David Who?

A couple of nights ago I went to a memorial event for a man who’d recently died. David Paterson was 86 and to be honest I was astounded to hear that, as although he got around on a scooter, he had the brains and activity levels of a sixty-year-old. David was involved in just about everything; an atheist priest who had his church turned into a community centre; a fearless advocate of the poor and dispossessed, an occasionally bull-headed and sometimes annoying person who was as much a feature of Loughborough as the Sock Man or the Carillon.

I first met David at Friday Room, a progressive discussion group which included lefties, centrists and Greens and which once hosted a One-Nation Tory. But David was everywhere; he attended services at All Saints and Quaker Meetings, he ran the Peace Group and sat on the Council of Faiths. His funeral was a brilliant service which included readings from the Koran and the Gita as well as ‘The Amber Spyglass’ – and a cardboard coffin! – but the memorial was as remarkable in its way as it included some astonishing anecdotes about his life.

My favourite was the story of his ancient car which, in the 70’s, was loaned out to all and sundry. It was a total heap with one missing window and when the ignition fell out it had to be started with a toothbrush. (David had a very cavalier approach to possessions and always left his flat unlocked so people could go in and pick up campaign materials.) Then there was the time he took a group of people to Gujarat in India and managed to blag his way into the Gujarati political assembly. They were expecting another Englishman and thought he was that man, so he was waved through and when he found himself face to face with the Governor, he said straight away, ‘Why is your government so corrupt?’ The interview was terminated abruptly.

In between these stories we had music and poetry, the music provided by Steve on guitar, and Jan and Joss on violin and recorder respectively. I provided the poems, which were chosen to reflect David’s preoccupations: ‘Spike’ about homelessness, ‘Poet Tree’ about the Peace Group’s Wishing Tree and ‘Song of David’, which I’d written specially for the occasion and which I reproduce below.

Song of David

for David Paterson’s Memorial, 31st July 2019

I can’t believe you’re gone

when once a week or so

I’d glimpse you in the throng

a pause, a brief hello

your trademark woolly hat

scooting across the flat

your peace work marathon:

It seemed a sudden parting

one moment here, then gone

a fall, infection starting

but you’ll keep on keeping on

we’re sure it can’t be long

before you’re back on song

the breaking news: you’re gone

hard to reflect upon

We met at Friday Room

and all around the town

criss-crossing in a zoom

a person of renown

a Marmite man for some,

but we take you as you come

your opinions never dithering

more differed from than differing

At church we sit in mourning

a multi-faith acrostic

from atheist to Mormon

from Muslim to agnostic

a wake with no omissions

readings from all traditions

from Christian ash to Lyra’s Dust

we roll you home because we must.

Let’s pause here for a second

and just for fun, imagine

that as the heavens beckoned

more of your plans were hatching

for organising stalls

and discussions in the halls

debating with the deity

and stirring up the laity

Now gather up our song

and make one final chorus

sing it loud and long

so no-one can ignore us

and raise our voices high

in gathered eulogy

to a man for every season

who united faith with reason;

and as you face the curtain

we’re all completely certain

as you pass through that doorway

whatever others thought – you did it your way.

(c) Liz Gray, 2019

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