Friday 6 October 2023

Paul Fanning RIP - Teacher, blogger and all round good bloke

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my cousin Paul Fanning. Paul was the oldest of my mother's brother Jimmy's 10 children, born in December 1948. Paul's story started and tragicially ended in stories around Mill Hill. As children, our family and my cousins grew up together. Paul was best mates with my eldest twin brothers, Laurie and Frank who were two years older. My earliest memories are of them and their mates having parties, playing guitars and making merry. Their friendship endured until the end. Laurie visited Paul shortly before he passed and he'd been making arrangements to visit Frank when he passed. Paul was born and raised in Mill Hill. The Fannings lived in Langley Park and were staunch Catholics. Faith was a huge part of Paul's life, not the pontificating faith of some, but a practical commitment to help those without the advantages Paul had. Paul had a very strict set of principles. His daughter recalled in the eulogy that when he didn't get the University grades required for the course of his choice, he felt that it was morally wrong to try and get in via the back door. It had been suggested Paul contact the University and try and plead his case. In 1970, he  graduated from Hull University, with a degree in classics. He completed a Masters at Manchester University (Paul was a lifelong Manchester United fan, sadly influenced by my brother Frank). 

Pauls strong commitment to the Catholic faith, resulted in him joining the Volunteer Mission Movement and relocating to Africa to teach English. Paul worked as a lecturer at the University of Khartoum, where he met his wife to be, Eleanor. Paul and Eleanor had three children in Sudan, Noelle. John-Paul and then moving to Nairobi, Emily. They returned to the UK, moving to Reading in 1983. Paul did a further two years of study at Reading University, completing the family with Claire and Alicia. Paul renewed his association with the Borough of Barnet, becoming a lecturer at Middlesex University, commuting from Reading. I asked Paul at the time if this was a bit of a schlep, to which he replied that it was an excellent opportunity to do his preparation and paperwork. 

Tragically, Eleanor was struck with cancer and passed in 2003. This was a tragic blow. I can recal thinking of the complete injustice at the time. How could a couple who were such good people, so commited to helping others, be dealt such a thing? Whereas many would find their faith challenged, when Paul retired from Middlesex University in 2007, he returned to Africa to teach, spending another five years doing his bit. 

In truth, of all the Fannings, Paul was the one I personally had known least well. His brothers Greg, Leo and George and sisters Tessie and Johanna are closer in age to me and we'd spent a lot of time together, but Paul had been in Uni or in Africa by the time I was walking and talking. However, of all, we had something in common. Paul was a prolific blogger. A discussion at a family get together a few years ago cemented a hither to unknown shared love. Pauls blog was designed as a resource for language students, enabling Paul to share his decades of teaching English and his passion for helping people improve their skills. Here is just one of the comments from one of Pauls admirers

In my opinion, this is probably the best blog for advanced English I have ever seen. It teaches content that other course don’t mention at all. Like the pronunciation bits and how vowels in words sound are supposed to sound like. After years living in the uk, I thought my English has reached the plateau in terms of improvement ( I mean without having to memorize things like an hard disk ). I was making mistakes but could not understand my errors and could not see the way out of it. This blog has shed some light onto some mastery trick for my academic and professional English.

Although Paul's blog is very different to this one, not least in having excellent use of English, we had a common desire to spend some of our free time using our talents to make the world a better place. I must share the fact that Paul told me he loved my blog, but felt it would be much improved if I actually used English properly. When I explained that I felt it was important to try and encourage dyslexics who are bad at English to share their thoughts, which is why I rarely try and proof read and correct my own awful use of grammar, he looked bemused. About two years after, we picked up the converstation. He explained that my comment had troubled him greatly. Had his passion for correct English actually blinded him to the fact that some people had something to say and were too intimidated by the grammar police to say it. Paul had eventually resolved this confict with the realisation that I'd not been taught English by anyone with a passion for teaching.  Paul's last entry was made four days before he passed. That is a true passion, he still had things to say until the end. It had made him re-evaluate his own blogging, to try and make it as accessible as possible. That was the sort of man Paul was.  A mystery was solved for me yesterday. His blog is called Guinlist. I assumed it was a reference to our family's love of Guinness, but that was not the reason. It is an anagram of linguist. 

As I said, Paul's story both starts and ended in Mill Hill. Paul had been in poor health for some time and was diagnosed with mesothelioma. You may wonder how a lifelong acedemic contracted this awful disease? Well his father was a builder working in Mill Hill and as a youngster, Paul would spend his holidays working for his father's company, sawing up blocks of asbestos with no protection at all. Those fibres, inhaled in Jimmy's workshop on Bunns Lane, where the station car park is now located, did their damage. When people talk about the 'health and safety police', I will forever think of Paul.

I should add that his children organised a wonderful wake. A huge number of family and friends turned up. When someone like Paul passes, it is almost hard to feel sad, beyond the fact that we won't see him. He lived the life he wanted, guided by the principles he believed in. I have no idea what thoughts went through his head as he departed on his final journey, but I am sure that his only regrets would be that he wouldn't see his family again. His was a life well lived. 



Anonymous said...

Thank you Roger for this article about Paul
May he rest in peace

Anonymous said...

Thank you Roger, for sharing your l memories about my dear dad. I liked the section about the differences in the use of grammar in your blogs, and I can just imagine those conversations taking place! I had no idea your blog existed, and I will come back to it in the future. Claire Fanning