the last two or three years, which is good…for a while. But as I said, I don’t like to get my feet too far under the table. I think if you get yourself too comfortable, you rely on people too much. It’s the same at the night shelter, it’s alright, but it’s not an ideal situation. But at least now I’ve got people trying to help me get back to a certain way of life.

To a certain extent I can live on my own, but then again I like to be around people. It’s not the boredom it’s just the ‘oh, room, bedsit...right, OK’. As I say, I want to work. I could have gone to any town, any city, sat on my backside, twiddled my thumbs, smoked the joints, drank the drink. But I like Oxford because one minute you’re surrounded by buildings and people, and the next minute you’re surrounded by fields and near the water. I’m not one for going to sit by the river Thames, but last week because it was the eights with all the colleges and I was there for all four days. It was quite nice watching all the people, the rowing and, as my friend said, ‘townspotting’. It was a good laugh. I was there for about, four, five, six hours a day. And I actually tried Pimm’s for the first time in my life. I said to them, ‘Have you got any lager or bitter?’ And they said no, ‘We have lemonade, coke, or Pimm’s’. And I didn’t have a clue what Pimm’s was and he said ‘well try it, it’s what all the college and young people drink.’ So I said ‘Yeah, I’m in Oxford, it’s a nice, posh area, why not?’ In the end I had four a half pints of Pimm’s and then I stayed for the rest of the day. And as I say two, three weeks ago I went to this party with a couple of other friends and my friend from the church. He found out about the party and was allowed to bring two or three other people, so we went, not knowing what a college party would be like. Me and my friend had black jackets on, and we had sunglasses, so the guy who was working there said we could do security on the door. Now how many people actually have security for a private party? Not many people. But he gave us and pen and a file and some paper, and he said, you pretend to check a list. We had an earpiece in our ear, and those cheap walkie-talkies people use. Every time somebody came in we said ‘Excuse me, are you on the list? No?’ And I had to get them to write down their names. It was all good fun.

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Jeff said he believes love, in general, can be cruel. He usually doesn’t think men and women can be friends without it leading to a romantic relationship.

I’m originally from Rochdale near Manchester. I was born in 1971 to a single mother. I was born with a hole in my heart. When I was five, she met my step dad. Consequently after that she had my sister. I spent about three or four years in and out of hospital when I was five, having different operations on my heart. I suffered from asthma all my life. When I was sixteen my mother booted me out of the house. She got divorced from my stepfather after eleven years of being married to him. She had three other children with him, and she just had enough. I had come up with the idea that I was gonna stay on for the rest of my life. I said ‘Can I have my name on the rent book?’ because if you want money off me I want my name on the book. A lot of people got involved.

My step dad, for some strange reason, because I wasn’t his kid took a total dislike to me. All I remember him doing is just beating my mother up for no apparent reason, and myself. I suffered through that physical abuse for about seven or eight years. It wasn’t very nice to be perfectly honest. I also suffered sexual abuse from a family friend. When I was about eight or nine my mother put us in care – she went through a breakdown so to keep us out of the way she put us in care for a year and then got us out. She wasn’t really getting help at that time, she was suffering at the hands of my stepfather. Then when we finally got back home, the grief from my stepfather started again, beating me up, saying I wasn’t his kid. He tried to kill me a few times.

I was sixteen when I eventually went to school – I started at seven because I missed a lot of school due to my asthma and two or three operations due to the hole in my heart, they would put valves in and they kept failing, I would be alright one minute, ill the next minute. I’d be on different drugs for my chest, asthmatic drugs, steroids, injections, all sorts.

Going back to being younger, I didn’t realize what was happening and that’s something I’m dealing with now, or trying to deal with it. I’m hoping to see a counsellor in the next two to three weeks. My friend of the family was my uncle’s friend who he went to college with to train to be a teacher and we just recently found out that he was a paedophile; he has been for like thirty odd years. So I’m trying to deal with that. I mean, you try to block it out the best way that you can.

For the first five or six years it was just my mum and me most of the time. But obviously when she met somebody else, she wanted more kids. And my stepdad brought his kids from another three previous relationships. S o it was nine kids in the house, sharing bunk beds, single beds. Life was not too bad and then when I was sixteen my mother said ‘Look I don’t want you in the house anymore, you’ve got to leave’. Now for a sixteen-year-old kid he’s like ‘Whoa,’ I mean you’ve been looked after for sixteen years…My nan and granddad took me in for about a week, she was in her early seventies, he was in his late eighties. My uncle was not too bad but he didn’t really want me there so I moved out and I went a children’s home. I stayed there for about eight months. Then, through the social services, these families took me in. I lived with this family for about two years. I missed my mum and everything else. I didn’t hear from her then. I don’t even hear from her now. She totally disowned me. As far as she was concerned I was an accident and I shouldn’t have happened. According to her, she went out on a good night out and…here I am. My and my half sister she didn’t really bother with us. She just bothers about her younger daughter. And she’s got her own son who is twenty-five this year. She didn’t really bother with us, it’s the last child that was born – she had everything. She wanted a new game she got it, if she wanted a brand new pair of trainers, jeans...

When I was eighteen I decided to leave Rochdale, my hometown, altogether. I went up to a place in Buckinghamshire, which is an activity centre for children to come to from London and other schools. I spent basically twelve years of my life there. I worked there for two years as full-time staff, either in the kitchen or doing activities. And then I just moved around from town to town. I’m not one to settle down.

For a while when I was about twenty-two or twenty-three I had a very bad drink problem. I was working not very long hours, I was living in different hostels, different night shelters, and I was spending sixty to seventy pounds a day on drink, just to get away from the rubbish from my childhood. And then when I was about twenty-five I met somebody in the YMCA in Buckinghamshire, thinking, ‘yeah, this’ll be alright.’ Unfortunately, she was seeing somebody else behind my back. So that didn’t work out very well. And then I started seeing another girl in the YMCA. I don’t know, I suppose it was the revival of free love again like it was in the sixties because she was also seeing somebody else. So myself I said I don’t want any more women, don’t want to know. I had a full-time job working as a head kitchen porter, in charge of another nine kitchen porters and assistants. I get very itchy feet. If I don’t like somewhere I don’t like to get too comfortable for too long.

Sometimes I just get so cheesed off. I mean I’ve attempted a few times to commit suicide. Once when I was eighteen. Touch wood, it didn’t work. The last time was about three or four years ago: didn’t have a job, split up with my girlfriend, lost two children, one died an hour after being born, one died a week after being born, so I had that to cope with. My nan had just died and my ex-girlfriend decided to kill herself because she couldn’t cope with losing the kids. She couldn’t cope with me and her splitting up. Even when we split up we were still good friends. She had two children before I met her and the kids saw me as their dad and I saw them as my kids. Now, unfortunately they’re in foster homes somewhere up in Norfolk because my girlfriend’s now been dead just under a year. I just recently found out that she nicked somebody’s car, drunk out of her mind, and ran it into a wall, and she got into drugs, and she was sleeping around. We were together for four and a half or five years. So it’s a bit hard to comprehend really. I mean even two years ago I was in a night shelter in Canterbury and I tried to commit suicide there. I had nowhere to live, I had no job, it was around the time of my children’s deaths and I had just had enough. But people brought me back to life.

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Jeff said he believes he is ‘different from other homeless people’. He tries to keep himself clean and presentable, which he thinks is important. Most of his friends have jobs, homes and families. He wants to settle down eventually but he said he is not yet ready to take on being a father to the two children his ex-girlfriend left behind.

I’m alright at the minute. I like Oxford. I was here two years ago. I used to come with a friend of mine back in the late eighties delivering to all the restaurants in Oxford. And I never thought I’d actually end up living here. I love Oxford, there are so many things to see and do, so I think I’ll stay here for a while. But going back, I’m not one for staying anywhere too long. But I’m thirty-four this year and I think I should be starting to put some roots down, settling down and not keep moving on.

Since I’ve been in Oxford I’ve applied for about eight jobs, still waiting to hear. I’m learning new skills on the computer, which I never thought I’d do. I normally just write a letter by hand, sending it to the post, and don’t worry about it. But now it’s easy for me to write a letter on a computer and print it off and then send it. And now, I’m sending friends e-mails and they’re sending me e-mails. So I’m getting to do new things. And I’m getting to meet new people. I go to the church on St. Aldate’s on Sunday. Another friend of mine also goes there. He does a bit of gardening work for the students that live in the houses and everything else. And he got invited to a party, which was rather an interesting evening to say the least. So I am meeting new people.

I’ve even been to Australia and back. Many, many, many moons ago I was a born-again Christian – to a certain extent I did believe and then to a certain extent I didn’t – and we went out there to set up a hostel for homeless people. We got involved with the church out there, going to bible school four days a week and then working to support ourselves. And then most of the time we were just surfing and playing pool. If I had the money, I’d be back out there tomorrow. Absolutely fantastic place. The place where I used to do my volunteer work, they used to have really young children coming in who had cystic fibrosis. We’d take them on holiday two or three times a year. I’ve been to the Disneyland in Paris and I’ve also been to Dallas on a ranch for two weeks. Absolutely fantastic. My next one is to go to America and do all the theme parks, all the big rides.

July 2005