This week I lost one of my oldest and closest friends.
When I first received the call to say that he had passed away I was hit initially by shock, followed swiftly by tremendous guilt that I hadn't done more and spent more time with him in recent months. I think it's an uneasy feeling that a lot of people who knew Jon will share as well at this time.
However, even as I type this, I can hear his voice in my head saying "That's bollocks Heady", and as with Y'Army articles, condensing an entire paragraph of my rambling waffle into one succinct soundbite.
I share some of Jon's demons and I had the late night chats with him when things were bad and we both agreed that this illness doesn't get better or go away. You just go through different stages of tolerance. Jon loved his friends and his family and I know for a fact that he wouldn't want any of us feeling guilty or responsible for things we had no more control over than he did. For all the darkness he encountered he remains one of the most positive people I have ever known and I know that this is how he would want us to feel when he is in our thoughts.
By now, with his editorial hat on he'd be telling me to get on with something funny. As he told me once when he had me constructing a leaving poem for a colleague at N.U. "Try and get some laughs and applause Heady. You deserve the clap."
I first met Jon 13 years ago. He was my first proper boss in my first proper job and when I arrived there I had led a relatively sheltered life and was a shy and nervous kid. As those of you who know me will testify I'm now the most horrendous gobshite, and a startling amount of that change was down to Jon's partly sage and partly dubious influence. As well as my boss, he became a friend and a mentor.
Inside of work he taught me not only how to do my job, but how to be better than the job I was in. I learned so much about how to behave as an adult and an individual from Jon. Outside of work, the lessons were more based upon how I could disgrace myself but get away with it. He shanghaied me into pubs I would have never dared to have gone into before. Curry houses that no human being should have gone into, ever. And he showed me what happened in those buildings that have signs with three "X"'s outside. In short he helped me grow up. Those years in the EPT, are some of the happiest times of my life and Jon was a huge part of that. He looked after me and metaphorically deflowered me all at once, and I include that mangled metaphor because I know how much Jon would chuckle at it. It was a few years of ridiculous nonsense and mischief.
To my lasting regret I wasn't in Manchester the night that he and some accomplices on a departmental training trip who shall remain nameless, were evicted from the hotel that backed onto the Old Trafford cricket pitch. They'd climbed down from their balcony which led into the stands and were caught by the security guard pretending to bowl and bat on the wicket in the pitch black whilst slightly hammered and stark bollock naked. A typical night out with Jon in many ways. Only a 2 a.m. chorus of "Jerusalem" in a residential street away from being textbook.
This was what was great about Jon though. He was a human catalyst. He had an unbelievable randomness and spark and when you were with him he'd end up talking you into doing things and going places that you'd never normally consider. And they'd end up being great memories. A typical phone call from Jon would be: "Heady, you're not doing anything today are you? We're going to Boston/Dagenham/Cambridge/Some random football ground we've never been to before" and we'd be in the car and on our way. Or we'd go down to London on the train and find ourselves in Hamleys lobbing cuddly toys at each other. As you do.
Y'Army gave me some of my favourite memories and again, Jon was the catalyst. Jon and Dave came up with the initial concept and I got on board to add in some additional content and it was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. I look back on the fanzine with great pride as I know Jon also did. Dave was fantastic at putting the publication together and I hammered up sufficient articles to give us enough for people to read, but without Jon the project would never have got off the ground. Endlessly positive, he drove the fanzine from being a pipedream into a reality. Whatever challenge came up, Jon would rise up to meet it.
I've played football at Colney because Jon set it up. I've seen a song I made up sung to Darren Huckerby on tv to convince him to stay at Norwich City because Jon organised it (Look East didn't think it could be done. Jon thought differently and made it happen). I've been part of so many wonderful things that are the result of Jon's hard work, and his gift of the gab, and just Jon being Jon. I don't know if I ever properly articulated to him how much this meant to me. I hope he knew.
The most telling thing of all in this however, is that I am by no means one of the people closest to Jon. As we both got older and since I've had kids we naturally grew apart. We always stayed in touch and checked in regularly to see how we were both doing, but we lost a bit of that closeness that we once had. However, I know that there are hundreds of people who feel just like I do about Jon. People that in recent times he spent far more time with than me. He made friends wherever he went. I'm tempted to say that he had a close friend on every continent except Antarctica, but there's probably a penguin that's had a beer with Jon who loved the guy. He mixed with so many different people from so many walks of life. I can't imagine how many lives he touched. How many people his energy and enthusiasm have lifted.
Jon was only 37 when he was taken from us, but in that time he lived a life and a half. If a man is made up of the friends he makes or the joyful memories he creates, then he has have lived a fuller life than many of those who make it to 100.
Jon, I will miss you greatly. I know I'll see you again one day, and at that point you'll take the piss out of me for blubbering like a little girl on more than one occasion over the past couple of days, and I'll respond by saying that if all angels look like you I might consider an alternative destination. But I know you'll be waiting my friend.
And for the love of God, find a more palatable class of curry house for us to go to by the time I get up there...