An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  

The holy man of Wolverhampton
On the central reservation of Wolverhampton's ring road sits a khaki tent with a pair of torn socks drying on a stick outside.

Every morning an old man crawls out holding a broom and begins sweeping the kerb which separates him from the passing juggernauts. His matted beard ruffles in the wake of fast cars.

Josef Stawinoga, 83, a second world war veteran from Poland, has been living in a tent on the grass island for 40 years.

Traumatised by war, he has a phobia of confined spaces. The ring road is the only place he feels secure. He believes the second world war is still being fought and fears strangers are out to harm him. He wanders the reservation, hoarding any litter he finds.

Refusing to answer to Josef, Mr Stawinoga is known as Fred and he has become an institution in the Midlands.

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.

Angelique Chrisafis Guardian 16 April 2003

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:46 pm