Remembering Paul Dickeson

Daft things seemed to happen all around when we were together trying to get something done.

Peter Warland

P aul Mill Dickeson was born in Rhodesia and came to the Kootenays with his Scottish wife, Maggie. He taught in both Kimberley and Cranbrook. He was a quiet, thoughtful man but, luckily for several of us, he fell in with a group of roughnecks like me. Because he’s the only man I’ve ever met who, because of linguistic problems, had to converse in Latin whilst hitch-hiking in Italy, I called him PAULUS MAGNUS.

It is extremely difficult for me to recall anything too serious about Paul. Daft things seemed to happen all around when we were together trying to get something done.

When we first encountered one another, I thought he was one of those ‘posh’ speaking Englishmen I had always mocked and he, somehow, came to the conclusion that I was a janitor. If he had seen my car at the time he would soon have realized that janitors drove big, shiny new vehicles.

Paul soon intimated that he would be interested in going with me into the hills and, when it came down to rock-climbing, it was like teaching grandmother to suck eggs. He had smaller, neater feet than I do and they stayed where he put them.

I did best him at skiing, probably because I had started earlier than he did. He did accomplish some remarkable head-plants and, when showing off, he managed to crack a rib after an exuberant fall at my feet. This was just after he’d quit smoking. Guess what happened.

Paul was a stoic. No long distances nor appalling weather conditions deterred him and he could fall asleep at any time. He adored nestling in his green culvert, especially if he had a dog or two to raise the inside temperature as the rain water rushed through.

He was a stoic about food too. Maybe his asthma affected his palate so that he could stomach the awful, the tasteless and the icy cold. While others fussed and fumed over their diets, he just chomped away. However, he could down a cup of tea in any shape or form.

Neither Paul nor I had any mechanical ability yet managed to survive several break-downs in the bush, and my recollections of many snow-mobile trips involved setting light to things in order to get them going and Zorba the Greek dances when they didn’t.

Paul owned several disreputable back-packs over the years and all, it seemed, had been thoughtfully pre-packed with the necessities of survival: caps to wear at rakish angles, stubs of candles for waxing skis in the usual emergencies, odd bits of string for frequent repairs or for whenever necessary, dog-hair draped band-aids for other people’s wounds (though usually rejected) and, of course, duct tape. We never knew when it might be necessary to tape my hiking boots to my skis because, somehow, I’d forgotten my ski boots, or to repair Paul’s boot that somehow came apart when we were standing waist deep in fresh powder snow and wondering.

Maybe, if Paul had had one of those packs to hand, he might have survived that last stroke. You never know.