Obituary: Norfolk cycling enthusiast and ex-Norwich postman Mike Buxton
- Credit: Archant
He met nurse Maureen when he was hurt in Isle of Man TT race. They wed within months and were married for 40 years
The life of her father-in-law would, Amy Buxton agrees, make a cracking film. "I could honestly imagine Ralph Fiennes as Mike, and someone like Emma Thompson being Gav's mum." (Gavin is Amy's husband.)
"It sounds like a Mills & Boon novel. You can't believe that a TT motorcycle racer breaks his shoulder, meets a nurse in A&E, marries her within about five months, and they're happy forever. Unreal!"
We laugh about it - and there is so much that's affirming about Mike Buxton's life and times - but it does end in deep and poignant sadness.
For he developed a sudden problem with a heart valve. As Amy was giving birth to his granddaughter, Mike was struggling elsewhere in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
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Within about six hours of her birth he was put into a coma to take some of the strain off his body, which was also fighting an infection. Sadly, Mike died after being transferred to the Royal Papworth in Cambridge. His organs were simply unable to function properly.
"He never actually met her, but he did see a picture and he was really delighted that she was here," says Amy.
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"It was extremely sad for us. It was the most happy day of our lives and then bitter-sweet because Mike went into a coma the same day and he never came out."
We can't tell you the baby's first name at this time, but her middle name is the same as dad Gavin's. It's Keppel - the name of part of the Isle of Man TT motorcycle course on which Mike used to race, and a link to wife Maureen's roots there.
Amy says her father-in-law wouldn't have wanted to be resuscitated if it had meant a compromised existence. "He would never have wanted to live a half-life."
The family can look back on a life rich in experiences and achievements - and one enjoyed. Mike and Maureen, who'd had that whirlwind romance in the 1970s, last year celebrated 40 years of marriage.
Music fan Mike collected thousands of records and breathed new life to old audio equipment. He was a dedicated recycler.
Cycling was a passion. He was well-known in the cycling community, and had competed in many races and competitions.
Mike also supported Gavin's ambitions on two wheels. They peaked when he represented Team GB in his youth, competing in 1997 in Switzerland.
Engineer Gavin, who was also national downhill champion, has since become an award-winning, Norfolk-based, bicycle maker - something that made his father very proud.
Could find merit in any music
Mike Buxton was born on June 9, 1947, in West Beckham, near Sheringham. He grew up in Norwich and went to school in the city.
His father had a public address system business - one of the things it took care of was the PA at the speedway stadium at Ipswich - and young Mike helped out before his dad's premature death when Mike was 19.
The young man became a jukebox engineer: first for Paulamatics (late 1960s to early '70s) and then Phonographic (to late summer of 1980).
"As a really keen audiophile he loved that job, and he loved the driving," says Amy. "It was probably a job he fell into and didn't realise it was going to be perfect for him."
Mike collected thousands of records. "There are jukeboxes, and so many old record players. You wouldn't believe it. Whenever he saw something, he'd get it - especially if it was in a charity shop - bring it home and fix it."
While The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were particular favourites, he loved virtually anything.
"He was so non-discriminatory," says Amy. "He could find the merit in any music. He had such an open mind when it came to music.
"Gavin ended up getting into quite heavy stuff, and even that his dad could appreciate; he could see the merit in Nirvana and on to 'properly-heavy' sounds. Mike never turned his nose up; he could see the joy in it, which was lovely.
"The only thing he didn't understand was jazz! Anything he couldn't tap his foot to he didn't understand.
"I don't remember the last time I popped round to see Gav's parents and Mike didn't have a jukebox on, or a radio on, or wasn't rummaging on the floor with boxes of records open at his feet.
"Every time we went round, he'd be sorting them. He just used to keep rearranging them so he could get them out and look at them - 'play' with them. And every time he left the house he bought more!"
Life at 90mph
Motorcycle racing was an enjoyable hobby for Mike, and the ultimate challenge was the fearsome Isle of Man TT course - fearsome because riders rode on closed-off public roads lined with kerbs, brick walls, road-signs and other hazards.
His role, as passenger for sidecar pilot Bob Philpott, involved leaning over at corners - far out and low - to balance the bike while it went as fast as possible. Not for the faint-hearted.
Website iomtt.com shows the pairing was 17th and 10th in the two 1977 TT races, on their Laverda. The following year they were 12th and 14th. Apparently, their average speed in one of the 1978 races topped 90mph.
It was the year Mike was hurt.
Moment that changed his life
"They were going round a corner. They took it too wide. Mike caught his shoulder badly, on a flint wall, and broke it. There was another 100 miles or so, but they finished the race!" says Amy.
"He didn't want to ruin Bob's race. Mike was selfless to an absolute T. He'd have been in absolute agony, but he'd have said 'I'm fine! Carry on. Let's finish it!'"
He later went to the hospital casualty department, and met nurse Maureen.
How did that go? "If I know anything about the Buxton charm, I imagine he probably tried a good line or two… and she probably wasn't that impressed!"
Mike returned to Norwich and wrote to her later that month. Then, on August 4, he returned to the island.
"It all happened so quickly. He was besotted. Apparently he went back and said 'I'm going to marry your daughter' - which silenced Maureen's mum! He hadn't proposed, but that was that."
On September 1, Maureen came to visit Norwich and they got engaged.
They married on November 3, 1978 - less than six months after meeting. In 2018 they celebrated their ruby anniversary.
Maureen became a nurse in Norfolk, and Gavin was born on August 4, 1980 - two years to the day after Mike went to the Isle of Man and declared his love.
By the way, did he ever talk about the risks of the TT course that's claimed numerous lives? "I don't think they really thought about it. I honestly think it was just 'This is fun. We love it. This is the ultimate course to do it on. Let's just go.'
"Mike was always up for proving people wrong. I imagine that if anyone said 'Oh my god; that sounds really dangerous; you shouldn't do that', the first thing he would have done is book a ferry ticket. Just to prove people wrong."
Bulbs and bikes
After Gavin was born, his dad started working in Norwich for Matchless Lighting (1980 to 1987) and then Christopher Wray lighting (to 2002).
Amy thinks her father-in-law's passion for cycling had grown out of his love for motorbikes.
Gavin "tells cute stories about when his dad got a call to the lighting shop. If the alarm had gone off, or something, he had to go and see what was happening.
"If Gavin's mum had the car - if she was doing a nightshift - Mike would pop a sleepy Gavin, in his pyjamas, on the crossbar or handlebars and he'd ride down to the shop with him. From then, Gav always associated his dad with riding bikes."
Joining the chain gang
Mike was always fit, says Amy. He didn't drink, and was largely vegetarian. Joining cycling clubs was a natural step. He was with the East Anglian Cycling Club for 20 years, and also belonged to Velo Club Norwich.
Father and son would go together to cyclo-cross and on club rides. Gavin had natural ability; Mike took him to races around the country, and offered lifts to other riders.
"Seeing Gav compete for Team GB abroad was one of Mike's proudest moments."
What was Mike like himself, on a bike?
Visually, he "always looked a bit like Burt Reynolds in cycling gear and a helmet", Amy laughs. "Pretty cool. Mike always looked very '70s, regardless of the decade."
He was a great cyclist, but didn't like it if there was ever a "need to schmooze to get ahead", or deal with bike-related politics.
He enjoyed all disciplines, including endurance rides, and favoured a single-speed bike. "He didn't use gears. He was an absolute 'machine'.
"This is a guy who, a couple of weeks before his death, was doing at least 100 miles a week. Mike was always on his bike. He'd ride into town; he'd go out to Dereham and back; he'd take himself on some nice rides, especially if the weather was good… spin his legs a bit.
"He was a great ambassador for the sport as well. He thought everyone should be on a bike. He didn't think it should ever be elitist."
Full of beans
All the vintage cycling T-shirts, the bygone record players, are testament to Mike's love of older items. He left a spare room packed with Dansette record players and similar equipment he'd bought from charity shops, or simply found, and had restored.
"He knew I loved memorabilia," says Amy. "He'd pop round and say 'I've found a radiogram, Moonbeam, and I've refurbished it and everything works. Would you like it? It's really '70s, so it would probably go really well in your house.'"
Moonbeam? "He always called me Moonbeam. I didn't realise this at the time, but I think he started it because he couldn't remember my name, and it stuck."
Amy says her father-in-law was always thinking of other people. She can remember just one thing that might qualify as anything close to an indulgence: a decent new stereo he bought. "Everything else was secondhand or something he'd had to refurbish.
"When it came to money he was fantastic. He wanted to make sure he could provide for Maureen and Gavin the whole time. So he was never spendrifty; just careful and considered.
"They turned their bungalow into a chalet bungalow and he did all the conversion, and fitted the kitchen. Anything he could do himself, he would.
"Because he was like that, Gav was planning to build him a bike this year. Gavin loved the idea of building a bike that was perfect for him. He would have been so angry with Gavin for building it… 'Why are you wasting your money and time on me?'"
The dog is long-gone, but Mike used to be a familiar sight in Norwich with canine companion Trix. Trix was a boxer - box of tricks - and went virtually everywhere with his master.
"Everyone used to say 'You never see Mike without a dog or a bicycle'," says Amy.
"Mike actually chauffeured us (Amy and Gavin) on our first date. I lived in Bawburgh and Gavin didn't have a car at the time and didn't fancy trying to get me on a tandem, in a dress, to go to dinner in Norwich. So his dad kindly picked me up.
"I got in the back, only to be confronted by the most enormous disgruntled boxer I've ever seen in my life. He looked at me as if he couldn't believe I'd had the audacity to be getting in the backseat with him, and spent the entire drive into Norwich slowly stretching out and kicking me into the side of the door, as if to say 'If you wouldn't mind getting out…'
"Mike said 'I'm ever so sorry, Moonbeam. He doesn't normally have to share…'"
Trix died years ago. "We don't think Mike ever quite recovered."
Powered by Duracell?
In 2002 Mike became a postman, with a round in Lower Hellesdon, the Norwich neighbourhood where he lived.
"He really enjoyed being out in the open air, being sociable. If he ever saw a bike frame in the river, he'd go back for it - to restore it or to recycle it. He hated flytipping," says Amy.
He took early retirement in 2009 to look after Maureen, following surgery.
Amy thinks life for her father-in-law was always about finding and enjoying a sense of freedom. He found it in cycling, the motorcycling and music. "Just having that space to be who you are and to not have to apologise for it."
When his health failed, she says, he was able to make it clear he'd had a wonderful life, so not to worry. He'd lived the way he wanted to.
It sounds quite a spiritual, slightly hippie, outlook. "Absolutely. He couldn't be dealing with politicians and all that nonsense. He really felt everyone had a right to a better life."
If Gavin had a pressing deadline and big workload, Mike would often ride over to offer a hand. They'd tinker until the early hours, sometimes, before a big trade show. "He always wanted to be involved, and contributing to something bigger than himself. So definitely spiritual with a small 's'."
Mike also did voluntary work for the Samaritans once a week, and sometimes more -collecting donated furniture and other items.
Sounds as if he ran on Duracell batteries. "You know, we've all said that. We've all said 'We don't know where he gets his energy. The man's in his 70s; he's riding his bike everywhere; doing his Samaritans work; always helping Gav; doing up the house.' There was never a dull moment with Mike."
Come as you are
Mike's funeral is on June 11 at Norwich St Faith Crematorium, Horsham St Faith, at 11.45am - family flowers only, with donations to the Samaritans if desired. People are asked not to wear black.
The man himself was famous for pottering around in cut-off denim shorts, vintage car-racing T-shirts (and other designs) and clogs, says Amy.
"We all laughed when he came to our wedding. It was a very understated laid-back affair. You don't need the pomp and ceremony; you just need the love.
"We said people didn't have to wear suits. Mike turned up in a shirt and tie and no-one knew what to think. We'd all expected him to come in denim cut-offs and a pair of clogs!"
Of his funeral, she says: "I am 100% going in jeans. I always wear flared jeans, which Mike found hilarious. 'You were born in the wrong decade, Moonbeam.'
"No snobbery. Just come as you are and remember the chap."