Death. Funny old thing, innit?
I’m not a goth. I was for about 3 minutes in the early nineties, dancing down Rock City to ‘Temple of Love’ by the Sisters of Mercy, thinking ‘this is fun, maybe I should consider a crimp of the fringe’, but then ‘Babies’ by Pulp came on and I slipped back into the groove I’ve steadfastly bumped along down since, where corduroy and a rakish cut of gib is revered over kohl and daft big boots.
But I’ve been weirdly lucky with death. Mercifully, theres not been a ot of it in my life. When my two gerbils, Itsy and Bitsy died when I was seven, I was so heartbroken I thought I’d never laugh again. That thought lasted all of three minutes, when my dad buried them in the back garden in a little chocolate box and then had to dig them up after realising he’d inadvertently interred his wedding ring in the process.
My first experience of a funeral didn’t take place until I was well into my twenties. A lovely man called Robin who I worked with in Portugal had a tragic accident and met a untimely death, at the age of 21. He was a lovely, lively kind and funny individual, a rare gem in the terrible characters that comprised the vast majority of the ex-pat community. Still, death pays no heed to such qualities, hence Nick Griffin still drawing breath. I headed to Bristol for his cremation.
Its not a place, the Chapel, to find humour. Yet there was, and I only tell you this tale knowing that Robin would have laughed as heartily as I did had he not been lain in a coffin when it occurred. Just before he went into the furnace, ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon played. I wept, not at the song which I always have been quite cold towards, but knowing that he had really passed, and we’d never enjoy a caneca on the roof of our favourite bar as the sun sank over the endless Atlantic.
The final chords drained away, and the vicar conducting the service took to the pulpit once more and with a little tic crossing his pallid face, assured as all that ‘Despite the opening lines of that song, I can tell you that there is definitely a heaven’.
I had to leave. Luckily a fit of giggles is easily mistaken for hysterical crying.
I then experienced death in a very visceral form as my wonderful gran went from laughing and flirting with the QMC doctors to slipping into a coma and thus into death over a heartbreaking few weeks, through a deterioration of a razor sharp mind that had been so wonderfully humane, hilariously funny and absolutely irreverent despite a terrible life of loss and poverty. There was no amusement here, my heart broke a million times, as I swabbed her mouth with pineapple juice as she slipped from consciousness to provide some respite from the thirst she was only just aware of . When she ‘passed’ (a term I instantly bristled at, as it suggested a transition of states, not the absolute end as she and I both believed in) I thought I would never see any humour in it. Until we found she had her funeral paid up with the Co-op since 1978, and despite a long phobia of all things equine, had spent money on having her coffin taken from her house in Stapleford to West Park cemetery in Long Eaton by a horse drawn carriage, stopping traffic and causing hats to be doffed en route by all roadside.
Her wake was possibly the funniest experience of my life, as we drank a whole pub dry over recounting anecdotes of her life, and toasted her life with brandy, Baileys and lager, her holy trinity of booze.
I best lend this some context. A couple of great Beestonians died recently, i was saddened to hear Beestonia’s top journo, the dapper John Brunton, had met his demise over Christmas. My sympathies to his former widow Adele. And Bill, who I have known for years as a staple in the pubs I drink in but only got round to talking to last year, had also gone. You know him, if you are a Beestonian, he was a little plump contented little man with a lovely smile, a roll-up always on his lips, and ambled between the Crown and the Greyhound for his bitter, of which he was an expert. RIP, my gone too soon friend. Not only this, but this morning a good friend of mine texted me to say that after a long, hugely amusing chat over the phone last night, she now had my cremation plans written on a box of Jaffa Cakes. I am in no way planning an exit sometime soon, more ran down that particular conversational avenue through a chat that encompassed most of the weirdness of the world. It came from this final anecdote. If you need a wee, go now. I would hate to ruin your furniture.
My ex-landlord, a Charlton Heston lookalike octogenarian called Geoff , was called to give the eulogy for his wife who had succumbed to cancer. Her death was a mercy, for she went in the two years I knew her from a mobile, twinkly-eyed old lady into a bed-ridden, confused shell long aware no doctor on earth would ever whisper the word ‘remission’ into her ear. Her spirit had long departed, and when her physical form eventually followed, there were tears, yet relief.
Geoff , a man of tremendous dignity, got to work on planning the cremation, and invited myself, my girlfriend at the time, and my fellow housemates to the ceremony at Bramcote Crematorium. Decked in black, Kleenex stuffed firmly in pocket, we marched into the hall.
We heard about her life, her work in teaching, replete with testimonies from students now approaching retirement, and her campaigning for educational reform. We nodded respectfully. Then Geoff stepped up.
Now, Geoff was, and i use that tense as he died shortly after his wife, he was a man who loved two things in life, his wife and cricket. He thus had written a speech weaving the two together. It flowed well, he threw in some good metaphors ‘She had a good innings’ , ‘She was indefatigable at the crease’, and so on. England were about to embark on a tour of Australia to defend their dominance against the Antipodeans two summers previous, and Geoff saw this was too good a chance to pass up.
Now, I have told people this before, and they have dropped their jaws and assumed it couldn’t be true. I swear it is, I swear in the spirit of things on the very grave of all the aforementioned. I now hand you over to Geoff, albeit mildly paraphrased due to my memory being a bit rubbish. Thanks for reading.
‘Our relationship was no easy Test. She could bowl googlies, I would knock them away, she’d bat a four somedays, a six the next. She never failed to amaze me. She was Grace, she was wonderful. Shes now gone.
‘Despite that, there is a consolation. While I will leave here today heartbroken, distraught at the loss of my love, I can at least claim to something that the English Cricket cannot in a few weeks…I’ll be leaving here with the ashes’