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Home > Culture and Society

Sinners and Winners: A confession

We all hope that our sins won't come to the surface. But lets face it, no matter how hard you pretend that it didn't happen, someone's bound to notice one day.

John Clifford

13 December 2003

I was surfing the new Friday Thing website last week where a figure from my past cropped up.

"...the 'Sinners and Winners' man with the loudspeaker who we hear every day on Oxford Street? He's also been spotted on a Saturday by one of my colleagues at Waterloo station."

I suppose it's about time I held my hands up and admitted that if it wasn't for me the "Sinners and Winners man", or Terry as he's actually known, would be substantially less annoying. You see, it was actually me who bought him his megaphone.

To understand the combination of circumstances which lead to me buying an angry, prejudiced Christian street preacher a megaphone, we have to go back to Earls Court in the Easter of 2001. I was Editor of Felix, Imperial's student newspaper, and being the sole employee of quite a large weekly magazine was beginning to take its toll.

I'd end up working through the night on Wednesday and easily working until the small hours on Monday and Tuesday. Every week. Which as a life-long insomniac was particularly difficult, and so by Easter I was pretty much awake all night, every night. Given that everyone else I knew was a student, with morning lectures and stuff, my nights were starting to get a little lonely. Which is why I started hanging out with the street drinkers around Gloucester Road. The less said about those conversations the better. But this at least gives some context.

Anyway, to Terry. I first met him at Notting Hill Station in 1997 on my way back from the Reading Festival. I was tired and a bit singed waiting for a Circle Line train when he came up to me. The Terry I remember was quite friendly, and I chatted to him for a bit, and he told me all about heaven and hell, which I found quite soothing. As I got on the train, he said to me "We'll have to meet for a bevvy on the other side mate."

Fast forward to 2001, when I pretty much knew every, ahem, character, on the Circle Line. I walked straight into him in a crowd outisde Gloucester Road, where he pulled out his new scrapbook. "What about you mate? How about a bit of Christianity?" I looked into a photo album full of crosses and pictures of churches, decorated with the word "Christianity". "Why be a sinner when you can be a winner?" Bizarrely, considering how many people he must 'meet' in a typical day of preaching, he recognised me.

So we chatted for a bit, and he talked about how he'd had a great idea for spreading his word to the masses. And he seemed harmless, in a scouse Christian sort of way. It turned out we knew the same homeless man, who I was a little worried about, as he'd just lost his job and been beaten up, and we talked about his circumstances for a bit as the nighttime crowds surged past us.

I still don't know what possessed me to lend him a tenner towards his latest idea (I'd assumed it would be for a new scrapbook or maybe a guitar and he seemed so genuine and harmless. Discussing the issue with friends at College, it turns out Terry could get a little nasty if you pressed the wrong buttons (ie, Catholicism, homosexuality, hippies etc). And about two days after lending him a tenner, I heard from friends that he'd somehow acquired a megaphone, and was now using it to hurl Christianity and bile in equal measures at people he didn't like the look of. It turns out that, after buying his megaphone, Terry began to lurch to the right a little bit. I moved out of the area a short time later, and didn't hear about him for a long time.

And then London by London started up, and people began to discuss him. I didn't think they were talking about the same person, having never seen this side of Terry, but sure enough, at the anti-war demo, there he was. Yelling into his microphone "Even you can be saved! Yes you! Why be a sinner when you can be a winner?" He either didn't see me or pretended he hadn't.

So that's my confession, London. I have no idea how much an old megaphone costs, but that can't have helped. And he never paid me back. Bastard.

More from John Clifford at Diary of a Frustrated Writer.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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