Earlier this month, two Big Issue sellers in Birmingham were stabbed to death in front of a crowd of passers-by. This week’s issue of the magazine is headlined “Celebrate your vendor”. [Seller? Vendor? Which is right? Does it matter?]
Today is my birthday, and I had a 2pm meeting in Bloomsbury. (My own fault: I arranged it!) I decided to walk in along the Regent’s Canal to Islington, down Pentonville Road to Kings Cross, have a nice lunch, and go on to the meeting from there.
In Islington I met a Big Issue seller. My regular seller has disappeared from his pitch outside Sainsbury’s in Whitechapel, so I stopped and bought a copy. Paul wanted to talk, so I stopped for a chat, and heard a lot about his life. Potentially not so different from mine, but with many ups and downs, and sad to say he is down at the moment.
When I said I was a mathematician, I got the all-too-familiar response that he hadn’t been good at mathematics at school; but rather than being scared of maths, he was very appreciative. His craft was musician, and he was happy to drop the name Pythagoras into the conversation. He plays the guitar – he has an electric and a Spanish guitar, but at the moment is without an amplifier. I tried to encourage him to work at the Spanish guitar; more forgiving if you only play intermittently. He also used to run, but hasn’t been running for some years.
The highlight of his career as a musician was playing with Gil Scott-Heron. I was impressed; it’s not every day you buy a Big Issue from someone who played with a legend. If I had told him the people I have written papers with, he would not have known any of them!
When we introduced ourselves to each other, he looked around and said “All we need now is Mary!”
I wish you all the best, Paul; I hope this year brings a change for the better.