About 1993 or so I was approached in a bar by a slightly-worse-for-wear guy in a leather jacket who told me a few things that were wrong with the church. That was my first meeting with John Rankin.
Over the years that followed John came into the fold of St Paul's, Leamington and brought his battles with long-term addictions into that community. So well did he do that for a while he was employed as a caretaker and odd-job-man/verger. He helped out with Alpha courses. When fit and well he worked harder than anyone I have known. I found him cleaning the church lounge carpet at 1.00 a.m. once, so it would be nice for a funeral the next day.
He would do jobs for people with pleasure. I told him that local builders couldn't find a matching piece of my small-bore, bay-window guttering and had to replace the lot. John turned up next day with an appropriate piece he'd got from a yard and did the job for £15 and a sandwich.
John could talk. He had seen the world and life. He told great true tales. I never knew if he had obtained any qualifications apart from in the navy but I somehow doubted it. I think he was the smartest and best-read unqualified guy I ever knew. He knew his Bible well and shared his faith humbly. He never said 'Nice sermon' to me but would talk about something that was good or bad. If he spotted an error he would point it out gently.
He was always good humoured with me and my family and we became friends. He called me up every six months or so for a chat after I left Leamington. Despite the fact that from time to time when we lived near each other he used to call round for a chat when it was inconvenient, at six months intervals I always cheered up when I answered the phone to him. He told me of his plans to visit the West Country (his spiritual home and roots) when he got his health and bike fixed. He never made it.
I met some of his other acquaintances and picked up tales of 'Dazz' the ex-matelot. Occasionally friends of Dazz wondered why other people called him John; and vice-versa. The identity change had been part of shaking off the past and starting over.
John came for Christmas dinner for a couple of years and we wondered which of him or my mother would crack first in a talk-off. Victory for Mum. Only time John ever got out-talked.
Two jokes he told me:
Steve I've got a computer now but it's so old windows are still being taxed.
St: Hi John where you been?
John: I'm back from 'nam .
Back in 2003 or so we met for an hour a week for a term. John was aware he could be short-tempered and wanted to talk it through. He was good at disclosure and self-analysis but aware, as an alcoholic, that he was only one failure to resist temptation short of a disaster. He struggled to have sympathy for others who let petty difficulties get on top of them. We had so much in common.
I will miss him. He was an antidote to dullness in every way. My sons, who wondered what had gone wrong the first Christmas he didn't come for lunch, have both sent their condolences. RIP John. The world just got less interesting.