Big Issue North vendor Andy: “When I get to the Pearly Gates, I want a pitch outside”

Me and Big Issue North go back a long way. So I want to say thanks to all my customers for your support over the years and please keep supporting Big Issue North. It changed my life for the better and it can change someone else’s.

There’s no coming back from this – there’s no hiding from it. I’ve got three types of cancer – terminal lung cancer, liver cancer and cancer of the oesophagus.

You have got to face it. Crying ain’t no good. Not that I ever did crying very well anyway. I’ve been dealt this hand and I will make the most if it. I’m 47 years old, I’m 48 in 10 weeks’ time and that’s my goal. My second goal is to make it to Christmas. After that, I don’t really have another goal.

The staff in the hospice are brilliant. They have been boss. They have been giving me extra helpings of rice pudding and the like. The chef used to buy Big Issue North off me so I’m well in with him. And other people have seen me here and said: “Haven’t I bought the mag off you, lad?” It’s a small world.

I’m a Catholic, been one all my life. I’ve always popped into church now and again. It’s been helpful to have that faith. It’s nice to think that there might be another side, that here might be something we don’t know.

Credit: Jason Lock

It would be great if I could be buried with a Big Issue North because, when I get to the Pearly Gates, I want a pitch outside and I’ll need a couple of mags to start me off. I mean, when the angels greet you, they’ll all want to buy the mag, won’t they? I’ll be grafting for God.

I don’t judge. I’ve been judged a lot of my life and I see it. If you don’t fit in with what others think is normal, you are on the outside. If you’re gay or you’re “Big Issue North”, or you’re a druggie, whatever, everyone puts you in brackets. But as long as you’re not harming anyone, not hurting anyone, what gives anyone the right to judge? If I see two lads holding hands and they are happy – good on them. What’s wrong with that? Love is love. And you are a better person for having love in your life than having hate in it.

I never realised how short life can be, because when you are told that you are dying it’s hard to get your head around those words. What is that – the actual word dying? It has so many connotations. People say all sorts of things about it. But those actual words: “I am going to die.” In the next few months I am going to put my head on the pillow and my head will not be lifting off it again. I try not to think about it but sometimes it creeps in.

The other night I had this dream. It was the grim reaper and he’d come, but he’d come too early. It was like he’d come to check the water, to dip his toe in and see if I was ready. So I waited until he came close then I threw a punch. Next thing I’m waking up and I’m lying out of the bed, because I’d thrown a punch in my sleep and fallen out of the bed.

I think he was testing to see if I had any fight left. And I did, so he got one on the jaw. It was a peach of a punch. The next time he comes he might get a smack again, or he might just smack me.

Big Issue North does a hell of a lot. All people see are beggars on the streets these days but there are people out there working and trying to make a living.

If you have problems, if you’re homeless or whatever, all you ever want in life is a chance for someone to believe in you when others wouldn’t. That’s the thing about society today – when things go wrong, it’s hard to get another chance off someone. It might just be a chance to get your confidence back or just a friendly arm around you.

What’s nice about selling the magazine is that you meet some great people. In a chance meeting you can put a smile on someone’s face and they can put a smile on yours. And if you put a smile on someone’s face, you’ve done something good that day. It’s like a drug – but you can’t get it from a dealer.

And how do I want to be remembered? As being a nice, smiley lad who changed a few minds and had a few opinions about homelessness.

This interview took place at the Marie Curie Hospice in Liverpool in October 2017. Andy asked that it was published after his death. He passed away in March and his funeral was held in Liverpool.