“He’s in my phone as ‘God sent’”: Big Issue North vendor’s life-saving friendship with a customer

Will, a Big Issue North vendor in Doncaster, writes lyrically about how a customer and now friend of his, photographer Andy Lynch, was there for him at his lowest ebb.

UPDATE: Will, 43, was tragically found dead at his home at the end of August. The thoughts of the entire street paper network are with Will’s family and all those at Big Issue North.

This is in no way a planned Tarantino, Irvine Welsh-esque portrayal, jumping from one memory to the next with no sense of sequence. But memories very rarely follow the traditional timeline – I write them as they appear. More often than not one memory brings with it a thousand friends.

As I sit alone in a hospital bed – no TV, single room, crying – I think to myself: “Where did it go wrong?” Visions of her eyes when happy were what made my inner turmoil worthwhile. The radiant blue, accentuated with that glimmer that compared to the finest cut diamond. As I left the home that we began together, I couldn’t look back, knowing that she was leaving to sell her body. I couldn’t watch her leave. With every step towards the main door another piece of my heart/soul/reason for living was destroyed. Did it really mean that little?

William Burroughs said “Heroin is a great lover, but a cruel mistress”, which is true on so many levels. Great, amazing when it’s there, but absolute torture when it’s not. Add to this a physical dependency on alcohol and it consumed me. Life became the pursuit, procurement and consumption of illicit substances. I was driven by the need to not be ill. In R, I found someone, something to get better for. I was just making the minimum amount, eager to get home. I lived on junkie promises – on payday we’ll do this, etc.

My heart wasn’t in Big Issue North anymore. It has been my saviour so many times. I didn’t want to commit crime, I wasn’t well enough for real work. But I was oh so ready, in love like I’ve never been before. It scared me and excited me at the same time. Then COVID-19 – no work for anyone, two people to feed. She left with my heart in a bin bag. Desolate, lonely and beat. Will died. I was just a shell.

Big Issue North vendor Will. [Credit: Andy Lynch]

My aim was to be abstinent by summer – go out on day trips, show her real life, real love. I had even arranged two tickets to the wildlife park with vouchers from a customer.

After my suicide attempt and beating, I met Andy Lynch. He showed me people really do care. I decided to fight. Big Issue North was coming back. I couldn’t wait to show my appreciation to those who helped me, by smiling and laughing again. BANG – I got really ill, hospital ill. A blessing in disguise. An alcohol detox, no non-prescribed drugs and a few pounds in my pocket. Andy visited me every day. Lent me a DVD player. Brought me films, conversed with me, all out of his own time. A true gentleman. I have him in my phone as “God sent”.

Now I’m determined to repay that faith. That’s all I was waiting for with R – get better and show her what life can be. I’m really looking forward to doing the papers again, but this time money’s in the bank. I need clothes, shoes and pride, which I’d long since forsaken in order to keep us, and us only. But through Andy’s intervention I’ve found peace within myself. I drink coffee, not alcohol, eat sweets, not scraps – and am looking forward to that first cig. I’d love to take Andy to see Paul Weller next year. It was one of his epiphanous songs that gave me fight:

I’m gonna clean out my yard

I’m gonna knock down the door

I know it’s never too late


I woke up – in a trance-like state. My only objective was to not wake up. For two weeks I had not eaten, slept or acknowledged anything. After seeing images of the woman who I lived and breathed for doing unspeakable things with strangers, for money, I was truly haunted. I was 9st 2lbs in the end, begging and borrowing to keep her happy – for no love, emotional or physical. I was ashamed to take my t-shirt off, but I couldn’t make enough to keep her. But I loved her, still do. Waiting for her to try.

Big Issue North vendor Will. [Credit: Andy Lynch]

Two weeks a zombie, 60 diazepam, methadone, heroin, alcohol and I WOKE UP. What do I do now, where do I go? Lonely, scared, no direction, how do I achieve that final sleep? With all my money spent, not thinking I’d wake up, I picked a cigarette out of the bin, to the amusement of some NEDS (non-educated delinquents). After goading me to no reply – to me I was dead, a ghost – they proceeded to follow and attack. I didn’t even try to defend myself, nothing can hurt me anymore, if anything it was soothing. After the first headbutt, darkness. I wanted to stay there, waiting for the light to call me. Walking aimlessly along. HE APPEARED – like a guardian angel. Someone cared, actually cared, with no ulterior motive. I have never had that care, especially not for myself. Dry and thirsty I absorbed that care. A man who talked to me for ten minutes. Gave me the care I’ve never had. It scared me, overwhelmed me and this time I WOKE UP.

Call it kismet, call it fate, I call it love. We talked about music, films, bands and he understood me, shared my eclectic tastes – another first – nobody’s ever understood how a relationship with music is the spirit of life itself.

I’m gonna find a heaven on the ground

Not something distant or unfound

But something real to me

(Paul Weller)