Yesterday I got a phone call out of the blue from Pat, a longtime friend from my days growing up in Southport. Pat rang me to tell me that the funeral of an old friend from those days who’d died back in May was being held tomorrow (Thursday). I’d not seen Mike Smith for a very, very long time. Our friendship waned when I moved to London back in 1986. I only saw him a couple of times after that on the odd occasion when I popped back to see my family. Mike was best described as an eccentric who became increasingly eccentric as the years went by!

I first met him in Liverpool back in 1979 when I was involved in some political campaigning. I was put in touch with some like-minded souls in the city and Mike was one of them. At the time Mike lived in West Derby but would often come over to Southport along with another old Scouse friend, Glen Bowker (who was one of a trio of us who moved to London where we shared a flat for many years). Eventually both Mike and Glen moved to Southport, which became his home for the rest of his life.

I rarely think of those days now – it all seems so long ago and so far away – over 40 years. But Pat’s call made me think – and remember. What I remember is the laughter, something that seems in rather short supply nowadays. Back then we were all young, and care-free, with our futures ahead of us. Our social life revolved around a pub called the Old Ship Inn where you’d find many of us most evenings. It was a large community of like-minded souls and boy – did we have fun! Mike’s humour was plentiful and dry so the jokes and banter would fly. It was the sort of laughter that left your stomach aching – remember that?

How times have changed. Many of those people are no longer with us, including Mike, who died of prostate cancer at the age of 64. My eldest sister Ruth is another one, cancer took her when she was in her 40s. I can think of a long list of other names who’ve gone too, many of them at no great age – and no doubt there’s many I don’t know about as I’ve lost touch with people. Even the pub has gone now. It was badly refurbished back in the early 1980s and it lost a lot of its character and custom. Last time I went back the place was closed and boarded up, but then closed pubs are hardly novel nowadays.

I remember one time the pub had a fancy dress competition. I can’t remember what the theme was now, but Mike came dressed as another of Southport’s eccentrics – the ‘purple lady’ (so named for the colour of the voluminous shirts and shawls that she used to wear in her wanderings around town) – he even had the carrier bag! Needless to say, he won.

Pat’s phone call made me look for some old photos of Mike. These are what I found – all taken on a mickey-mouse little Instamatic on grainy 110 film, but it’s all I have….

Mike Smith in 1981, holding a bong containing, illicit smoking material.. Mike was always smartly dressed and normally sported a tie or bow-tie. His diminutive frame meant he could often pick up bargains from the kids section in charity shops!
Mike in the same year, when he’d just moved to Southport where he’d got a bedsit in a house on Scarisbrick New Rd. He’s riding my mums bike and carrying a bamboo plant we’d dug up out of my parents garden. The house became something of a social centre as my sister Ruth also moved into a flat there. I remember one Christmas the house got together for a jojnt Xmas dinner with people cooking different part of it in their baby Bellings, then coming together in Mikes room. We didn’t have a dining table so we used an old advertising hoarding ‘borrowed’ from somewhere, and a couple of trestles!

Some of the crowd from the Old Ship seen on the 17th May 1982 when we’d been to the wedding of Sparks and Vicky. It’s an awful photo, but Mike is at the front, sporting a bow-tie and blazer. 2nd to his left is my late sister, Ruth. I’m second from the end on the right.

So, tomorrow I’ll be journeying to Southport to attend Mike’s funeral at Southport crematorium at 10:00. Mike was always a bit of a hypochondriac but in his later years his imaginary illnesses became real and he became increasingly frail. I spotted him from afar once, walking around town using a Zimmer – hardly an unusual sight in Southport which always had a reputation as one of God’s waiting rooms! His infirmities, and the fact people don’t bother going to pubs as much nowadays meant he became more isolated so his funeral won’t be a big affair. Pat (who Mike effectively made his next of kin) reckons there’ll be a dozen of us at most. There’ll probably be more people I know whose ashes are scattered around the ‘crem than there in person – but I wanted to be there, just to say goodbye – both to Mike and to those long gone days in Southport…

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