The following started off as a blog, and then was expanded as the text for an address I was honoured to make at a friend’s funeral. The full text is shown here with the permission of the family.
The view from the window at Rowcroft Hospice in Torquay is of a beautiful English garden, planted to give a feeling of space and tranquility – a respite for the patients who savour the chance to view a wider world than the four walls of their ward. The atmosphere is remarkably upbeat for an establishment in which you wouldn’t think there was much chance to find anything positive. But you’d be wrong.
I was here visiting a friend, Paul W. They were trying to sort out his medication to make him more comfortable, and today I saw something remarkable. He had particularly asked me to visit on this day because there was to be a classically trained pianist playing in the chapel, and Paul wanted me to be there because he knew I would enjoy the performance.
But the day had not started well. He was uncomfortable, depressed and ‘out of sorts’ and was, by his usual standards, uncommunicative. I wheeled him silently into the chapel and we sat and listened to the beautiful music. Not a movement from him, and I thought that maybe he had fallen into a slumber. If that was what the music did for him, it was a blessing. We listened peacefully until the pianist finally closed with a few gentle notes.
And then Paul leaned slightly towards me, his eyes still tightly closed, and with a conspiratorial stage whisper that was surely intended to reach the pianist, carefully enunciating each word, said, “I – think – he’s – getting – the – hang – of – it”.
The tension was broken by our mirth, probably to the puzzlement of the pianist who wasn’t used to having his audience dissolve into howls of laughter. But there was one very important lesson that I learnt that day.
He had the best health care in the world, the most attentive carers and the pick of the latest pharmaceuticals, but it took music to bring back the old Paul.
His sense of humour was familiar to all who knew him. Very dry, well observed – and slightly wicked. He would always give a chuckle which became his trademark, but he never put anyone down or gave any cause for offence. And hearing that chuckle on that day at Rowcroft was priceless. It helped me and, I hope, him.
During the years since I first met Paul there have been many occasions and stories which I could tell about him. But perhaps the most ‘typical’, which perfectly illustrates his style, was during a local National Coastwatch meeting in which most of the members were in attendance. He was chairman, and therefore sitting at the top table and he rose to start the meeting. As I recall, there were a few people present from other ‘official’ organisations in all the grandeur and rank of their uniforms, but Paul (being Paul) was not to be upstaged. We’d wondered why he kept his coat on, but as he removed it were revealed decorations and embellishments that would be the pride of any commissioned officer of the Household Cavalry in full dress uniform. He was wearing aiguillettes, gold fringed epaulets, a plumed hat and a bank of medals that probably encapsulated the full set.
Fortunately, this moment was recorded for posterity.
Of course, this brought the house down. This was just what we expected from Paul. He could puncture pomposity in a way that offended no-one and I’m sure nobody would disagree that he was (by far) the most popular member of our National Coastwatch team. And he will be sadly missed.
Now he’s gone, but never forgotten. Goodbye old friend.