St Matthew's Street
Two days later, on the evening of Friday 12th September 2003, I paid my first visit to St Matthew's Street in the centre of Ipswich. I parked my car in the underground spiral car park by the Wolsey Theatre, a distance of just fifty yards or so from the top of Civic Drive, and the roundabout marking its intersection with St Matthew's Street. Making my way there on foot, I entered the subway below via the steps adjacent to the Victoria pub. It was approximately 9:30pm.
At this time the underpass was reasonably quiet: the expected Friday night revellers making their way towards the town centre in ones and twos, but nothing conspicuous, and no sign of any groups congregating in the subway. I walked to the northeast corner and emerged by the Blockbuster video shop at the bottom of Berners Street. From here I looked out across the roundabout, spotted nothing of note, and, concluding that I had arrived too early, elected to return to the pub on the corner.
As one might expect, the Victoria pub was somewhat busy at this time on a Friday evening. I took up residence at the bar, where I remained for an uneventful half hour, punctuated only by brief exchanges with the bar staff, who were naturally a little too occupied to engage me in detailed conversation. I attempted one or two leading questions regarding St Matthew's Street and those who frequent it, but received little return for my efforts.
Shortly after 10pm I left the pub and walked a little way east, past the row of shops leading on towards Westgate Street and the paved shopping area beyond. Finding nothing to interest me, I turned and headed back towards the roundabout. Nearing the corner of Civic Drive, I looked back across St Matthew's Street and noticed a small group of individuals gathered outside the video shop on the opposite side of the road. Even from that distance, the group's appearance made it clear that they were living on the streets.
I returned to the underpass and made my way over to where they stood. There were four men, of varying ages, the youngest perhaps twenty-five, the eldest late fifties. One carried a rolled up sleeping bag, another a blanket; all were to some degree unkempt, unshaven, and wearing clothes which had clearly seen better days. They viewed me with some suspicion as I approached.
My initial efforts to engage the group in conversation were unsuccessful to say the least. The men's responses ran the gamut from monosyllabic grunts to stony silence, and my attempts at casual pleasantries were met at every turn with suspicion and a reluctance to cooperate. After a couple of minutes, one man, the youngest of the group, accepted a cigarette from me, an action which elicited disapproving glances from at least two of his companions, and despite this small advance, a further two or three minutes of cagey detachment and I had resolved to move on, temporarily at least.
Making my excuses, I took sanctuary in the video shop, and sought to keep tabs on the group outside whilst appearing to browse the shelves nonchalantly. A few minutes later, as I considered making a second attempt at some kind of meaningful conversation, fate intervened, and it began to rain. The men reacted by descending the nearby steps into the subway. I paused for a few moments, then left the video shop and followed.
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