Personal Memories of Paul Monnelly

Paul Monnelly b. 25 September 1947, d. 21 January 2022

We met in Stockport in 1967 when starting our Higher National Diploma in Business Studies. Whether by choice or at the college’s whim, I can’t remember how we came to be billeted together, in the propinquity of a one-bedroom room in Levenshulme. The terrace house of boarders was run by Mr and Mrs Czech, refugees from their namesake country. You cooked your food on a gas ring situated on a landing. It was a ninepenny train ride to the college; trains going in the opposite direction took you right into the delights of central Manchester.

Paul hailed from the town of Prudhoe, a few miles from Newcastle, and to his last he was audibly recognisable as a Geordie. Age 20, he was a hard-drinker, smoked like a chimney and held views close to Enoch Powell. Once, when that controversial figure was visiting Stockport to make a speech and students (university not college!) were gathered outside the town hall to protest, Paul steadily backed into the packed ranks, using his bovver boots (yes) to grind their feet. He explained that it was easy because the front rank could not retreat.

He was a defiant arguer. For example, when the paraffin heater in our room required replenishment, it always seemed to be my turn to go to the local ironmonger’s, and what’s more pay for it. In recent years, when we have been meeting in London pubs, Paul had not lost the ferocity of his point of view, and rarely gave ground to my pinko views. This might appear as if time with him was less than pleasant, but not the case. To be in the company of intelligence married to intellect is always a pleasure, and anyway I swear that he would soften after his third vodka.

One big night occurred in August 1968 during the holidays, when Paul usually went home and I worked as a delivery driver. It was my stag night and Paul organised the do. He travelled from home laden with a large leather suitcase which he opened with great ceremony to reveal several bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale. In those days, beer could not easily be bought out of its region, hence it was quite a treat, despite Paul’s reports of Newcastle hospital wards dedicated to patients suffering from delirium tremens caused by this strong beer. It was my first time with Newky Brown, and I was drunk on it before we and the others hit the pubs.

With my marriage, our room-sharing came to an end and my wife and I took a one-room flat in Heaton Chapel, a posher suburb nearer the college. At the end of the teaching part of the HND, in 1969 Clare and I emigrated to Australia where I did my year’s personnel work that was necessary to receive the diploma. Paul and I lost touch and he joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1974, later telling me that on one of his early voyages to the South Seas, he scoured Sydney in vain looking for me; we were not to connect again until the 2000s

It was then that I signed up for Friends Reunited and came across Tina McKay, née Wood, whom we knew at college and who put me in touch with Paul. I returned to the UK from Australia in late 2005 and the three of us – now with second-time round partners – were reunited. Paul invited all of us to his last ship, docked in Portsmouth, for a tour and lunch in the mess. He retired as Purser from the RFA in 2008 and lived in Spain with his wife Susan.

After his retirement, on his regular visits to the UK, he and I fell into regular pub-crawling across London. His tipple was vodka and coke, but although our pubs were the best that my Camra membership would find, he did not share my love of ale. He also, as fifty years before, never seemed to get drunk compared with my rapidly progressive stocious state.

Towards the end of our encounters before the pandemic, his progressive pulmonary condition slowed his walking, showing in a reluctance to cross even quiet London streets except at crossings. He drank a lot less as well, as I wanted lunchtime meetings and he wouldn’t touch alcohol until later in the day. We used to have lunches with Tina and the partners, where he would be gentlemanly and quiet, unlike at our pubbing when we argued to the cows came home, not bothering other people with our self-indulgent sparring.

Another feature of Paul was his generosity, at least towards me. A birthday present he bought me in 2014 was an old-fashioned, battered, metal paraffin-container, just to remind me of our ancient bickering over who should get the refill for the heater. Another was two weighty volumes of the OED complete with a magnified reading glass for the tiny print.

On Christmas Eve last year, he was taken to hospital and stayed in a coma for several days. Discharged ten days later to await recovery fit enough for chemotherapy, on our last WhatsApp videocon he told me how, on his return to hospital and in a crowded waiting room, the specialist had told him that his condition was inoperable with only a few months left. He was going to have his nieces and nephews over for what he called his ‘swansong’ in Estepona in March but he ‘Didn’t expect me to be there.’ That last was a nod to my fear of flying, and for him to say that in his state was his final act of generosity to me.

After his emails, Paul appended the following paragraph and I’d say it sums up his life’s outlook: ‘Of all tyrannies, a tyranny [sincerely] exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience’. From C.S. Lewis’s God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, 1979.

Rest you well Paul, I miss you.

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