2020 minus 40: Reminiscences, and Mike

Posted: 22 November 2019 in 2020 minus, family
Tags: , ,

“I like to reminisce with people I don’t know. Granted, it takes longer…” — Steven Wright

I didn’t write about my brother a couple of days ago, even though it would have been his 60th birthday. Mainly because I didn’t have anything to say that I hadn’t said before.

Every year, on the anniversary of his death, I’ll put something up here, in the blog. This was what I wrote in January 2019.

I’ve rarely written what it was like to have him as a brother though, what was great about him as a big brother. Occasionally, but only occasionally, like here, in 2016.

But maybe because it would have been his 60th birthday, with everything that implies – birthday party, get togethers and the rest – Mike’s been on my mind a lot the past couple of days.

I have no idea what he’d have made of British or American politics right now. For all that we chatted about world affairs and stuff, every so often, he died in January 1998, less than a year after Tony Blair took office. Bill Clinton was still President back then, Bush Junior hadn’t even really started running for President yet.

So many of the people who are now ‘in charge’ of weren’t even in their respective legislative chambers back then, and I suspect that had you or I at that time predicted that Donald Trump would be President, that Boris Johnson would be Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn the Leader of the Opposition, Mike’s reaction would have been to look for whatever the hell we was smoking, and to remove it from my grasp.

And I wish I could go back through the memories of Michael, with Michael.

I can’t.

He’s dead. He’s been dead for almost twenty-two years.

But, since he’s been on my mind the past 48 hours, here are three short memories of Mike, stories I don’t know whether I’ve told before, but that I want to tell today.

I started at secondary school, aged 11, what was called ‘senior school’ in my day. I was in the most junior year, obviously; Mike was in the most senior. I’d obviously told Mike, my big brother, that I would walk home by myself; I didn’t need, nor want, to be treated like a baby who needed his hand held.

Some lads from his year, four years older than me, decided to have a bit of fun with the new kid, and. I guess, have a vicarious pop at Mike as well. I remember being genuinely terrified at what these 16 year olds had planned for me when they surrounded me as I came out of the school. Whatever it was, it was likely to be painful.

I was shaking, almost crying from fear. My nose was running.

There was a loud cough. And they turned to see Mike, never the weightiest of builds, leaning against the wall, apparently completely relaxed. Five lads, all of them his size or bigger facing him.

“On your way…” Mike says, almost bored.

For a moment, I don’t know who he’s talking to, me or them. But then. As I start to move, Mike shoots me a look and barely but definitely moved his head from one side to another. I stay there.

“On your way, lads…”

The bullies look at me, Then at mike, figuring out their chances.

They fancy their chances, obviously.

“You think you can beat us?”

Mike laughs. “Of course not. There are five of you. I can’t beat you.” He stands up, from the wall, holding half a brick in his hand. “I can just break a nose or two, poke out an eye or two, maybe fracture a kneecap, before I go down, though. Now leave him alone. And fuck off.”

First time I’d ever heard my brother say that.

They swore at him. They shouted at him. They even, if you can believe it, cast doubt on the validity of our parents’ marriage.

But they left.

Mike walked over to me, handed me a tissue, said “wipe your nose, then come on…” And we walked home, me now almost crying from relief. He never mentioned it again, never blamed me for being tearful, never did anything other than convince me I’d always be safe while he was around.

In 1982, I went to Manchester Polytechnic to study accountancy. I lived in a self-catering hall of residence. The ‘hall of residence’ won’t surprise anyone; the self-catering bit might. But I moved in not because I enjoyed cooking my own food; I didn’t then, and I don’t now. But no, but mainly because I wanted to eat when I wanted to, not when someone else wanted me to. And it was fun; I loved my time away from home. Mike came up for a vist after I’d been there a few months.

Now I was living, at that time, with 8 other people, from all over the UK. A fella from Derby, a couple from the South Coast, a lad from Northern Ireland, one lass from Leeds. And me. And I never ‘heard’ my accent. I never even really considered I had an accent I mean, ok, if you’d have pressed me, I guess I’d have reluctantly acknowledged that I must have had an accent, but I never ‘heard’ it. I never thought about it.

Then Mike came to visit. But hearing him talk to my friends, and the contrast between every word that came out of his mouth and theirs, between his accent and everyone else’s… Yes, I heard his accent, but again, not mine, not really.

Until one evening, when we were chatting with friends and one of them commented how similar our accents were, mine and Mike’s, how almost identical they were, in fact.

And then it hit me. Of course I had an accent, and of course it was the same as Mike’s.

And I appeared to be the only one in the room to whom this came as a surprise. Because my brother, my dear sibling, was wholly on my friends’ ‘side’ on the matter. He couldn’t believe I’d been in Manchester, had lived with these people, for months… and the penny hadn’t dropped.

But I had, and eventually… it did.

And there followed, of course, the requisite amount of mockery and silliness.

And at one point, I stopped dead, noticing how Mike had effortlessly fit in with my friends. They were my friends, and that was all he needed to accept them fully, and without reservation.

I’d felt an itch to write, and was doing something about it. I’d started writing for the BBC, a topical weekly radio comedy show entitled Weekending. My younger brother had no interest, which was cool; he never had much of an interest in current afffairs. My mum was similarly uninterested. I could have told her I was writing Doctor Who, or writing sketches for a student rag. Mum’s reaction would have been the same: ‘that’s nice, dear.” No interest in what I was writing, who it was for, or whether it was any good.

My father had far more interest, and was delighted for me, and even – very occasionally – listened to the show. He was very pleased for me, but had no actual interest in what I wrote.

Mike, on the other hand, was fascinated by every bit of it. He listened every week, if not to the original broadcast, then always the repeat. And he’d call me up to congratulate me, and ask about how I wrote this sketch or that gag. he never tried to rewrite it or suggest ‘better’ gags; he was always respectful that this was my writing, my gig.

And he eagerly read the prose I wrote, asking me ‘what’s the next thing? What are you writing next?’

He took great pride that his brother, his younger brother, was writing, was creating, and was good at it.

The bullies were long ago. It’s been a long time since I’ve needed Mike to protect me from them.

The friends from Manchester Poly are similarly long gone; I haven’t spoken to any of them in decades. But the friends I have now? I wish Mike knew them, and I wish they’d have got to know him. Comedians I know, writers… friends. He’d have liked them, and they’d have liked him.

I’ve written more the past year than I’d written in the three before that.

I wish he could read it. I really, really wish he could.

And I wish I could reminisce with my brother once again.

Something else, tomorrow.

  1. My heart goes out to you. I know how badly it hurts. My mother died in 1994, two weeks after I met my boyfriend, who became my husband. He never met her. She wasn’t there to see me get married or see me pregnant with my two kids. Jump ahead to 2018…June 17, three days before his 55th birthday, my husband died. We had been married for 21 years but were already planning the party for our 50th! Then last year 2019, July 16 my son was killed in a motorcycle accident. I think I will have a lot of stories to share someday. I think it is great that you share your memories. Death is the only thing that God didn’t get 100% right. It shouldn’t hurt this badly. Peace to you!

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