a tribute to James McMullan

I can’t pretend I knew James well. 

We’d been texting, emailing and speaking over the phone for the last month – every few days or so. He’d text cheerfully: ‘morning sir! are you available for a chat?’ and then we’d call each other. 


James had spent a long time setting up a platform for online learning. He had developed a Cam/Mic unit (that is, as I write this, sitting sadly on the window ledge) and had formed connections with literacy/language classes in the Ukraine. The lessons were due to start this week – in fact, instead of writing I should be teaching a class of Ukrainians. The last thing James said to me was ‘I’ll speak to you before Wednesday’.


That was when we met on Friday afternoon in the bar of the Hoxton Hotel. The day before he died.


We were there for nearly two hours. He was a compact man with a shy, gentle smile. He appeared younger than 32. He was wearing a linen white shirt and at one point, in fact, he joked about the type of people who wear linen white shirts. We talked about work for much of the first hour, but we kept dragging each other onto more interesting topics. He was self-taught – a great reader who had all of these theories about things. He spoke enthusiastically but without any hint of pretension. We kept smiling at each other – ‘anyway… back to teaching…’ before, eventually we both gave up, ordered another two coffees and just talked. Life, reading, art – anything.


He was drinking fizzy water and kept ushering over the waiter to pour me another glass of still water. We talked about the importance of human connections and trust in business. He was one of those people that maintained eye contact. He was someone I would have complete faith in – there was never any question of a contract between us.

He was nervous about this week, which I gather would have been the culmination of about two years work for him. He said that at the end of the test lesson with the Ukraine last week he was emotional. He could see that the kids had enjoyed it. He told me he had a lot riding on this week, and he made a kind of jokey mini-hyperventilation. You just wanted things to work for him. It’s strange how all this as happened when he was in the midst of life – I mean he was just living it, he was alive and enjoying it. I’m not sure how to express this right – life was dynamic at the moment for him.


The next day, Saturday, James had gone out with some old schoolfriends. I read in the press that according to his sister this was the first time he’d been out in months, so caught up had he been in his work. He wasn’t much into football (the Champions League Final was on in the pub) so at about 10:00pm he went outside for a cigarette. 


I wish he hadn’t, because it was then that three nihilists drove their car into him and then stabbed him in the chest.

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