John TS Carter, Manchester city centre

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am 49 years old. I turn 50 in October.

What have you learnt in the last 50 years?
I’ve learnt that the world is not a very nice place but I have also learnt that there are lots of very nice people around.

‘I love wildlife. I like taking photos and I love doing art’

Tell us about your childhood.
I was born Catholic and I went to a Catholic school in Manchester. They were always telling you that you had done something wrong. It was very disciplined. I got battered with a rolling pin. I got strapped. I got soap stuck in my mouth and washed out, even in primary school. I was adopted as a baby. My birth mother was Irish Catholic. She had to let me go because she was a single mother. She got bullied into letting me go.

Have you ever met your birth mother?
I traced her in 2007 but I found out she died at 32 years of age. I would have been 10. They couldn’t tell me anything about my father.

How has this affected you?
It’s affected me big time, relationships mainly. I have had loads of women who have tried to love me but I push people away.

What did you do when you left school?
I joined the army but I didn’t last long – eight months. I was at the training camp and the sergeant isolated me and gave me a hard time every day, so I left. I did a City and Guilds in catering and cheffing. I got a job as a commis chef. I loved it but then the management changed and I said the wrong thing one day and I got sacked. After that I worked in a factory but then I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I had a fit working on machinery. I’m lucky I am still alive.

You are clean now but you have done drugs in the past. Tell us about that.
Weed, cannabis, amphetamines, LSD, magic mushrooms – I did a lot of drugs. When I was at school, I had already joined up to start in the army and I thought I would have a blow-out before I went, so that’s when I started smoking weed. I had already been sniffing gas and glue when I was younger: puncture repair kits, aerosols in a pillowcase. I used to smoke weed at dinnertime at school. And then I tried different drugs from there and I got addicted to heroin, crack and methadone. I could write a book on drugs but I’ve been clean for almost two years now. And all the money I used to spend on drugs I now spend on things for me, like my mountain bike. I’m disciplined and regimental about my life now. I’m in control again. 

When did you start selling Big Issue North?
I started in 2006. Me and my mate were begging but we got sick of that and got signed up to sell the magazine instead. 

What do you do in your spare time?
I’ve got my mountain bike and I go all over on that. I love wildlife. I like taking photos and I love doing art. I did an arts course years ago and I’ve done life drawing lessons. Art is my creative side. I also like to read books. I read 1984. I read it all. That George Orwell, he was onto something.

Where do you live?
I’m in a flat now. I’ve got carpets and a telly, a place to keep my mountain bike. Before I was in the flat I was in a hostel but it was a target for drug dealers and all sorts. I got chased by this gang once who wanted to steal my bike. They had knives and machetes – it was full on. I’ve lived on the streets before, lived in all kinds of places.

What do you make of Manchester these days?
I like all the new developments that are going on in Manchester but people have got to start caring a bit more. It’s no good building these places just for rich people, because the people who live on the council estates notice all that, and they are feeling crushed and left out and it’s causing trouble. We need our city to be nice, but it’s got to be for everybody. The canals are much safer these days to walk along because of all the stuff that’s happening. We want more of that! I’m not putting it down.

What do you hope for in the future?
I spent the last two years getting better, recovering from all kinds of things, like broken bones – I broke my leg three times – and from addiction. Now I’m finding myself again, finding out what life is all about for me.

Artwork: John TS Carter

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