Remembering Mike

It is 10 years since Mike’s sudden and unexpected death. A heart attack – completely out of the blue. It was a terrible shock and I remember vividly to this day, in slow motion, his last breath. Every now and again, I involuntarily relive that moment and it still makes me violently shudder.

Mike was an extraordinary lovely person who had time for everyone. The postcard above was one he placed on my desk a week before his death. I was having a particularly stressful day at work. His drawing speaks volumes.

The loss of a loved one, a soulmate, is unbearable. In the ensuing years, one moves on and reconstructs a new life. But anniversaries, especially symbolic ones, bring it all back – a time to reminisce and grieve once more.

I received endless heart-felt letters, cards, photos and flowers from colleagues, friends, students and family – even from long lost friends of Mike’s, whom I had never met. Everyone who knew him felt an enormous loss. One person who was most dear to me afterwards, was his mentor and close friend, Jerome Bruner – who, then, in his mid-80s, insisted I visit him at his holiday home in Ireland. I’d never met him before but the few days I spent with him and his wife is something I will always treasure. They made me smile once more and believe in myself, again.

I asked Jerry to write an obituary for the Guardian together with Andy Clark (the friend Mike and I were out with on the night Mike died) and it is still there in the digital archives. It captures Mike to a tee, ending with the epitaph, “to encounter Mike was to meet a playful, wickedly intelligent spirit, a man who maintained relentless optimism and enthusiasm in the face of the modern academy’s obstacle course.”

There is also a bench, I had custom-built, proudly perched outside the former COGS building at Sussex University, overlooking the South Downs. On a strip of copper, embedded in the seat, is an inscription I added: “fast and bulbous” – taken from Frank Zappa’s Trout Mask Replica album that tickled his fancy and was his mantra and leitmotif.

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