it was time they were all out. Some of them even seemed to have somewhere to go. A few left for good, with the light hardly-to-be-counted as luggage of the vagrant, the scratched suitcases of the casual labourers looking squashed in at the corners like soap-cartons, but with good locks unrusted.

Breakfast was over in the Salvation Army Hostel. The tables were being cleared, spoons rattled chill as pebbles in a well and the vacuums buzzed like wasps round a jampot. Homely sounds they seemed to the old man who had no home. Stood with one shoulder jammed in the foggy doorway he managed to keep out of harm’s way as the rest thinned out to two’s and three’s and left him alone save for the usual banter.

He never bothered looking up. Ignored any of the pokes and jabs of the Irish crowd on their way back from harvesting down Lincolnshire, and one race-meeting too many.

They were bright as new paint in the wintry doorway. Tanned from outdoors, three of them in cocky berets, all blue-eyed and bouncy as colts. The old man seemed asleep, hunched into his raincoat and cloth-cap like a colourless shell.

Their laughter roused him as they intended. The tallest of them prodded the neb of his cap up like lifting something out of a grate and held his nose. Christ, he said.