He’s 55 years old. His name is Mike. He’s quite a bit taller than me. And very slender. His face reminds me a tiny bit of my dad, who looked a bit like John Lennon. Mike will tell me later: “You know, some people think I look a bit like John Lennon.” I tell him he has the same accent as the actor who plays John Lennon in the movie Backbeat. As it turns out, Mike is from Liverpool. At the moment he’s living in London. Most of his days he spends in the appartment of his ex-girlfriend. They have known each other for five years. They were a couple for six months, broke up, but still get along fine. “Better than most married couples.” They have two rabbits. They take care of them together. Having rabbits and discovering that both have their own distinct personality has turned him into a vegetarian, just recently.
A drinking problem
He’s lost a lot of weight, because he’s gone through an operation. They took out his appendix, which was perforated. They almost killed him, because they sent him home after only one day in hospital. One week later they had to rush him back to the hospital. He’d had developped gangrene. The second time he stayed for four days. It’s a huge, modern hospital, with helicopters landing on the rooftop. “And still they almost killed me,” he laughs.
I don’t know what’s causing it, but he opens up rather quickly. He tells me he’s currently unemployed and that he has a drinking problem. It’s a cultural thing. Everyone in Liverpool has a drinking problem. His dad -82 years old and ‘a war criminal’- has a drinking problem. Mike doesn’t drink when he’s feeling low or simply ok, no, he gets the urge to walk into a pub when he’s feeling happy. Then he drinks heavily. He doesn’t become violent, but he can become verbally aggressive. His ex-girlfriend (who during during the course of the conversation will be promoted to ‘partner’) doesn’t like it. That’s one of the reasons why she’s good for him. If he drinks, she won’t let him in the house.
She has problems of her own too. He’s the only friend she’s got. He’s reluctant to move away from her. She’s also unemployed, but has experience as a masseuse. From what he tells me I would say that she’s ‘borderline’. He tells me that her psychiatrist said the same thing. I tell him I’m suspecting that she was sexually abused. “She was”, he says, “by her father and her brother. She wants nothing to do with them, even though her mother tries to patch things up between them.”
I ask him if she tends to pull people into her life and then push them back out. “Yes, that’s what she does.” She’s black and white in her behaviour. Also seems to lose herself in what she does. Her conversations are one way traffic. Either she’s silent or she rambles on and won’t give you the chance to interact. She watches four to five movies every night. She’s on Netflix. One of the reasons why it didn’t really work out between them is that she goes to bed by the time he rises.
Working class hero
Mike has worked on fishing boats, on construction sites in Frankfurt (in 1979, he had a nostalgic weekend in Frankfurt, I’m guessing), in South-Africa, and he’s worked in a shelter for the homeless. Apparently his job was to entertain them. ‘Ours was a wet house, which means that we allowed them to drink alcohol, if we didn’t, they just wouldn’t come, because so many of them have a drinking problem.’ He liked the job a lot. I didn’t ask him how he lost it or how it was taken away from him.
We talk about a whole range of Brittish icons, the Beatles, Johnny Rotten, the Clash, John Cleese, Shakespeare (he was in Macbeth or ‘the scottish play a couple months ago) even Francis Drake. At a certain point he says ‘working class hero’ is a brilliant song. Mike obviously is working class, even though he holds two university degrees, one in history and politics and one in law.
“You know, if I move to an ex-colony of ours, I can be a judge there without any extra training. I can move to Kenya and be a judge there. The pay is good.”
Connecting busses and connecting people
During our conversation he will keep referring to Brittish history in terms of ‘we’. Which is very interesting, it seemed he was willing to take at least part of the blame of England’s brutal history, like a hereditary guilt.
‘We are a very aggressive nation. We’ve been at war with pretty much any country in the world. Throughout our entire history we’ve maybe known some sixty years of peace. The military is deeply rooted in our culture. It’s starts with the military toys as a child.’
Most of the time we keep coming back to history, his family, his partner, the UK -Scotland will probably become independent and thrive economically- politics and the gap between the rich and the poor. The two rabbits get mentioned a lot too. What do those two rabbits represent to him? They obviously function as a legitimation to still be living in the same appartment as his ex-girlfriend. Like a divorced couple tied together because of the kids, only, they aren’t divorced. I tell him: ‘It seems to me you are more of a couple than you think”
He seems to relax. She’s smssing him. She’s glad he’s coming home sooner. He tells me she’s Angolan-Portugese and that her brothers are very rich. One of them owns the biggest mobilephone company in Angola. “That makes her feel like an outcast, from her perspective she has nothing, but that’s not true. She has me.”
I’m not quite sure why I struck up a conversation with this man. I’m not sure why I went to sit next to him. The bus was more than half empty. We shook hands when we parted in Brussels. Gave him my card. “We’ll be in touch”, he said. I suspect that’s the Anglosaxon low communication threshold speaking there. I can’t be 100 percent sure, but I had the feeling he was feeling less worried when we parted. And my own personal thoughts which are usually filled with fear and self-bashing assaults, were slightly calmer.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” The Dalai Lama