by Keith Harris

At 25 I felt going on 50 and was strolling to my home in London's Crystal Palace, having set off on foot from Tooting. The walk could take about 90 minutes, sixty if you wanted to pace it.

A long section of road leads from Streatham, running uphill for a good way to a major crossroads, then running down into a deep valley before beginning the climb up to Crystal Palace and the Broadway.

I'd first arrived in London at the age of 18 and had lived then in the Stoke Newington and Finsbury areas, before moving into Tooting, where I fell into young love, fathered a daughter then lost both mother and child when I was imprisoned for a little over four years as an 'anti-social element'. They could be like that and could easily turn bad out of good.

My life had not been easy, I'd been up against it since 12. After the break-up of my new family, I emerged from jail and, with help from friends, found a new home in Crystal Palace Park Road in Penge. It was back there I was walking in the late afternoon when the incident that forms the focus of this narrative took place.

I was going through a depressing and lonely time. Although I met new friends, none semed able to take away the heartache of my loss. I'd go back to former haunts I visited with my girl and as we'd lived in a number of varied locations in south London and the memories were all around. It somehow then seemed a tough thing to come to terms with.

I'd made it up the hilll and was heading down into the valley beyond the crossroads when I collapsed helplessly on the sidewalk. Somewhere deep inside a damn had burst and the released torrent knocked me to the ground. I found myself weeping uncontrollably and unable to stop or to pull myself back to my feet.

Something similar had happened before. I'd been riding an elevator to the top of some Battersea flats where my friends lived. It was close to where I knew my daughter lived and I guess that had played on my mind. Despite fighting against it I'd collapsed in the elevator and wen it stopped and someone got on they thought I'd had a heart attack and called an ambulance. The ambulance crew walked me to my friend's door and saw me safely inside.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Two Asian men were checking to see if I was okay and they looked a little concerned. From the ground I noticed activity nearby—I had it seemed collapsed in front of a mosque and an Indian wedding was taking place. The two Asian's helped me to my feet and seeing that I was not fully okay took me into the mosque and down a side aisle, where they invited me to have some food and drink off the amply stocked tables and to 'relax and watch the wedding'. I was the only European I could see.

I stayed for a while and watched the ceremony before thanking my hosts for their kindness and generosity and setting off again on my way, wondering what had happened to me.

I had once blacked out and collapsed at a bus stop due to malnourishment in my mid-teens, to the distress of the girl with me at the time. A bus pulled in and several people got off. All ignored the collapsed figure in the bus shelter and the girl kneeling by him. The bus pulled away. As it did, I saw an elderly man in his garden across the road stop mowing his lawn when he saw us. After calling over, he came across and after speaking with the girl, got his car and drove us to a doctor. The episode left me knowing how some people could just 'walk on by'.

The encounter with the Asians left a deep impression and I would grow angry at some of the things I later heard spoken about Asian people in general.

[episode taken from autobiography The End, now in production]

© Newsmedianews January 8, 2004