I heard just before 10pm that my old friend Paul died today.
Or Paul E W (for Paulie Waulie) as I used to address his cards. I was Kate T M (the mate).
He was one of the guys I shared a house with in London in the Poly days. He was very intelligent, tall, dark, handsome, funny and rather shy and reticent unless he knew you. We were all gobsmacked when he bought a Muddy Fox mountain bike – I’m sure it cost £300 back then, which was HUGE money to me. Man though, he loved that bike and would regularly ride up to Ponders End from Erith, mainly along the canals and river Lee, to come and see us for a weekend once he’d graduated and got a job. He was a Civil engineering student and we took the piss out of him all the time because he had to study 9 to 5 whereas the rest of us were lazy buggers, barely getting up for the lunchtime edition of Neighbours. Also, look up Civil Engineering in the Yellow Pages. Back then, it used to say ‘boring’.
You can possibly imagine how funny Paul found it, after all the piss-taking, when I ended up studying civil engineering a few years later. I used to ring him up sometimes, in desperation, and grill him on such interesting topics as flexural members. Calm down in the cheap seats, we’re taking rafters and purlins here.
Paul introduced me to garlic bread. This was 1986, and believe me, it really WAS a taste sensation. He loved garlic and would lace Fray Bentos pies with several chopped up cloves; he called this cooking. He also introduced me to Leonard Cohen (wasn’t so pleased about that) and, on his visits back to the house for a party weekend, he introduced me to vodka and orange the morning after, to settle the stomach. He also used to get a few rollmop herrings in for the morning after the night before. No thanks, not for me!
Paul came up to Walsall for my 21st, along with a bunch of other London friends. My Mom made piles of sandwiches the next day for those heading south on the train. I well remember Paul’s joy at discovering that Mom had put garlic in with the salad on his sandwiches. His eyes twinkled with pleasure.
I remember him visiting for his 25th birthday. I made him a sumptuous chocolate cake and festooned it with 25 candles. I had to carry it in at arms length such was the heat. I remember him marrying the gorgeous Louise, his childhood sweetheart, in Greenwich just over 23 years ago. She was serenely beautiful and he was so bloody chuffed and proud. Bren (one of the other housemates) and I slept on the floor of their living room in the wreck of a house they were doing up. Crap night’s sleep it was and, its only just occurred to me that Mark, (the other Ponders End housemate) and his wife Fe (a housemate by proxy), got an actual bed.
Paul’s gorgeous Mum always had a soft spot for me because I came from Walsall. Yes, really. She was evacuated (WW2) as a child to Lichfield I think, and the evacuees were taken on a day trip to Walsall market. She always remembered it.
For Paul’s 40th, a few of us made the trip down to Lee and the amazing house he and Louise had renovated. Not the first wreck they’d renovated, no. This was another wreck they’d totally renovated and it is the most gorgeous house. Amongst the crowds of family and friends, when someone referred to me by name, it really made me laugh when Paul’s brother in law interjected “Kate? Kate the Mate?”
And then there was my 40th. I was so pleased that Paul and Louise came up to the Midlands for it. Sorry partners, I’m shoving you out here – it was so lovely to have Paul, Mark and Bren, my housemates, back together again. My Mom was suitably impressed that Louise was a fan of barley wine. Paul and Louise meanwhile, couldn’t believe that the booze was so cheap. As people were waiting for cabs to their B & Bs, my Mom was ever so impressed that Louise’s large bag was chokka with bottles of barley wine.
We all get on with life don’t we? We think that we’ll catch up soon and meanwhile the years roll on relentlessly. I’m struggling now to think of other times we caught up, maybe at notable birthdays? I don’t know. Time doesn’t matter with life friends though. You just pick right up where you left off.
But then they’re not there and you didn’t see it coming, And suddenly you have all the time in the world for regrets.
Edit: just found a few photos of Paul, along with a press clipping either he or Bren found, which amused him no end.