Nothing quite makes you question mortality than those two great bookends of life: birth and death.
The former had been dwelling on my mind for some time, as my son grew from the size of a poppy seed when the pregnancy test striped, to 8lb 6oz of squirming, screaming life, emerging in early November after a torturously long labour. The feeling that had grown through the nine months preceding the labour became flesh: I was now responsible for a life. Looking at him, blinking under hospital lights, I realised that what he became was an empty canvas. It was up to myself and his mother to paint his early life, set him on the right paths. Trying to extrapolate what he would become when he was my age…it’s a heady, terrifying thought.
Around the same time, in the days leading up to his arrival, I became aware of a departure. Stuart Alexander Smith was a guy I had not known long, but had become very fond of.
I’d first met him when I asked a friend to help me mend a bike I’d been gifted. Stuart had tagged along. He was new to the area, and this had got him out the house. Afterwards we had a cup of tea – he was teetotal – and a chat. He was instantly personable, instantly interesting. He was fascinated with The Beestonian, and became an avid reader, reading each issue cover to cover and letting me know the bits he particularly like. “Write for us one time” I suggested “A view of Beeston from an ex-con who has come here to find a quiet life”. He liked the idea, but I never received any copy.
A gentle man hidden behind a rough demeanour, I realised I hadn’t heard from him for a while. The random meetings on the High Road, where he’d tell me of the life he was rebuilding after a spell in prison. It too had been a while since I’d received one of his FB messages asking for advice about Beeston (he was from the South, as you’d know instantly by his deep, cockney accent), or his thoughts on politics (hugely anti-authoritarian, but mellowing & inspired by Corbyn to join Labour). I checked his Facebook page, and was shocked and saddened to see people leaving tributes to his life. Stuart had died. I didn’t even know he was ill.
I contacted his friends. They explained he’d had a cancer diagnosis which was too advanced to treat. It all happened quickly apparently. Not enough time to hear about it, not enough time to say goodbye.
How could a man, so full of heart and generous of spirit, leave like that? How awful was it that just as he was finding some peace in his life, he would be taken so ruthlessly?
I couldn’t make his funeral, a week after the birth of my boy. The experience of a difficult birth had taken a huge chunk out of my wife’s energy, and her recovery was slow yet steady. Others did make it to Bramcote Crematorium, on a cold November afternoon, one of those grey days where the darkness never really breaks.
He believed that world peace can only be achieved by individuals finding their own personal peace
He died without obituary, so I hope this serves. A friend of his told me with much sadness: “He had no family”. Yet it would be wrong to say he died lonely: he was blessed with a great friend in Trowell resident Gareth Whitedog, who gave a eulogy. “I really can’t tell you what a good friend he was to me over the years” he told me when I got in contact. I asked about his life before Beeston. “He was born in Wood Green (North London) in 1952. His father died when he was quite young; and he was devastated when his mum died in the eighties. I met him at college: he then became a court clerk, then a building surveyor for East Barnet Council, where he became massively disillusioned with the way councils operate. He couldn’t tolerate injustice, you see.”
Other jobs followed. “He had many facets” Gareth explained “scholar, builder, surveyor, wheeler, dealer, wheeler dealer, music lover, audiophile, free thinker, comedian, poet, philosopher, mystic, conspiracy theorist, conspiracy theory debunker, detectorist, angler, space cadet, star ship captain, and covert galactic special forces operative, to mention a few”.
However, his liberty was curtailed in the late noughties when he was given an eight-year sentence for drug offences. His thirst for knowledge never ebbed: he was an incredibly well-read man “Prison is great for books” he once told me “I was a captive audience. They were my escape”.
Released on license in December 2012, Gareth took him in. “We couldn’t see him going into some awful offenders’ hostel, or something” he explained. This is when I would have first met him. He was infinitely interesting, often bizarre in his esoteric look at the world, but even his more outré ideas were underpinned by a great love of humanity.
“He was a spiritual man, a follower of an Indian guru” Gareth told me “and he believed that world peace can only be achieved by individuals finding their own personal peace, and bringing that into the world on a day-by-day basis”
It may seem bizarre to print an obituary in this mag. It may seem especially odd that if it wasn’t for a kind friend taking him in, he would never have become a Beestonian and crossed my path.
But he did, and he deserves some form of memorial. Beeston barely knew him, and I have no doubt that if cancer hadn’t snatched him away, he would have become a great part of our community. It was not to be. So let this serve some form of memorial to a man of great humility; and the potential we lost when he finally found that ultimate peace.
Stewart Alexander Smith, born 17/7/52; died 26/10/16