"This will be a tale to tell your grandchildren...and mightily bored they'll be!"
Yesterday, in the blistering heat of the middle of the day, I attended the funeral of an old friend.
Mick was many things in that he was sociable, articulate, a musician (drums, guitar and the mandolin), an occasional wargamer (with an elastic interpretation of the rules for the most part....), an enthusiastic reenactor, a life long West Ham supporter, eater of unbelievably hot curries and a dog lover.
For the most part that is how I remember him until the wheels fell off.
Mick experienced a number of mental health issues that made life for him and those that knew him a challenging and occasionally exasperating experience.
I can remember visiting him in hospital during one of those episodes, back in the early 1980s, and being surprised to see him sitting on a balcony with a cigarette in one hand and his guitar in the other, strumming a few chords and appearing for all the world to be at peace with himself. Of course this was not the case and his mental condition waxed and waned from good to bad over the last thirty of years or so. When he was in a good place he was like the old Mick but it never lasted and so the demons would reappear to torment him to a lesser or greater degree until he regained a degree of equilibrium.
In these dark moments it was depressing to see, distressing to experience and draining for all concerned.
For all that he soldiered on - he had long since given up work after taking a medical retirement - and made a life for himself that occasionally dovetailed with that of his friends. In his later years he was supported by another member of the ex Newham Wargames crowd with his family that lived nearby and that was a huge comfort although not without the occasional 'wobble'.
He was a keen dog lover and last four legged friend he owned was called Rommel and when he lost him at the end of 2017 he was deeply upset to the extent that he vowed not to get any further pets. It also triggered a downward spiral that took him a while to recover from.
I used to be in regular contact with him but with changes in my domestic situation I kind of lost meaningful contact with him for a number of years - I will admit that this was by design on my part as at the time his ongoing situation was causing a degree of tension at home. I used to meet him for lunch in the city occasionally but even that became difficult to manage.
I will say that initially I felt somewhat uncomfortable to have effectively lost contact with him and yet was attending his funeral (I was reassured by friends that I no cause to feel that way - Mick's path was his alone as is our own) but as anyone that has had experience with any kind of mental illness will know sometimes enough has to be enough - especially when it impacts on one's own family.
It would be easy to say that in many ways Mick was the author of his own ills but the truth is far more complicated than that. For sure he did some things that did not help his situation but for the most part he always seemed to muddle through - at least until the next episode anyway. Sadly, and with the benefit of hindsight the cycle of highs and lows makes for depressing reading. Mick could have been so much more but his health - his mental health initially but his physical health later - seemed to dictate what he could and could not do. To be honest it is the general consensus of opinion that he did not help himself or at least if he did it was at a minimal level.
I last saw Mick three years ago - ironically at another funeral - and although physically ill (he was a heavy smoker and COPD was the inevitable result) he still was able to remind me of the refight of Operation Market Garden we undertook back in the mid 1980s using a board game for the map and Squad Leader counters for the units. Mick was in charge of the Allies whilst yours truly had the Germans. Naturally much fun was had quoting chunks of dialogue from the film A Bridge Too Far including his personal favourite:
Lt. Gen. Horrocks: "Now, I've selected you to lead us not only because of your extraordinary fighting ability, but also because in the unlikely event that the Germans ever get you, they will assume from your attire that they've captured a wretched peasant, and immediately send you on your way."
For my own part I will remember him for the good and whilst his problems were always there or thereabouts his sociability, personality and good humour were what made Mick, Mick. I will miss him, despite having little contact with him for some years.
In closing I hope that he has at last found in his passing the peace that eluded him in life.