Monday, 2 November 2009

Remembering Mickey Bray - a true gent

Long before Jake was even a twinkle in my eye, we lost a great man. I knew Mickey Bray all my life, he was my dad's best mate and right hand man in his business. Of all of my parents' friends he was the one who I liked best and who always took time to talk and play with me. He never had kids of his own, preferring to keep cats, and perhaps that's one reason he and Jill, his wife, were so good to us. Christmas and birthday presents were always a bit special and they always made us feel a bit more grown up than we were.

We went to Disneyland as very young children and Mickey always recounted the same story about that trip. I think I'd just been on a gentle ride of some sort and was busy guzzling some red coloured drink when the American lady sat opposite us remarked,

'Gee, what a cute kid'

And that was my cue to puke all over her. Between them, my dad and Mickey must have told that story 50 times and it always made them smile. Of course I don't remember it but it definitely sounds like me.

When I was 11 or 12 we were living in a derelict dump on the corner of a plot that my dad was building our new house on. As a pre-teen it was an awesome place. We only lived in half of the house as the rest was damp and falling down in places. There were three or four rooms which were pretty scary places but fun to explore. There was no central heating and our back door handle was a toothbrush. My parents found it less fun for the two years that the new place took to go up and for the same reasons I wouldn't much fancy it now. There was the hole in their bedroom wall for one. Couple that with having to use the one room with a heater as lounge, dinning room, study and play area and you'll get the picture. There was one time (no, not at band camp) when the the electrics kept tripping out and we couldn't work out what was causing it. It continued on and off for a month or so until we realised it was the toaster. We'd been using the toaster on a daily basis ever since the electrics started to go. Eventually we found a dead mouse inside the toaster and I've not been able to eat raisin bread since.

There's no reason for telling you this other than to furnish my memory of that time. One Sunday afternoon Mickey and Jill came over to see my parents presumably for a cup of tea and a chat. Anyway I was outside playing and Mickey, a man who loved all things self built and mechanical decided to take it upon himself to build me a soap box car.

We spent the whole afternoon scouring the derelict garage for suitable items. We found a passable set of wheels from an ancient pram, a vegetable crate and along with other sundry pieces of wood, we (Mickey) put it all together and a fine feat of engineering it truly was.

The distance between old wreck and new build was around 50 metres and connected by a downhill stretch of flattened white chalk. Perfect for a soap box derby if we had a second soap box car which of course, we didn't. It didn't matter as my soap box car was more than enough fun for all of us. It actually worked and I spent the rest of the afternoon whizzing down the 'drive' and dragging it back up to have another go. Eventually, I crashed and it became a soap box write-off, sadly too far gone to justify a repair. But it didn't matter, that perfect afternoon is one of the clearest memories of my childhood and I'll never forget it.

In the mid-nineties Mickey, a man who never smoked and drank only on occasion, developed cancer. The cruelty of cancer is that it seems to affect those who deserve it least; those who have purposely put themselves at the other end of the asking-for-it spectrum sometimes still succumb to its indiscriminate clutches. Typically, Mickey fought it like a trooper, the bouts of sickness brought on by the chemo, endless therapy, biopsies, false hope, disappointment, every hurdle was met by a steely determination to beat this most horrible of plights.

A number of times when we all thought it might be beaten, the news came that it wasn't and eventually in July of 2006 it took him. He was very, very ill at the end and, sad to say it, I think the end was a relief for him. That he fought it so hard and for so long is true testament to a man who wasn't my uncle but who will always be my uncle Mickey.

His funeral was the day before we got married and the mixed emotions of that day and the one after are still palpable today. Although he wasn't there I like to think he was looking down and cheering Clare and me on.

Aside from my fond memories Mickey is remembered as something of a legend in the motor racing and hotrodding world. Always the tinkerer, Mickey raced Mini 7's and go karts and even built the original Pinball Wizard, a car he later sold to Keith Moon of The Who.

Below are a couple of links to the nice things people have had to say about this remarkable and universally loved man.


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