I had the desperately sad news this morning that one of my oldest friends had died after a brief illness. I’d known him for over 40 years. In memory of Mike I’m reworking an earlier piece from this blog, based on a journal entry from 28 Dec, 2010, written shortly after one of our regular meetings in a soulless hotel bar in a town between our two homes, his in Cheltenham, mine in Cornwall. This time I remove the invented nonsense about the parrot, ‘L’Amant Vert’, and tell what really happened. I hope it doesn’t offend anyone who knew him – it just made me smile fondly when I remembered the incident. If you did know him, you’ll recognise I hope that strange blend in him of intensely intelligent other-worldliness and ingenuous innocence. He was my great friend.
We were our usual meeting place – the hotel bar. Mike used to call it the Conrad hotel, a typically literary allusion to its pretensions to colonial grandeur, while it failed to overcome its obvious mediocrity.
It was nearly Christmas. A noisy group of men in suits were eating food from a buffet table at one end of the bar, drinking beer and bragging competitively.
They didn’t look like businessmen – they had the air of manual labourers, uncomfortable in smart-casual clothes.
Mike and I sat at a table at the less raucous end of the lounge. The chairs were faux-leather, intended to look impressive. A flat-screen tv on the wall near our table was tuned to Sky news but with the sound muted. Disasters scrolled in an endless loop across the foot of the screen. We drank our beers.
The news of the Jo Yeates murder in Clifton appears on the screen. Mike says he knows Canynge Road, where it happened – was directed there by the accommodation office at Bristol University when he arrived there all those years previously. It probably wasn’t Jo’s house, he says, but one very like it. Regency or early Victorian.
‘There were some weird landlords in Clifton then,’ he says. ‘When he answered the door, I told the landlord I was a graduate student who’d come for the rented room. “You won’t fit in here,” the man said, and closed the door.’
It occurs to me that in those days Mike had long hair and an alarming beard.
On screen appears an image of the 65-year-old landlord who’d just been arrested on suspicion of Jo’s murder.
‘See,’ says Mike, ‘he looks weird. Why do they make a point of saying he was an English teacher at Clifton College?’ We were both English Lit graduates, and subsequently teachers of English.
I point out with a smile that this landlord actually looks very like Mike. This disturbs him, and we move on to the more congenial topic of football.
I shall miss him.