Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Mike Sultana

Mike Sultana, or Uncle Mike, as I used to call him, was my Dad's longest/oldest friend; they were mates from before I was born. I grew up in the 70's, when even the most transient of my parents' friends got the "uncle" and "aunt" titles, but Mike Sultana was different. He really was like an uncle to me in the ways that matter when you're young. 

Uncle Mike passed away a couple of months ago. I could start by mentioning the obvious things like his ginger beard, his easy-going, generous nature or even the square-faced watch he used to wear in the '80s. But really, like everything else in Papa Sheep world, it comes down to cars. The first car Uncle Mike owned in my lifetime was a 1972 Hillman Hunter DL Estate. A pretty swish, well-built car for its time, if a little visually unattractive.

The above photo was actually snapped right before a camping trip, and if you look closely, you can see a monopoly board game and a "Camping Site Guide" have been hurriedly flung into the car. There is also a "Europe via Dover" sticker in the bottom left corner of the rear window to complement the "GB" badge on the other side of the tailgate; this was at a time when going to a foreign country was a big deal.

I can't remember the model of car that came straight after the Hillman, but it was a dark blue sedan of some kind, and it was not around long. One memory of Mike which I don't imagine would stand out fondly for anyone else concerns this car and it goes like this:

It was a latish Saturday morning in the mid- to late 70s, and I was at home with my parents when the phone rang. This was back when people had landlines and used to call each other out of the blue. This time it was Uncle Mike on the phone. After my Dad hung up I think maybe he asked me if I wanted to come and "do a favor for Mike" or maybe my Mum told him to "take at least one of the kids with you." Either way, my Dad fired up the '73 Le Mans Green Ford Consul, and drove the four miles over to Uncle Mike's house on Glebe Road in Warlingham.

Our mission was to give Mike a ride to a key-cutting shop. Mike had locked his car keys in the trunk, I believe. I can't remember how it was possible to get a key made for a car if you didn't already have a key to copy, but it was a hit-and-miss process. It turned out that my father and I were providing transport for the second attempt - Mike had asked his neighbor for help before he reached out to my Dad, and the first replacement key was a dud.

Mike directed my Dad to some other part of South London which took a long time to get to. We went inside a small shop where every wall was lined with keys of all shapes and sizes. We waited around for a bit and eventually left with another key which would hopefully fit Mike's trunk, and then we drove back to Glebe Road.....where the key did not fit. 

But that is not the end of the story, because while we were there, Mike gave me a tour of his greenhouse. I don't have pictures from inside the greenhouse, but it is visible at the top of the next photo. 

At the time Mike collected orchids and his greenhouse was filled with multicolored specimens. To keep them in bloom he needed a warm moist environment which was provided by a paraffin heater running full blast and an old bathtub, which had been dug into the floor and filled with water. It was an expensive setup to operate. I spent most of the time hoping I wouldn't trip and fall into the bath. Then we went home.

I don't know who gave Mike his third (and fourth?) ride(s) to the key cutting shop, or what happened next at all, but it wasn't that much later when Mike got another car, this time a brand new one. Most people would have just toddled along to the local Vauxhall dealership and bought a Cavalier, but Mike had to order his car from Germany. He did remember to specify right hand drive, but otherwise it was a German Opel Ascona, a lot like the one below, but in a paler blue color and without the wide mud flaps. I don't think Mike's had the GT lights at the front either.

The Ascona was a very nice car, even if the sound system was permanently tuned to Radio 3. Mike was an exceptionally smooth and careful driver and always took excellent care of his cars. He kept the Ascona until he got promoted to a position which came with a company car. When that happened in the mid-80's, he took ownership of a very swish Mark III Ford Granada, a lot like the one below, but it wasn't a ghia. The Ascona was sold to someone I used to refer to as "Uncle Jeff", but he was no more of an uncle to me than Uncle Tom Cobley. Not long after that, Uncle Jeff was out in the Ascona when he was hit hard from behind, and the car was totaled. It was a sad ending.

Uncle Mike had the Granada when we all went to France in January 1987 to celebrate some anniversary or achievement of Mike's. My dad had a slightly older white Mark II Granada sedan at the time which was also a company car, and I remember the two Fords racing trundling across the Autoroute in the rain; it was January after all. 

Mike had other cars after the Granada, including a pale blue VW Passat which he sold on to my Dad, a maroon Skoda GU11, which was also passed on to my Dad, a white Skoda GU16 guessed father later bought from him, and at least one poncy convertible, which, fortunately, my Dad did not buy. As you might imagine, the memories I have of these cars are not really related to Mike, so they are not featured here. Instead, I have posted some of my favorite photos of Uncle Mike. May he rest in peace.

At the wheel of the legendary Le Mans Green Consul, 1974

Me helping Mike blow out his birthday cake candles, Crail 1975

I think I must have taken this one, Crail 1975

108 Snooker Tournament, Christmas 1983

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