Is Anyone Listening?

A couple of winters ago I got a call from someone saying Pete was desperately down and needed some additional warm things. It was well below zero and the snow was falling onto packed ice.

I put the snow chains on the van and headed into the city as quick as I could and true to form I found Pete, huddled up peering out of his coat declaring that he was perfectly ok and had what he needed wondering what all the fuss was about.


(Photo courtesy of Lee Aspland)

Pete was as complex as he was introverted, as intelligent as he was sober and as stubborn as he was opinionated.

His stubborn refusal to engage with ‘the system’ infuriated me, and many others, only taking help if he believed it was truly benevolent, which to our community’s credit was often in abundance. If however, he thought anyone was receiving a salary for ‘helping the homeless’, they didn’t meet the criteria to be in his circle of support, despite their efforts and care.

To get close to Pete was almost impossible. You had to earn that right and it wasn’t anything to do with what you might offer of material gain or daily bread. There were no brief meaningful chats with Pete. You needed an hour at least before you even started.

A lyrical journey of sorting his predicament out, the struggles of a changing city around him, the ecstasy of watching Mo Farah win gold on ‘his’ wide screen tv in the square, reeling off Beach Boys and Mamas and Papas songs, the memories of being fit enough to play table tennis, the hypocrisy of government, society and the church and all the books he wants to store, were all fair game, for any that were invited into the intimacy of a private audience with Pete.

What Pete wrestled with was the same as most of us, the reality that life is often about loss. The loss of innocence, of opportunity come and gone, of loved ones unexpectedly departing and the loss of love thought won.

People respond and react in many different ways, for Pete, he chose to try and lose Brian Burford in search of only he knew what and why. But for all the muddle and the riddles, he carried something in his soul, a crusade and mission to make a point maybe. He was not a statistic, or even a legend, he hated that thought, but he wanted to say ‘something’ on his terms and he wanted ‘someone’ to listen.

On occasion Pete would say, “if I ever give this up, it won’t be in the winter, it will be on a warm summers day”, as if there could have been some far off possibility that it could happen and he was in control of it.

We ‘could’ build a monument of bronze 100 feet high, or we could pause, we could watch, we could learn to listen. If we want to build a monument in memory of Pete, may it be one that taps into the core of our soul that compels us to love without measure or want of any reward, to leave our prejudice behind, to live simply and gather only what we need. May it be a monument of substance in the life of our community that levels the ground and doesn’t place a persons worth on what we see with our eyes, but in the knowledge that we are all wonderfully made and indeed all very fragile.

Enjoy the dance dear friend, the embrace, the banquet and the mansion. See you later, I’ll be the one stood outside in the rain hoping you’ll let me in.

Here’s some Bob Dylan to close with, the lyric somehow seems appropriate.

Sean

‘Pete’s’ funeral took place on 25 February 2015. His ashes were placed on the grave of his mother, his step father and his younger brother. Robin Turner wrote a thoughtful piece in the Western Mail which you can find here.

Chimes Of Freedom – Bob Dylan

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at stake
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed
An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music

28 thoughts on “Is Anyone Listening?

  1. Lovely story, Lets hope that it makes us all think and realize the situation for people who don’t or cant fit in, Pete s reference to people who work wit the homeless as a salaried job, the major charity/business that are abundant need to look hard at themselves.

  2. Words clearly written from the heart, by someone who took the time to listen, learn and be humbled by one of life’s free spirits. A wonderful tribute to Pete. Thank you.

  3. The words that you have said are so heart touching, just like Pete was, you would always see him and you would never hear a word of contempt out of him because of the way he lived, he was a true gentleman and I just wish more people were like him, its not the material things that people have that matter, it is the way you live your life, be it in a mansion or on the street…. God Speed Pete, another angel watching down xx

  4. Unfortunately we all seem to want material things in our life. I put my hands up to Pete for living his life for having spent it believing in what he believed in – being a REAL person. RIP LOVELY GENTLEMAN

  5. pete was well liked he had so many good qualities we need to help the homeless this I what Pete would have wanted we help in our church Elim City church God bless you Pete rest now with the Lord. Thank you too saun for all you do in zacs xx

  6. Well said Sean, Pete will remain one of the most important commentators on the crazy world we call society.

  7. first time i set eyes on pete, he was putting a blanket over a girl who’d passed out behind marthas niteclub.. in a quiet voice he said, she’ll need an ambulance as i think she’s taken that new drug around.. (E) we phoned an ambulance as he quietly sloped off into a bush and out of site.. i guess he remembered my face after that as i seen him frequently and always got a nod. over the years the nods became hello’s and the hello’s became conversations.. this article describes the guy perfectly.. music was always the icebreaker. and pete’s original rants about consumerism and self dependence.. tbh, i wasnt completely aware of what some of his views were but they sounded convincing so i tended to agree. I read a comment last night saying how they pitied him for being homeless for so long.. And i thought about that, and i concluded pete was not homeless. how can you be homeless if you detest the thought of living indoors. Pete had a bigger home than the richest guy on earth. Petes ceiling was so vast you could fit the milky way in it. Im gonna miss him, he made me smile, he made me think in a way art makes me think. and however he will be remembered, to me he will always be the ‘Fuck you Mr System’ guy… who put a blanket around a girl who needed help. wherever his soul ends up, you can be damned sure it wont listen, and if he’s directed to pearly gates..i bet ya he’ll take a left simply because he can. sleep tight fella..

  8. I would like to see a bronze statue of him in a sitting position on the steps of castle gardens

    • I think that would possiblity council will probably say cost too much a nice photo of pete might be better on semented plack or wall might be better or possibly a painting of pete xxx

  9. A perfect tribute from someone who truly cares and understands the plight of the individual who doesn’t want or is unable to conform
    Rest in Peace Brian

  10. Great words Sean Stillman. If only there were other church leaders out there engaging in the unique way you do showing us what needs can be tackled in life and what is really important..

  11. Reading everything snd few brief chats i had with pete i realise i am exactly like pete in many ways except i dont like the cold i did live on the streets for 2-3 weeks wen i ran away from foster parents found a garage in west cross told a friend who then told my foster mother only another day i gone again rip pete we shared alot of the same values lots of people understood lots didnt i totally understood jesus has finally got you home at his resting place rip pete gone never be forgotten 32 years ago in 1982 i was 8 years old wen i first met u wen moved to swansea i am 41 god bless heaven as gained yet another fab person xxx

  12. R.I.P Pete, I wish there was a way of helping him. I wish there was a better way of learning from him. I talked to him once, very intelligent man, great knowledge of music, but wasn’t easy to stand close to him.
    God bless his soul.

  13. He once let me buy him coffee, as long as I joined him, we spoke for 90 minutes on photography and the architecture of the city, my only regret is that he would not let me take his picture (I asked many times) and I had too much respect for the man to go against his wishes.

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