"Tramps like us, baby we were born to run!"

I used to attend my local drop-in at the Blenheim Project every afternoon without fail, while I waited to enter rehab. Having completed my detox, I was hanging onto my fragile recovery by my fingernails, haunting my local treatment provider every hour that it was open like some irritable ghost.

Smoking was banned in the Portobello Project and quite understandably. Addictions has long been the last bastion of heavy smokers and you would not have been able to breath in there within minutes of the place opening had we been allowed to smoke. Consequently, staff and volunteers and clients spent the entire day popping in and out of the building for a cigarette.

Early in April, enjoying the warm spring sunshine, I leant against the door frame, happily puffing away and doing my best John Lennon impression. You know the picture; taken in Hamburg pre-Beatles, leaning against a door frame; all moody cool in a black leather jacket and thousand-yard stare.

A familiar rotund figure, considerably shorter than myself appeared in front of me and began speaking. I knew Terry by sight (hereafter referred to by his fonder, and more common moniker of Tel) for he and I were regulars at the drop-in, and for weeks we had been performing the strange ritual that men sometimes undertake when they recognise each other but have never really spoken. You know the one; the quick nod and sliding glance away. I popped out the ear-phones from my Walkman (2004 and I was still using one of those!) and for the first time I can remember, we spoke to each other.

‘What was that?’

I said, what are you listening to?’

I hesitated for a moment before answering. My taste in music is firmly lodged in the sounds of my teenage years, and therefore the seventies, and I was in no mood to be wound up by someone who couldn’t tell their Hawkwind from their Gong. I lit another cigarette and answered.

‘Bruce Springsteen’, before defensively adding, ‘Why?’

Good call. I’ve seen him play live.’

My interest was piqued, but I was still on guard. I’d listened to Tel in the drop-in and I knew he was quick with a set-up in conversation and as slippery as a barrel of fish, but this was modified in my view by the fact that by and large, he was very funny with it.

‘Really? Where?’

Wembley Stadium.’


July 4th, 1985. The Born in the USA tour.’

‘The gig where he opened up by himself with Independence Day, before they tore into Born in the USA and Badlands?’

‘The very one, my son.’

Hey man, me too!’

‘Wicked, wasn’t it?’

I have reflected on that conversation so many times over the years that followed. A chance question and a shared passion was to change everything, not only for myself and Tel, but eventually for many others. Had we not been in the same place at the same time almost twenty years beforehand, my world would have been a very different place. Tel and I were to become as close as brothers for the next four years, and he would be central to my own recovery, and I hope, for a while at least, I to his. For a time, I was as close to him as I have ever been to another human being in my life.

Without him there would have been no Badminton Club, no SUDRG weekend service, and therefore no Build on Belief. It is very unlikely I would have met any of the friends that are central to my life these days. It is without question that I would never have met the mother of my daughter, and become a father to the little wonder that is Ella. I would not have happy memories of a riotous holiday in Portugal, nor discovered the delight of the ‘Sangria tube’. I would probably never have travelled to Egypt and India, Thailand and Costa Rica, and most certainly not with the delightful travelling companions I would end up with. I might never have found the hidden well of confidence buried deep within that allowed me to discover just what I was capable of, not without that friendship. Later in this tale, I and Tel will transform ourselves into the ‘Wham!’ of service user involvement, and that would shape my entire future right up to this moment. My life, and quite possibly yours, would have been an undoubtedly different, and poorer thing without this one, single moment in time. Fascinating, isn’t it? My entire destiny was to be shaped by that single question, ‘What are you listening to?’

What would have happened if he had turned up three minutes later? If I had been listening to another song? If I’d ignored him?

There are only two things I can say in honour of this world changing moment: ‘Backstreets’, little brother wherever you are, and Bruuuce!

Tim Sampey