Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Josef Stawinoga, the Wolverhampton ring road tramp

In our old home town of Wolverhampton, on the central reservation of the busy ring road, a man called Josef Stawinoga (but answering to the name Fred) used to live. To have called him homeless, or a tramp, or a vagrant, wouid have been something of a misnomer, for all of these terms suggest degrees of rootlessness and Josef was not rootless. He had a home. His home was the central reservation of the Wolverhampton Ring Road.

The way I heard it (and therefore none of what follows may be true) Fred was a Polish airman whose traumatic wartime experiemces had left him with a phobia of being indoors. Afraid that the Nazis, or the Communists, might drag him off to some hideous imprisonment, he preferred the uncertain sanctuary of the roadside.

He was subjected of course to the violence that is visited upon all outcasts. But there was kindness too, and even reverence. An article about him in The Guardian stated:

Some of Wolverhampton's Asians revere him as a holy man who has shunned all worldly possessions. Several regularly pay their respects. Every morning for the past 13 years, a Sikh woman has travelled six miles to leave a flask of hot tea and a sandwich outside the tent. Another Indian woman appeared one afternoon asking the hermit to pray for her family, who had vetoed her choice of husband.

Like Ormskirk's Rollerblading Grandad (though totally unlike in personal circumstances) Fred is an iconic figure, even after death - a symbol of the dauntlessness of the human spirit. And though I would not wish Fred's mental anguish on anyone, I like to think that Wolverhampton (and the world) was the richer because he was in it.

Rest In Peace, Josef Stawinoga.

The ring-road tramp who's become a cult hero thanks to Facebook
Ring road tramp Fred dies
Fans mourn ring road tramp

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