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 www.comicsvillage.com 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.