PAUL Bendon has got his Ghost Zones carefully planned.

As a homeless man, he is well aware of the dangers of sleeping rough on the streets.

He tells the story of a friend who, a few months ago, committed the cardinal sin of zipping his sleeping bag up when sleeping rough in the bus station.

A group of drunks beat him up and, since he could not get out of the bag, he suffered injuries including crack ribs, two chipped teeth and a black eye.

It is at times like these that Paul and his friends retreat to their Ghost Zones.

He said: "My Ghost Zones are secret, safe places that no-one else knows about, one way in and one way out.

"There's one in Old Town and one in the Parks, but I won't tell you more than that."

Paul is originally from Wales and has lived on the streets "on and off" since 1995.

He was bullied from an early age and left school at the age of 15 with few qualifications.

He said: "I had always wanted to join the Army but I suffered from migraines and they told me to wait until I was 20.

"So I said to my mum that I was going to be a soldier or a criminal, and when I couldn't become a soldier I became a criminal.

"I like life. I like being on the streets and seeing things, and I never used to have a conscience or feel any guilt for what I did."

When he was 17 he was caught committing a burglary and was sent to a detention centre, and when he came out he started a relationship which was destined for failure.

By the age of 21 he was again committing burglaries and joined the Foreign Legion for 17 months after coming out of prison at 23.

Clean shaven but scruffily dressed, and now aged 38, he has been on the streets and in and out of prison since then, and looks a decade older than his 38 years.

In April 2001 Paul was sentenced to two years in prison for breaking into 17 homes in Walcot. At the time Paul told the court that he was glad to be caught since he was stealing to feed his heroin addiction. He is now free of the drug and says he intends to stay that way.

Paul is an articulate, softly spoken man with a Welsh lilt. He is keen to emphasise that all of his crimes are non-violent.

"But that doesn't mean I can't look after myself," he said. "People go out on a Friday or Saturday night, they have a lot to drink and go looking for trouble, and if they can't find it they will beat up a homeless person so you always have to be on your guard.

"I always sit with my back to the wall. At night we take it in turns to sleep and I'll always stay awake if one of my friends needs to sleep.

"But I can only get 'baby sleep', that's proper deep sleep, in a real bed. On the streets you daren't take more than a few hours at a time."

"I don't do heroin, and I won't do it again because I have been through detox twice and it is hell.

"But I have been with people who have fallen unconscious after taking an overdose. I take them to the nearest phone box and call an ambulance.

"I wait until I can see the blue lights flashing and then I'll leave. It can be difficult to explain why you're with someone who has taken an overdose to the police."

Paul says he isn't an alcoholic. He drinks a little cider but says it is dangerous to get too drunk, and that he will never ask people for money.

When life on the streets gets too hard, Paul admits he will deliberately get himself sent back to prison.

His one hope of salvation is a woman he refers to only as "his angel", who gives him a hot meal and a bed to sleep on.

But there's a problem: "I stole from her," he said. "I don't know why I did it, I'm trying to work that out.

"When I committed all the burglaries, I didn't have a conscience and didn't feel guilt, but I'm trying.

"You don't get a second chance, but my angel has given me a second chance and I don't want to throw it away."