Thursday, 7 April 2016

RIP Paul Harding - my beloved Blacksmith Paul

My eulogy for Paul

It is so hard to sum up a person like Paul in a short space of time: warm, eloquent, funny, kind, wise, philosophical and feral are just some of the words people have used to describe him. He was such a unique human being with so many interests and talents and friends. A man of contradictions. An outsider who nevertheless was integral to the lives of so many people. Chaotic in his lifestyle but steadfast and loyal to the people he loved. A real individual who had an amazing ability be true to himself at the same time as being able to fit in with anyone, anywhere on any occasion. He was at ease with people from all walks of life, possibly because, somehow, in a tragically shortened life, he had managed to walk so many paths.

I was very close to Paul for the last 8 months of his life and I knew him very well. We talked a lot! In our conversations, sometimes he talked about feeling that he hadn't achieved what he might have done and he regretted that he didn't have more to show for his time on earth but, although I was sad that he hadn't made the most of his enormous talents and intellect, I would never completely agree with him. He was a man who hadn't pursued the conventional trappings of success. He had no wife, no kids, no mansion, no wealth, no critical acclaim. And yet, as I often said to him, in so many ways he was incredibly successful at living.

Because Paul was a person who knew how to live in the present. Forward planning was anathema to him. He lived moment to moment and day to day, hand to mouth. When I asked him what he planned to live off in his old age he said that he just imagined working until the day he died. Tragically he was right. Perhaps he knew at some level that saving up for a retirement that he would never have was a waste of his time. And his time was precious. Because he had so much that he wanted to do. I can't imagine that Paul was ever bored. He was always building, making, playing, reading, walking, thinking. A man who was insatiably curious about everyone and everything. A jovial and affable socialite at times but also at heart an introvert and a very deep thinker or as an old friend recently said, "he could appear daft but was as deep as the sea."

Though he had his ups and downs, Paul was a person who knew how to appreciate the little things: the stars, a sunset, clouds, children, animals, penknives, machines, books, food, music, art, good friends. Just the other day we were walking my dog and I was jabbering on and he squeezed my hand and said, 'stop. Feel the sun.' And he stood in the middle of the path in Endcliffe Park, opened up his arms and lifted his head to feel the spring sunshine on his face. That was Paul to  me. No care for who was watching, only a desire to fully embrace that moment.  We could all learn from his example. And we all have learned so many things from him and been so enriched by his presence in our lives.

For me Paul was a total soulmate. He found it hard to imagine sometimes how we could plan a future together because his lifestyle was so unusual but we loved each other very deeply and lived, as he did, moment to moment, building a future step by step and day by day, both of us amazed that it kept working so well and sad that it had taken us so long to get together. In the early weeks of our relationship he said he wasn't sure he could be a safe pair of hands, that he could be good enough for me and yet, I have never felt more safe than I did with him or more completely loved and I feel so privileged to have had the chance to love him. He gave me everything I needed, because, as so many people have said, he was the loveliest man I have ever known. He made me laugh and he held me when I cried, listened when I needed to talk and entertained me with his stories and we had so many wonderful adventures together in a very short space of time. He was a great dancer and on top of all that he loved to play Scrabble. Where else can a woman find a giant bear of a man who can thread a needle at the first attempt or who will build her a bonfire on the moors at midnight having carried the logs and an axe up the hill in the dark, or who when she says that she's going to make a collage, announces with glee that he will bring his collagaing kit? He didn't come in the neat and tidy package that you envisage when you're waiting for Prince Charming but in so many ways he was the man of my dreams. He was quite simply the bees knees to  me and I am utterly heartbroken that my time with him was so short. He said he couldn't imagine a future without me and I find it so hard now to contemplate mine without him.

But Paul wasn't just my Blacksmith Paul. In fact, while he belonged to no-one, he was so many things to so many people. I'm only just getting to know his family now, but Paul was a fantastic son, brother, uncle and nephew, who adored his family and who was clearly adored by them. He took care of his mum and entertained his nieces and nephews who all saw him as a role model and a mentor. I can only imagine what fabulous fun he was as an uncle and how lucky they were to know him and to learn so many practical and life skills from him. He was also a great father figure to Lyn's children for many years and his influence lives on in them and in their children.

And Paul was also a friend, a great friend to a lot of people. A friend who might forget sometimes to be in touch but who was there when people needed him. He could offer a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear but was also just great company and so many friends will have stories to tell about their escapades together: camping trips, climbing and potholing expeditions, nights at gigs and clubs, festivals, bonfires, raft races, rocket races, jamming sessions and midnight adventures on the moors. People remember him as a man who recited poetry to the buffalo, who went on midnight raids on derelict buildings in costume and who would go on overnight business trips packing only a book. He was a talker and a listener, a wit, a wordsmith,  a clown, generally a great conversationalist and a wonderful person to be around. A  man who truly lived life to the full.

And people didn't just turn to Paul with their emotional needs, he was a practical support to enormous numbers of people many of whom will be wondering who to call now when something needs building or fixing or moving.

Even people who weren't close to Paul knew he was special. He had a smile and a laugh with everyone he met. The kind of person who made eye contact and small talk with every shopkeeper,  in fact, not just small talk but intelligent, informed talk. The kind of person who would stop without thinking to check if strangers needed help. A truly beautiful soul who has taught us all so much and who leaves a big hole in our lives.

Paul still had so many things that he wanted to do. Things he wanted to make, places he wanted to go, lives he wanted to lead. The life where he sailed single-handedly round the world, the one where we formed a band and the life where we retired together to own a bookshop by the sea. It is devastating that he won't get to do these things now. I console myself slightly with the knowledge that he died happy and in love. We can only be grateful that, as a great reader with a vivid imagination, we can be sure that he had lived these lives in his head and that, as a man who was loved by so many, he will be carried in our hearts for the rest of our days and be with us in spirit as we honour him by continuing to live out our own dreams, taking time to cherish the precious moments of our own lives.

I last saw Paul sending paper lanterns into the sky to Hephaestus the blacksmith god with my children and our final conversation the day before he died was about clouds. I feel that he will forever be with us when we look upwards from our grief.

Paul loved reading my poems and his mum has asked me to read one that I wrote on a recent break in Knaresborough with Paul when we visited the Coldstones Cut.

The stones are cold, sober and grey,
sand in the wind, whipping around a spiral
sculpture, cut from the cliff.
a giant conch swirling up the hillside,
ice cream on a cone
But made of stone.

I am not alone.
You are my buffer against the breeze
forging a path through the maze,
smiles frozen, eyes ablaze.
I put my hand in your glove,
remember honeymoon days of youthful love
as we race time around the bend.

You and I are steadfast friends.
On the banks of the Nidd, in Pateley Bridge
artists trade silver and glass for cold hard cash.
We tread the well-worn river's path,
laugh our way through the bleakness.

You smell of metal and sweat and sweetness.
We marvel at doors we won't walk through
and you glimmer like a hint of February spring
bringing sunshine to everything,
daffodils in the snow.

And down we go, slipping through the snicket
arched with leaves. We are thick as thieves
stealing a moment as precious as titantium,
as a light fans into a flame.
Through love, we live again.