Murf, Orchard Square, Sheffield

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How’s it going, Murf?*
Things are OK. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m happy. I’ve just split up with my girlfriend after nine years and that was hard. I loved her to bits. Plus I’ve had some health problems.

‘Technology is beautiful but automation means there’s less jobs’

What’s going on?
I’ve got problems with circulation, chronic ulcers, a heart condition and I have blackouts. I never had an ailment when I was using drugs, but the moment I stopped, I fell to bits. But that’s the result of three decades of using. I’ve tried to get Employment and Support Allowance but because I’m a positive person, because I don’t moan about my problems and I look OK and I smile, they turned me down, even though I had doctors’ letters. I’m appealing against the decision.

Where are you living now?
I’m still living in my bungalow, which is great. I’ve managed to hang on to that. The hardest thing is the mundane stuff: paying bills, shopping, keeping on top of things. It’s easy to let things slip week by week. Also, something I’ve found is that people who have used drugs in the past have this idiot thought process that says, when they stop: “Why haven’t I got a mansion now?!” It’s like, I’ve given up drugs so therefore the world should pay attention. When you give up, you are at the bottom of the ladder. But that’s OK because my quality of life is far better. Getting up and injecting heroin every morning it’s not, you know, what you want to be doing.

Is it tough staying off drugs?
I’ve been off drugs for years, but there’s always a danger, even when things are going well. I can be selling the magazine, getting by, and then I’ll think: “I’m doing OK. I’ll treat myself.” And that’s the sickness – it’s the mental health side to it. I don’t say I’ve got mental health problems, but after living with addiction for so long, it is a mental health thing. And that’s what I have to deal with. So being OK can be as bad as being down. It’s exactly the same outcome.

How do you keep going?
It’s hard. It takes so long to get on your feet, yet it takes two minutes for things to fuck up. It’s about getting a safety net there for when things start going wrong. If it weren’t for the support from the staff at Big Issue North, I’d go under. When I’m having a hard time, they say the right things at the right time.

What do you hope for in the future?
If the chronic ulcers on my legs heal I can go swimming again. I used to love that. I want to work as well, but I’m having to hold it back. I’d like to work with homeless people or ex-users. I’d do it voluntarily, if I could. I want to be ready. In my head I’ve been ready for the last four years but it’s frustrating because physically I can’t do it.

You’re a political person. What do you think about the state of the world at the moment?
I feel sorry for the younger generation. Technology is a beautiful thing but automation means that there’s less jobs. These companies that are making massive profits from technology, some of that money should be pumped out to people who have lost out in the form of a citizens’ income that everyone gets. That would give people the freedom to do things, to create work for themselves. It’s common sense.

Do you have a message for your customers?
Thank you to everyone who stops and says hello.

*You can read an earlier Q&A with Murf in the Vendor Stories section of this website

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