Oh-woah, oh. When I'm dead and gone.
Thursday, January 12, 2006 6:38:46 PM
We said goodbye to Uncle Len. He wasn’t actually my uncle. He was married to my mum’s cousin, and I have no idea if there is an official description of such a relationship, so Uncle Len he always was, and Uncle Len he shall always be.
January seems to be the month for funerals, of late, in my family. Last January it was Aunt Bertha. She really was my Aunt, and, yes, she really was called Bertha. My Dad’s called Alfred, so I wonder if my grandparents had some sort of Saxon fixation?
The eulogies were very different. Bertha’s daughter described how lively and caustic her mother was. One didn’t have to read too far between the lines to deduce that Bertha could be an awkward customer but she was fun to be around.
Len, on the other hand, was an amiable, placid, helpful, generous man. It’s not the done thing to talk ill of the dead and in Len’s case it would be practically impossible. I mean, for all I know, he had terrible taste in slippers, hummed out of tune whilst driving and chewed biscuits with his mouth open, but all I remember is a man with a twinkle in his eye, an enthusiasm for life and a deft ability to get on with just about anyone.
He had two sons. The elder is a little younger than my (elder) brother, and the younger is a year or two older than me. As we all lived in Hornchurch, we used to see a lot of each other, especially in the summer holidays. John, the elder brother, introduced me to the true purpose of horse racing (gambling) and tried, unsuccessfully, to convert me to the appeal of Tamla Motown at a time when I was listening exclusively to rock music and going for the “longest hair in the world” award. Paul, the younger brother, introduced me to numerous money making enterprises involving slot machines.
As an aside: I grew out of my rock fixation to embrace other forms of music, including Tamla Motown. For Christmas last year I bought Mrs. Fiendish two albums of Motown Chartbusters and a close examination of the sleeve notes of one of them (Big Hits and Hard to Find Classics Volume 4) reveals the name of "cousin" John, who apparently is now such a recognised authority on Motown that the label consults him on track listings for their compilations. It is, by the way, an excellent compilation, that eschews the well-known and over-played Motown classics to concentrate on songs from lesser known artists.
Where was I?
Talking about funerals.
They are rather enjoyable, aren’t they? The loss of someone you love is a terrible thing, obviously, and especially harrowing for those closest to the deceased. Even so, there is comfort to be drawn from the ritual remembrance and the company of sympathetic friends and family. Unlike with many weddings, you don’t have that slightly uneasy "sizing up the other lot" period, before everyone gets too pissed to care that the bride’s aunt has eaten more than her fair share of tiger prawns and the groom’s brother took a mobile phone call during the best man’s speech. At a funeral, you are all the same family and, hopefully, any family feuds are forgotten for the day.
You meet up with people you may not have spoken to for twenty years and you realise that, apart from the fact that you are now talking about prostates and pensions rather than pubs and performers, your affinity with these people is unchanged.
Hell, if my brother did not have to drive back to Norfolk, we’d still be there gossiping with our “cousins”.
All of which makes it a bit odd that my mother hated funerals so much that when she died, she forbade anyone from attending hers. At the time she was scheduled to go in to the flames, I had just emerged from the Angel pub in City Road having downed a double whisky, and was on my way to Bunhill Cemetery for a few moments to myself. Only my brother and sister were there at the crematorium, because someone had to be there to pay the funeral directors. Oh, and my mum’s cousin Keith was there because he never did what my mum told him to do when she was alive, and he was blowed if he was going to start obeying her when she was dead. Even my mum’s father did not attend, although in his case, that might have been for the best.
The subject of my mum’s funeral was broached after we had committed Len to the ground. At the time, honouring my mother’s wishes seemed the right thing to do. However, none of her children, at that time, had had much experience of funerals. Like our mum, we believed they could only be gloomy, miserable affairs. It’s since dawned on us that, in all probability, we made the wrong decision. You shouldn’t deny people the opportunity to say goodbye to someone they loved. Funerals aren’t for the dead, they are for the living.