My husband, Joe, has this thing that he says to me when we are away on holiday. “What do you prefer?”, he says “Cruising down Loch Ness or teaching third year RE?” or perhaps, “What do you prefer? Walking along the Champs Elyses or teaching third year RE?” The answer is usually a no brainer. Today, if someone were to ask me, “What do you prefer? Speaking at your brother´s funeral or teaching third year RE? The answer for once might be “Teaching third year RE:”
If you are hoping that I will be able to fill in some of the blanks of Mike´s life, you will be disappointed. I believe that many of you know him better than I ever did. Growing up together I was never curious enough to ask questions and he was not often around to supply information. Besides, I am a girl, and his sister!
When Mike was first diagnosed with cancer, I came over to spend time with him and give him some support. He had been admitted to Costa del Sol hospital waiting test results. One Sunday I had taken the local bus out there. I assumed that Mike was fielding a dozen visitors and I could cadge a lift back. It turned out to be just Mike and me, for six and a half hours, sitting on the terrace, drinking coffee by the cupfuls. He was in the mood for talking and I was curious enough to ask questions. On the bus back to Fuengirola, two thoughts came to mind.
Firstly, I really didn´t know my brother at all. Even the things I thought I knew turned out to be very different. After six and a half hours I might have known a few more facts, a few opinions, but I really didn´t know him.
Secondly, after six and a half hours of talking to him, I wasn´t even sure that I liked him very much.
Three or four months down the line, I can still say that I´m not sure that I knew the man, but I am sure that I liked him.
Life, for Mike, at least in the UK, was like wearing poorly fitted clothes. Too tight at the neck. Too short at the arms. He didn´t appear to be comfortable. However, there were one or two exceptions.
He loved school and won a scholarship to Lord Wandsworths College. He was a boy with the brain the size of a planet, and went on to join MENSA. The teacher in me disapproves that such a boy, with such a brain, never really put it to good use!
Michael loved music. He had a ear – two ears, in fact – that lead him to teach himself to play the piano. He eventually joined a band, as all musicians do – a Genesis tribute band. I heard him play once. Mike´s taste in music was very different from my own. I was into Donny Osmond and swooning over Puppy Love. Mike was into something heavy, which played at the right volume, shook the floorboards of the house. He tried to lure me away from Donny, spending hours compiling a tape of music tracks from his collection that he thought might appeal to me. I would like to say that I still have the tape, but I suspect that I wiped it and used it to record a Barry Manilow LP.
Michael loved his son, Elliot. It was his second spell of fatherhood. He was a little older for sure, a little wiser, debateable, and tried not to make the same mistakes as before. He loved Elliot dearly, and was immensely proud of him. He didn´t feel quite the same way about Elliot´s mother. It broke his heart when they parted and he lost touch with Elliott.
Then there was Fuengirola. If ever there was a perfect fit for anyone, for Mike, this was it. The years that he has spent here have been his happiest. The beaches, the bars, and the beautiful women – what more could he ask for? Feungirola became his home, and all of you became his family, and writing became his passion.
Richard and I, on behalf of the rest of the family, thank you for looking after Mike so well.
Finally, a last memory, and one of the most enduring. The year was somewhere between 1976 and 79. I was at university in Durham, Mike was at art college in Gloucester studying photography. The students union has bussed me down to London, to join a protest march. I was not political, I didn´t know what we were protesting about, so I went shopping instead. I was on Regent´s Street, on a busy Saturday afternoon. It was swarming with people! Suddenly I was accosted, attacked even. A bear of a man wound his arms around me and pulled me into a strong hug. It was Mike, perhaps also supposed to be marching, but skiving off.
“Hello, Mel,” he said, “Fancy meeting you here.” The odds against our meeting…well, I´ll leave you to work them out.
I am convinced that, in heaven, just beyond the pearly gates, somewhere along the heavenly equivalent of Regent´s Street, I will yet again be accosted, attacked even. A bear of a man will wind his arms around me and pull me into a strong hug. Yes, it will be Mike again.
“Hello, Mel,” he will say, “Fancy meeting you here.” The odds against our meeting…in my favour this time!
Thank you, every one of you, for joining us to celebrate Mad Mike´s life and to mourn his loss together.