Thursday, January 29, 2009

Death in all her glory

January is a shit month. I always enter into January with renewed optimism, but one old cliché often leads to another and before long disillusionment has taken over. The prime reason is because January has a habit of killing people off faster than the plague. I normally expect to hear about elderly grandparents or relatives kicking the bucket, but in the last month, there have been 5 deaths I have heard about and the eldest person was the fella whose funeral I was at last Friday - he was 55.

I had the day off last Friday, specifically for Paul's funeral. On this day, my mate Dez (not that one) was attending the funeral for an acquaintance of mine called Angela. She had dropped dead of a massive brain embolism - she was 42, she had 3 young children and a husband. Also on this day, a colleague of mine, John, arrived at the Northampton office for work as usual, within a few hours he was being rushed to hospital after collapsing. It was a massive stroke and he died the following day... I arrived at work Monday, ignorant of the fact. Later that day, I was visiting one of my clients; we were talking about a local gang he'd been having problems with. The leader of this gang was a young guy I had worked with last year and I told my new lad that I would either have a word with him or one with his mother, Tina. She died just before Christmas - she was 36. I was stunned.

The week didn't get much better; one of my good friends and colleagues has been diagnosed with lymphoma - she could be off sick for 18 months if the recovery is full; alternatively, she may never come back...

January has brought far too many deaths (or the shadow of death) to people I know or love. It's a shame it can't be abolished... but that won't really do any good now would it.

I suppose it's something that we grow to realise - the older we get there's more chance of people we know dying.

On Sunday, I will celebrate the birth of February and say good riddance to another January many people will want to forget.

Get well soon, Jodi

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The return of the reluctant blogger and other tales...

It's been a while since I had a blog. They tend to end up getting me in trouble (or potentially anyhow).

I had a column on for about a year, which was my return to comics writing; but much of that was filled with me waffling on about other subjects that interested me, especially as comics have as much appeal to me now as cleaning up dog sick. I suppose I should be quite proud of it, as it was one of the most visited pages on that website. I don't, however, see comics playing a big part in any future I have.

I'm in the process of getting my job back on track after a stressful 2008 and I'm pretty confident it's going ok.

On Friday, I went to the funeral of one of the people responsible for what I do today for a career. He didn't play a huge role in my training, he didn't actually work with me, as such.

I met Paul Smith on February 28th 2001. The first thing he did was ask me if I wanted a cup of tea. He ended up making me lots of tea over the next 4 years. Paul was the 'caretaker' for St Matthews, the homeless hostel I began working for in 2001. He was actually the YMCA's general handyman, also maintaining the other hostel, as well as the HQ. He obviously saw that I was your proverbial fish out of water as I walked into the staff room, which resembled an old lady's living room from the 1960s, and proceeded to make me feel at home. I can't remember what our first conversations were about, but I was left with the overall feeling that I really liked this man.

On long days filled with boredom at work, Paul would come and talk, or get me to help him with a job around the hostel. He had a great relationship with all the kids in the hostel and I often said he'd make a great support worker, but he was far too modest and dismissed the idea. He was a support worker anyhow, he just didn't know it. I went from strength to strength at my job and always in the background was this place I could go for a cup of tea (Red Bush by this time), some homespun words of wisdom and something I hadn't actually found much in my adult life - a really good friend.

The fact that Paul belonged to a rather odd religious group called the Jesus Army didn't bother me one bit. He knew my religious beliefs and respected them and therefore he got mutual respect. Paul's religion was never an issue and neither was my lack of it. I went to his house for dinner; I met many of his colleagues at the JA and it was as natural as natural. He changed my slight prejudices of deeply religious people and my only regret was that I could never get him to come out for a beer with me. He always said he'd come out for a drink, but always insisted he would stick with the soft drinks. I sometimes wondered when I looked into his eyes if he just missed the chance to go out and be one of the lads for one night only!

His crowning moment in our friendship was when, deeply ensconced in the hierarchy of the YMCA, he opted to 'accompany' me to a arbitration hearing. A new regime had taken over the YMCA and the times they were a changing. A number of my colleagues had left or had literally walked out; others were - reappropriated and many more began to feel isolated, especially those who dared question. Paul didn't question anything, I did. Many of my colleagues got hounded out of the Y, but I held on with gritted teeth; I was good at my job. I had been told this less than a month before all the machinations of workplace politics led to first my suspension then eventually departure. I, however, felt that I needed to go out with a fight. There had been an allegation against me, that I'd told a young person information that I shouldn't have. Despite proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegation was completely bogus, I remained on suspension, while, it seemed, they came up with other allegations. I got my lawyers involved and eventually, with Paul at my side, I had a meeting with the CEO, who told me in no uncertain terms that I would not be welcomed back and a suitable agreement needed to be agreed. Paul helped in those negotiations right up until the last meeting, when he could not attend because of another commitment.

I kept in touch with him for the first couple of years after I left; often giving him a call or popping into the Y on the off chance he might be around - there were always others I was pleased to see, but Paul. Paul brightened up dull days...

Six months ago, I was sifting through some stuff and came across some stuff that Paul had lent me - namely a book about how the Jesus Army was formed - and I thought I must pop in and see him. So I asked a colleague at work, who had worked with us both at the Y, where I could find Paul. She said, "Oh, didn't you know. He's got cancer." I was shocked, but the shock was lessened by, "Well, that's what I was told, I don't know for sure." I made my mind up to go and visit him and I did one day in September. I was up his part of town visiting the graves of my parents. I pulled up outside the house, but there was no one in. I considered leaving a note, but figured I'd finally got around to visiting him, I can do it again real soon.

Then I had it confirmed that he had lung cancer and I decided to visit him again, but this time life, Christmas and the usual hassle got in the way. Then on January 11th, I was sitting here in my office and I thought, "I'm going to go and visit Paul this week."

The next day, my colleague came and told me that Paul had died the previous night...

I went to his funeral, I bumped into many old friends and colleagues and even the twat who bullied me out of the YMCA and I was amazed that the church was packed, yet I wasn't. I somehow expected that Paul had touched the lives of a lot of people - a humble man who bought realism and humility into the lives of the people he touched.

I can't help feel that I'm going to miss him for a long time.