Meanwhile John remained impervious to my increasingly insistent offers of help. The winter nights became more bitter and I obsessively watched him for signs that his health was deteriorating. Then one night, as I once more offered him a place in a hostel his patience snapped. Incandescent with rage, thrusting his face into mine he bawled, ‘No! No! No! Will you not take no for a fucking answer?’ It was a standoff I will never forget because I felt angry too. I told him that I was going to keep on coming back.
Given the ferocity of the interaction, I was surprised that the next meaningful conversation with John was a brisk, muttered request that we talk privately away from the congregation of rough sleepers at the South Bank. We headed over to the all-night tea stall close to Waterloo station where John, to my astonishment, told me that he was ready to come in. ‘But don’t ask me why’, he added. And I never did.
I hadn't seen John for many months when, out of the blue, I received a call from a woman called Helen who had heard that I might be able to help her trace her brother, John Beglin. It quickly became clear that she really was John’s sister and I believed her motives for a reunion with her brother were genuine and laudable. I rang John with the good news but was quickly cut short by his icy and unequivocal response. He did not wish to see his sister Helen, or indeed any members of his family, ever again. I rang Helen back with this upsetting information and explained that our confidentiality policy meant that I was unable to pass on any of John’s contact details to her. She was distraught and I was unyielding as she implored me to at least indicate which area of London he lived in.