I walked down the steps from the Newham Road section of the A13 Bow Creek Crossing. Tucked away under the bridge on a bare concrete compound behind high steel fencing was a small white caravan, that Brian calls Home. It is a step up from living in a sleeping bag under the bridge itself, which for two years had been his only option. He tells me the TV show Panorama came to visit, bought the van for him and somehow had it delivered to the site so he could live in relative safety.
“I am camerad up Steve. I’ve got CCTV down the path in both directions 24 hours a day” he told me, pointing out the security provided for any walkers passing through. I told him my own home in the Egg was probably not dissimilar to his own tiny caravan and he invited me in to have a look. He saw me glance at a boarded up window, and explained his ex girlfriend smashed it, when breaking in to steal all his stuff to buy drugs. “It’s tough down here” he told me more than once. He gets his water from the scrap merchant opposite, and his only heat from a one ring ‘Jamie Oliver’ propane stove. “I have no gas now though mate. I have to go all the way to Manor Park for it, and it’s £20 for four” I know these canisters do not last long and Brian confirmed that each one would burn for just two hours. I suspect that not much cooking goes on and that this is the only source of heating to add to the duvet and blankets on the bed. In a confined space these things generate a lot of moisture. “That’s why I like to keep the door open, because there’s so much damp and mould” (Not to mention the harm from carbon monoxide). It was bitterly cold too.
We spoke about where the Egg came from in Exbury and he told me he used to live relatively near by in Swayling. This name has its roots in the Old English swætheling, that means ‘misty stream’ and I thought again of the tidal stream of Bow Creek, on his current doorstep.
“Its dangerous here. My friend had his head chopped off with a sword under the blue bridge.” I did wonder if I was hearing a ‘story’, but checking online that night I saw that Vaidas Sakalauskas was murdered just where Brian said, on November 25th last year. According to the Newham Recorder he was found by a woman on her way to work at 7.25am when she spotted a floating body in a sleeping bag. Vaidas was only 21 and had apparently offered to share his ‘safe’ nightly refuge under the footbridge with fellow homeless Lithuanian Saulius Urbanavicius, who killed Vaidas in his sleep. He went off the next day with the lads blood still on his trousers and sold on the meagre possessions he had stolen. “They found the sword in the Creek” said Brian, but the newspapers reported blunt trauma force to the head and drowning. A vicious urban memory.
In May last year, almost six months before the murder, The Newham Recorder ran another story about four people taking shelter under the A13. They were sleeping high up on a ledge carrying electric cables that can be seen in the photos below by David Johnson. Perhaps Vaidas was one of them?