I've known Tony for around three years. We meet occasionally by accident in the street. He's an ex-soldier in his late 30s. He's also a homeless alcoholic. He never remembers me.

At sometime past midnight I was with Tom and Roxanne when he called out to us, begging for money. He was sitting on the ground, wedged into the doorway of a long abandoned pub, crying. He was in a bad way, drinking from a plastic bottle of the cheapest cider, dribbling saliva onto his shirt, which was stained and holed with cigarette ash.

The last time I saw him to speak to he was wedged into a different doorway, nursing a nasty cut to his hand. He'd cut himself opening a tin of sardines and the wound was going septic, the flesh starting to darken and swell. I bought him a packet of cigarettes, and sat for an hour trying to persuade him to see a doctor about it. He flatly refused, saying he hated doctors, and if the infection killed him he didn't really care.

A second homeless man joined us and also tried to persuade Tony to get the cut seen to. Then two people drove up in a van and greeted him. They worked for the Salvation Army, and gave him a plastic pot of heated soup. I asked them what could be done about his cut, and they said there was nothing I could legally do - it was illegal for me to give any but the most basic of first aid.

I could do nothing to help, so I said goodbye and left.

Between that time and this, I hadn't seen him around and sometimes wondered if he had indeed died, or was no longer living on the streets - or had simply moved to different streets. It turns out he had got a home and a girlfriend with the same alcohol problem, but his was much worse, and five days ago she'd kicked him out.

He was again homeless, half the time out of his mind on whatever drink he could find, the other half shaking and hurting from detox and cold. He couldn't remember how long he'd been sitting there - hours or days.

The cut in his hand had healed, but he couldn't move his thumb properly. There was a row of stitches on his head from where a group of teenagers had kicked him unconscious sometime recently.

Between us, we bought him cigarettes, some more cider and a hamburger. He hadn't eaten in days, but had the presence of mind not to wolf it down - he didn't want to bring it straight back up. He couldn't chew the salad because he'd lost most of his teeth.

Another two homeless men joined us, greeting him like long lost best buddies. One of them gave him a little book - "New Testament and Psalms", for which Tony was very grateful. The same man owned a tent an hour's walk away, and insisted Tony join him there for the night. In the morning they'd see about starting to get him off the drink and out of the gutter.

Tony didn't want to go, saying he couldn't walk that far because his feet were bleeding. The other man indicated that we should leave Tony to him. We left, feeling dispirited that we couldn't even help one man get his life back.

I walked home past the same spot some hours later. He'd gone. Perhaps as I write this he's asleep and relatively warm in a tent on the beach. Perhaps the next time I see him he will remember me.

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