Thursday, January 26, 2006

Happy Birthday Dad...

It would have been my dad's 98th birthday today! Actually he would probably be glad not to be around...if you know what I mean.

I can't believe it's 18 years since he died...we haven't been for a pint in all that time.

Here is something I wrote at the time in memoriam...

You can say what you like about the future; you can visit some wild-eyed astrological weirdo and have your ascendants attended to or go to a palmist to get your lines read, Tarot card layer, crystal ball gazer...but there is one thing no-one needs to predict (you don’t need predicting)

The one thing which is certain, 100% certain, unavoidably and quite definitely certain about your life is that at some point (even though we might hope it will be in the more distant future) YOU WILL DIE!

Everyone knows that everyone dies.

And yet…?

Why is it so difficult to talk about, write about, mention even?

Death has produced some great euphemisms and idioms: kicked the bucket, gone to heaven, is no longer with us, snuffed it, or as Billy Connolly pointed out you can often read on tombstones ‘he’s only sleeping…! Christ, he’ll get a hell of a shock when he wakes up!’

I still treasure the phrase one of my workmates used at the chicken factory (my first job after graduating) when the papers carried the news that Bing Crosby had died. Dennis, who worked in ‘Live Reception’ where we hung the chickens on hooks and in the ‘Killing Room’ where the chickens’ throats were cut and so no stranger to death, cut through the empty sentimental rhetoric:

‘Oh look,’ he said, ‘Bing got bunged and went bong!’

We get bunged and go bong…well, that’s it.

We know it’s going to happen to us all. In one hundred years from now none of us (well, at least very close to one hundred percent of us – or should that be nought percent of none of us?) will be around…look! I’m doing it too – ‘…won’t be around…’ – WE WILL BE DEAD for goodness’ sake. But we just can’t imagine it, can’t credit it, can’t take it in. When my father died I couldn’t believe it. He was 80 and I couldn’t imagine it. He’d been ill for years but I couldn’t take it in. Even when I went to the undertaker’s to ‘pay my last respects’ (another euphemism for ‘see the body’) I saw him lying there in the coffin and thought ‘that’s not him’. I had to peer closely for identifying marks till I believed it.

He’d had a few friends down the pub over the years who’d been undertakers and he always said they were wonderful to talk to. Most of them have a fine sense of humour. Perhaps it goes with the job. One of these undertakers once told him of a woman who’d come in to pay her last respects to her husband.

They took her to the chamber where the ‘deceased’ were ‘lying at rest’ and she looked into her husband’s coffin at the body.

‘Oh dear’ she said.

‘Yes, madam. Is something wrong?’

‘Well, it’s the suit he’s wearing – it’s brown and…well, George never liked brown. I don’t think he’d be happy in a brown suit…’

Here she looked across to another coffin where someone else was ‘resting’.

‘…now he’s wearing a blue suit. George loved blue…do you think it would be possible…well, er, to change it. I’d hate to think of George going off into eternity wearing a colour he disliked.’

‘Certainly madam. Leave it to us. We’ll arrange it immediately.’

‘Well, if it’s no trouble. It’s just…’

‘Think nothing of it madam. It’s no trouble at all.’

They went to the door.

‘Might I call in again tomorrow?’

‘Of course madam. We’ll have everything ready for you. Don’t you worry.’

‘Thank you so much. It’s so nice to find people who care.’

The next day the woman returned and asked to see her husband.

The undertaker’s assistant took her to her to the coffin.

‘Oh, that’s much better. A blue suit. He’ll be a lot happier now. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.’

‘Oh no, madam. No trouble at all,’ said the assistant. ‘It’s purely a matter of changing the heads.’

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