Sunday, 20 April 2008

Paul Read (1951-2007)

It was bloody cold yesterday at Wallingford on the bridge over the Thames, where Jo rode pillion on Roger’s Yamaha (red polka dots on a yellow frame – it’s Roger’s idea of high visibility) to scatter Paul’s ashes in the river as they drove across. Then it was on to Fox’s Diner, the biker’s café on Oxford Road, for the 'Gutbuster' breakfast before another stop at Ipsden Heath to scatter the remaining ashes among the bluebells.

Paul wasn’t my oldest friend – there’s a handful of people I’ve known longer – but there’s no one I’ve stayed in such regular contact with over such a long period (we first met in 1979). He died on 27 April last year, and this weekend nine of us, including his widow Jo and his daughter (by a previous marriage) Lucy, marked the anniversary by travelling to a few of his favourite places for this little ceremony. I feel privileged to have been among the nine.

Paul’s death, at 56, was one of life’s injustices. A martial arts expert, who’d been practising Baguazhang since his 20s, he was one of the fittest and healthiest people I knew. He turned his back on the smoke and the other drugs long before the rest of us; he ate well, meditated daily and drank only in what passes as moderation among much of my company. But he injured his toe when a bike fell on him before flying off for a holiday last April. The doctors think he may have developed DVT (deep vein thrombosis, blood clots within the veins) as a result of immobility during the flight. At any rate, he had a stroke on the beach and died in the local hospital a week later.

Paul could be an awkward, cantankerous bugger and I didn’t like him at all when we first met. He once physically prevented me from seeing my girlfriend (who was also perhaps his very best friend) when I’d been behaving particularly badly. It took me years to grow up enough emotionally to realise that he’d been right to do so. Later I came to learn that he was exactly the sort of man who, in the favoured phrase of an old miner friend of mine, you’d want in the trenches with you. I don’t ever recall him striking a blow in anger, and he wasn’t the sort of person to start a fight. But he’d stand up to anyone who did, and you knew he’d be with you shoulder-to-shoulder if you got into one yourself.

When I was told that he’d died, I assumed immediately that it was due to one of two things: an accident on his motorbike (probably caused by someone else because he was too good a rider himself), or a stabbing or shooting as a result of him intervening in some street assault. The manner of his death seemed as incredible as it was unjust.

In his professional life Paul was a teacher (at South Kilburn and Queens Park community schools), with a special commitment to those who overcame various obstacles to succeed against the odds. He pioneered a number of access and vocational courses and at his funeral last year there were scores of his past and present pupils, many of whom had very personal stories to tell about how he had helped and inspired them. One of his many extra-curricular activities, I learnt then, involved organising and coaching some of them at football.

He’d kept that quiet from me, perhaps because at various times over the years I’d tried to rope him into some of the football teams I’ve been involved with. He turned out on a few occasions when I twisted his arm hard enough but he was a rugby man at heart. The only exception was when the England football team was playing. Then he’d be on my back to organise one of our regular (and increasingly large) gatherings of friends, relatives and other associates to cheer on our national side’s latest failure to win anything at football.

Actually we were an indiscriminate crew. We were far from being an exclusively English group, and as well as the England team, we were often as happy turning our loyalties towards the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Trinidadians, Japanese – or whoever Germany’s opponents happened to be at the time. We’d drink and we’d chant and we’d drink and we’d sing and we’d raise the roof (and the profits) of whatever pub we’d settled on for that particular tournament.


In a way I was glad when England didn’t make it through to this year’s European finals. It just wouldn’t have been the same without Paul leading the singing.


PS, for friends of Paul's thinking of paying a visit, the grid reference for the wood is SU665848, the triangle at the centre on the map.

6 comments:

Red Lion said...

Thanks for this Steve. We'll miss Paul every time England play and he's not there with the rest of us.

party said...

Dearest sympathy and wishes to Joe and Paul's daughter, Lucy.

Words escape us, we fell upon this web site by sheer chance and were both shocked and greatly saddened. We last saw Paul, briefly, in 1992 and have always wanted to track him down - he was one of those few people in life that you always thought of with affection; a very gentle, kind intellectual.

Paul had been an inspirational teacher, mentor and friend of ours when we were both students on the old ACCESS course at South Kilburn. He really did champion the under-dog and was genuinely committed to improving the life chances for disadvantaged, adult learners, for which we will be eternally grateful. He always comes to mind in respect of the advert for Teacher recruitment when they ask someone famous who had inspired them. Well, for us, and many, many others, it was definitely Paul Read, or, 'Readie', as he was affectionately known. A lovely bloke, the world's lost a good one!!

Love, M.(red hair) & B (Triumph Trophy) and sons.

Anonymous said...

hey...I happened across this today. Every now and again I type Paul's name into the google bar to try and track him down. Guess that says a lot about how much he is still woven into my history. He was teaching and leading at QPCS when I joined the ACCESS course. Although I didn't become part of his larger 'real' life he became part of mine - what with going to college and he being my mentor.
It may have been several years but for me it was today that Paul died. I cannot quite believe it. Always hoped we would hook up again.
Thank you for this blog. It is a fine tribute and it was lovely to see his face again.

Darren Carroll said...

Sincere sympathy to all Pauls family.

I came across this as had previously heard couple years back of Pauls passing to say i was shocked by this terrible news.

Paul was one of my teachers at QPCS during 92 - 94 and to say we all had a good relationship would be very much understanded he was always a good laugh during class and even after class myself and good friends used to saty behind to have a chat and a bit of craic. As a teacher he was supportive and inspirational. I never had privillege to meet Jo or Lucy but he spoke about them regularly when we caught up. I know its been a while now since his passing however i wanted to be able to pay my respects in someway and this was the only way as only just came across this blog.

So farewell old friend and rest in peace..

from Darren Carroll

Anonymous said...

I Was sent this page by a friend darren and must say this is the first i heard off mr read's death and i was greaty saddened. Mr read was my older brother and friends teacher and use to teach my class when our nvq teacher was away. But knew mr read from 89 to 95 Its ture we did not get on much & 99.9% of the time the only words mr read would say to me was GET OUT THE CLASS! but we had a hate love relationship? Will miss you lots as mr read comes in stroies i tell my kids of the good old days and how a teacher should be. R.I.P Mr read we all at queens park community school salute you.. from R.S.Hussain

Pxxx said...

I found this page last week when I was visiting friends in Norway and was prompted to do a google search. Two are spiritualist mediums and Paul came through describing our fall out almost 20 years ago. (This page contains many other details they described). That was the last time I saw him. But through my Norwegian friends he apologised. From my experience I have never met another man like Paul - he had an incredible physical presence and upright bearing, loved his ink pen and writing in ink, loved words (e.g. avuncular, abrasive, articulate) but struggled to say the word 'anorexic', and an incredible understanding of how people use their energy particularly emotional and physical. He loved his Moto Guzzi bike, his endless cups of tea and attention to 'rank'. I learned much from him, and have never forgotten him. Pxxx