Sitting on Mike’s sofa, on any given Saturday—with pictures of the Beatles and Dylan and Hendrix and American Muscle Cars and James Dean and rock and roll on the walls—was always a slice of glorious comfort. Safe and so very familiar. Nestled into a cosy cushion, in the museum of all he loved, there was no better place to get lost in those idle hours.
First thing he’d do when you got to his door, even before you had chance to take off your jacket, was offer you a drink or two . . . or even ten: cups after cups of instant granulated coffee—the cheap pound store stuff that tastes of perfumed gravy, all grainy and mixed with CO-OP Long-life milk that was warm from resting on the windowsill all day. Maybe, if he went to the market in preparation for your visit, you’d get a few broken biscuits as well. Those were the exceptional days, though; normally it was just the powdery coffee.
So, you’d sit there, cup in hand, sat next to his favourite teddy bear—a beaten up old thing adorned with badges and pins on its coat, and stickers on its fuzzy fur—and wait for the conversation and the laughter that followed. The bear made the perfect mediator while you chatted away endlessly with the world’s best Uncle, best friend, best brother, best whatever he was to you . . .
Mike’s flat was an Aladdin’s cave of charity finds and bric-a-brac—a junkshop on steroids, like his life (a colourful Jamboree.) Dusty old paperbacks of poetry and art that made towers, and old LPs and even more CDs that made pillars from floor to ceiling, would guide you from the living room to the bathroom and back again.
It’s impossible to deny it, Mike LOVED collecting stuff! Anything he could find down the high street, sometimes buying the same thing twice of three times! I honestly think he was planning to set up a charity shop of his own.
As the hours pass, and you talk and talk and sip from that cup of instant coffee, a crackle from a worn-down transistor radio plays a local FM station. It makes for soothing background noise; some Brummie DJ speaking to an old sweetheart from Erdington or Mere Green—a little segment of life sandwiched between Elvis and the weather report at noon.
It was great talking with Mike about the past, the present, and the future; his kind words of gentle encouragement would lift you. His ears I must’ve worn out a 1000 times with the trivial banalities of my life . . .
Like I was so important.
Still, I guess I was to him. That’s the thing; Mike always thought you were important, special, and unique. And the way he listened and talked back in return would make you leave his place believing you were. He’d make you feel 100ft tall. He believed in you, in all of us . . .
He’d also want to know every detail of your day, the nitty-gritty of your not-so-glamorous life. Things like . . . what you were going to have for dinner.
“Mike,” I’d bark, not having given a second’s thought to what I was having, “don’t ask me for a bloody itinerary!”
But you’d tell him. He wanted to know and you’d paint that picture for him, if just to see the satisfaction on his face when he knew that all was well—that all was in its right place, going the right way. That joy he had would soon cut through the annoyance of being asked soon after, “So, what will you have for dinner tomorrow?”
“Lamb!” you’d bark again, but this time with an easy smile and a shake of the head.
His reply: a meek shrug, a rise of the brows, flushed cheeks, and that trademark Mickey-dripping catchphrase, “Ooh, that’s good.”
Silly papa bear.
Baloo. (Forget about your worries and your strife.) Like his favourite cartoon movie, he sure lived it.
Mike was a simple man in the best possible way but also deeply intellectual, with all the books he read and his talent for writing. Maybe he wasn’t worth more than a button or a thread but he was the wealthiest man I have ever known—a billionaire, rich with love and grace. Those little things that defined him; the postcards on his wall that were quintessentially Mike: Lennon and Beefheart and Jungle Book and Oxfam . . . Mental health charity leaflets, and tea and biscuits and sympathy. Mike—an old soldier in a plaid shirt and big Timberland boots: dependable and loyal, even on his darkest days, always there when the cruel medicine that was his shackle didn’t knock him for six.
So what happens now?
Now he’s gone?
No longer here…
Oh, to hell with it!
Who are we kidding?
He’s here even more! In our memories, each one for each one of us different, but, in some ways, very similar. And here in our hearts . . . like it even needs to be said.
Christ! (Sorry, blasphemy) but just think . . . he may spy on us in the shower and snigger about it! God, that would tickle him pink. Always the joker. What a scary thought, though!
“MIKE!” you may shout, as you’re squeezing orange-zest shower gel into you hair.
“Ooh, that’s good that is,” he’ll say back, chuckling.
He always wanted to know what was going on with you, just so he knew you were A-OK. The best thing is . . . that ain’t going to change. He’ll watch us in our daily lives and struggles. And struggle we will, but Mike will always be there.
When you next make yourself a tea of coffee (I’d avoid that cheap pound land stuff) Mike will be over your shoulder, nudging you, “You have to have another teaspoon of sugar. Go on.”
“Don’t be so bloody nosey,” you’ll say. “Get back to that jukebox in heaven. Lennon has a dime to put in so you can play your favourite tune.” And before Mike jives along with Lennon and the like, you’ll shout up to him, “If you have to ask, I’m having fish and chips for dinner!”
Mike’s life will shine on.
Mike’s love will always be there.
And Mike: Save us a seat and put the kettle on.