A 62-year -old, gardener, Malcolm Applegate, was married to his wife for three years before he left home when he couldn’t stand her anymore. He then made his way from Birmingham, where they lived, to London. The journey took him three weeks; half of it was made on his bike then after it got stolen in Oxford, he made the rest of the journey on foot.
Malcolm said the marriage was OK at first and they got along quite well but his increased working hours angered his wife and she complained constantly about it so he secretly left home. After leaving, Malcolm camped in “thick woodland” near Kingston, south west London, while working on gardens at a community centre for the elderly. During the period he was away, he lost contact with his family, including his sister who feared he was dead.
Malcolm said: “I was married to her for three years, but unfortunately it got too much. First of all I met her in Eastbourne and I married her in Birmingham. For three years it was alright, we got on with one another and the gardening got too much for her.
“She said, ‘Why don’t we have more time together?’ I said, ‘How can I? I have been recommended to people’. I just upped and left, I got fed up with her because we used to get so many arguments. It took me three weeks to get back to London. I didn’t lock my bike up in Oxford and someone helped themselves to it, so I had to walk back from Oxford.’
Malcom has now told how he emerged from hiding and how he lived while away from home. He said he camped in thick woodland near Kingston while working on gardens at a community centre for the elderly.
He said: “There were three of us camping. They were just camping around with me because at the time I was working in the centre and we used to go there for a wash and a shower. No one knew we were there. It’s not well known – nobody would go in there.”
After, Malcolm came out of hiding, he settled in Greenwich then contacted his sister who was overwhelmed with joy to hear from him. They were reunited when he found a new home.
He said: “It had been a decade years since I’d last seen her, and in that time she had been to all of the Salvation Army hostels in the south trying to find me. I think she assumed I was dead. I wrote her a letter once I was settled in Greenwich and she phoned me up, in floods of tears. We now have a great relationship again.”
He said: “Before becoming a companion at Emmaus Greenwich, I was a gardener in Farnborough for 25 happy years. I loved the job and I still love tending to gardens now. It wasn’t until I got married that my life became increasingly unsettled. The more work I took on, the angrier my wife got – she didn’t like me being out of the house for long periods of time.
“The controlling behaviour started to get out of hand and she demanded that I cut my hours. After a long time trying to stay in the marriage, I decided to leave for good. Without a word to anyone, not even family, I packed up and left. I went missing from them for ten years.”
He added: “My day-to-day involves working in the shop or driving the vans, I’m not fussy what jobs are given to me as long as I’m working. In my spare time, I enjoy doing sponsored walks for other homeless charities. My recent walk through London raised almost £300 for Street Souls, not bad for a man in his sixties. I’d like the people who donate to Emmaus to know that I am grateful for being given a second chance at life. I have a lovely room, I am able to work and I can still lead an active social life – I love it here – my life is officially back on track.”