INSP Advent Calendar: day 23

Christmas is very nearly upon us. In today’s #INSPadvent window, Paul tells us he is happier and healthier than he has been in a long time.

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Big Issue vendor Paul Squires. Photo: Charlie Zinn

Paul Squires, 52, Plymouth, UK

My childhood was horrendous. I used to take drugs to mask that, but the pain was still there day after day. I had addiction issues from the age of 15, until a few years ago. So I am a recovering addict and I always will be. But I am doing a million times better now. I am happier and healthier than I have been in a long time.

I like to take small steps. It is easier to keep going forward and I am fighting so hard to do that. That is why I am outside every day in all weathers. The routine of work helps me. I have been crap with money in the past, but The Big Issue has taught me how to save money. I would like to get my own flat. That is what I am saving for.

I have always worked. I was a labourer, worked on the roads, in factories, kitchen portering. But I split up from my missus and lost my flat when was laid off from work. It was a tough time. My friend was selling The Big Issue so I tried it, had a really good day, and the rest is history, as they say. I’ve been selling the magazine for three years now.

I like earning my own money rather than sitting on my bum. And you meet interesting people from all over the world – especially as my pitch is outside a shopping centre.

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

My childhood was so unhappy, so I don’t have memories of nice Christmas presents. I can honestly say the best Christmas presents I ever received has been a tent and a winter coat, plus hats, gloves, a sleeping bag and warm socks from my regular customers. They are so kind and it means the world to me. I’m so grateful.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year?

I have no definite plans yet, but I will probably go to my friend’s house. He has been a great friend to me, and looks after my dog, Eric, as my landlord will not let me keep him at my place. I will cook the dinner for us.

But first I will be helping dish Christmas dinner out to homeless people. It is a service I used myself when I was on the street. There was a painter called Robert Lenkiewicz who lived in Plymouth – he left a legacy of money to pay for a Christmas dinner to be dished up to homeless people who needed it each year, so I will be helping them out. We have to remember people who are less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year.

If you did not sell a street paper, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year?

To be honest, I would be on the street, unable to pay my bills. And that might mean I would be back on the drugs. Without The Big Issue, I would be devastated. I would be up shit creek without a paddle.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers?

I want to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I’m so grateful for them for having bought the magazine and kept me company all year. I wish them all a happy time. And, especially after what has happened in Paris recently, I want to wish a peaceful Christmas to everyone, in all walks of life, all over the world.