I don’t remember the very last thing Paul Kelly said to me. You never do, not unless you know there is a reason to commit it to memory.
We’d talked, as we did most days, about something or other, just putting the world to rights. It may have been about the magazine. Paul was a very useful critic, and barometer, of the magazine and how it was selling.
If he was doing well, I knew the chances were it was performing well across the country. If he was struggling, or in Paul’s word if things were “shite”, then I knew others would find it hard too. Paul did not stand on ceremony.
In recent weeks, he’d been talking about his father. He was on his mind. His dad had died last year and it hit him hard. He was missing him of late. But there was always his cat at home. And his regulars, his customers who were increasingly friends. People who stopped to buy the magazine, stopped to speak, maybe bought him some food and groceries now and then, a pair of boots.
Paul was just always there, a gentle pulse in the heart of Glasgow. “Don’t be shy, give it a try, I don’t bite” echoing up and down Buchanan Street. Regardless of how often that phrase sounded out, it never grated. There was a warmth and a winningness to Paul, a necessity of being.
So, last week when two of my colleagues burst into the office, standing ashen-faced in front of me saying, “Paul is dead – they think it’s murder” I couldn’t really understand them. When it became clear, I still couldn’t understand. And some days afterwards, it still feels like a gear has been slipped, that a correction is needed.
This is what we know. On the morning of Saturday June 15, Paul was found seriously injured on the street in the Knightswood area of Glasgow. He died shortly afterwards. On Tuesday June 18, a man called Jason Cowan was charged with his murder and appeared at the city’s sheriff court.
This we also know. Paul was loved. The incredible volume of messages we have received, that we are still receiving, is testament to his quiet and glorious impact. Of course, there is still a sense of confusion over his death, that abrupt, brutal end. Last week I stood at the spot where he sold, where people have left messages and flowers, and I watched the world go on. As it does. Don’t they realise what has happened, I thought. I must tell them all.
That is the way it is. Nothing stops. It just feels odd and it feels sad and a little darker that Paul Kelly isn’t in this world. Everybody here at The Big Issue will miss him.
People have asked if there is anything they can do. It’s a wonderful human reaction to want to do something, anything. Over the next little while we will work on some sort of way to permanently remember Paul. But today I encourage you to also look out for other Big Issue vendors, on the streets across Britain.
If you haven’t stopped to speak and check in with your local seller in a while, do it. Do it today. Don’t put it off. Stop, and start. That is a good thing to do.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue