I received an email on Tuesday from an old friend entitled “Dad”. I didn’t need to open it, I knew what it was going to say. I did of course, and was sad to be unable to go to the service in Oxford to show some support for his daughter Kate, and wife Carol.
Mike Binnie, climber, intellectual, freethinker, eccentric, Oxford Blue, OU and above all inspirer died last Thursday after a long illness.
At eighteen, fresh out of school I spent several weekends of my first stretch in Gap year London at their home in rural, bucolic Surrey, before leaving for a trip to India with his daughter. Amongst all the pretence and farce of late adolescent nineteen eighties London, Mike was a buoy of rational sanity. He was a teacher, riding his bike into London daily whereas others in the commuter belt would fight for a place on the train. He seemed to debunk all that was conformity, and certainly gently corrected what must have been wearingly misinformed assumptions.
He was fun, he was dynamic and he was, by comparison, as mad as a hatter.
After the great 1987 storm, he procured himself a large fallen tree to make and to complete a dug-out canoe. He made his own blackberry wine, rather good as I remember, and wore jackets as hirsute as his beard, loudly crying “Bravo!” at the ENO of a Sunday evening…
Although the only evidence of it, was a photograph of him at the summit of Mount Kenya with Hilary-esque goggles and kit, Mike was a celebrated climber. Like everything else about him, this brilliance was a private matter.
Among Kate’s Surrey acquaintances he was known affectionately as the Beardo, the bearded weirdo. For me his eccentricity was an inspiration, an affirmation of the spirit of individuality in, and at, an age when conforming and being part of the clan was paramount.
When back in hospital in 2013, he sent me a book of his privately published poems. I had not realised he had been born in India; and had lived there for a substantial amount of his life. While planning our trip he never much tried to impose his views or suggestions, leaving us to make our own choices, and possibly mistakes. The poetry is good too. As far as I can tell.
I had not seen him in twenty five years. I wish I had but the memory is what counts.