I’ve never expected to be wanted for my body and especially not at a funeral, but so it came to pass yesterday. My two cousins, with a combined height of about 4 metres, wanted to bear their father’s coffin – but unless they did it all by themselves, this was going to present a problem, so they needed equally vertically gifted pallbearers to balance the load. As it was I was the only one they could find. The excellent undertakers, who can cope with practically anything, did what they could to even things out so the coffin was born in by me + senior cousin J (back), junior cousin R + tallest undertaker (getting a free ride) (middle) and two regulars at the front. There was a slight incline but nothing to worry about. You learn to walk like a duck so as not to kick the heels of the guy in front.
And what an honour it was. Afterwards I said I would try and reciprocate when the equivalent occasion comes up in our family, but that event might also include things like Union Jacks, guards of honour etc. so it might just be best to leave it to the professionals. They understood. Anyway, we’ll cross that one when we come to it.
It was a wonderful service at the Parish Church of All Saints Weston, full of love and happy memories for a life-loving man with a long and successful career. The readings – Robert Louis Stevenson and Ecclesiastes 3.1-13 – summed him up perfectly; my cousins kept their brimming emotions contained in their tributes in a way I’m really not sure I could match; and the Revd Fred Harte did wonders with bringing the Christian message of hope to a not particularly religious congregation, without issuing an altar call or invitations to Alpha.
Then to Putney Vale crematorium, which has seen off most of that side of the family over the last 30 years or so. The coffin moved off to Bunk Johnson’s “Walk through the streets of the city”, an exciting bit of New Orleans jazz I’ve not heard before. We were then expected to leave to the sound of Roxy Music’s “Avalon”, except that when the undertakers opened the door next to the sound console they knocked something and the music switched back from soppy 80s crooning to New Orleans jazz again. Would that all Bryan Ferry’s works went the same way. If (and it’s a big “if”) I must have Roxy Music at my funeral, please make it something like “Love is the drug” or “Do the Strand“.
Then home, to find that Bonusbarn had eaten the last pizza, so we did what we very rarely do and went out and bought fish and chips. And, still feeling keyed up from a long day, washed it down with a brandy. Extravagance! But fully in the spirit of the closing verses from the reading.
My father shared a memory that I wasn’t going to mention to my cousins but afterwards thought maybe I could have, because they joked that thanks to my uncle’s Eastenders connections, when the curtains closed over the coffin they could have played the famous intro drumbeat – duh, duh, duh-duh, duh, duh-duh-duh …
So anyway. On the occasion of one of my great aunts being sent off at Putney Vale, the furnaces were obviously going at full strength that day. There was the distinct smell of smoke and bits in the air and it really was unpleasant. My uncle took a deep breath and remarked, “Ah, ze ovens are vorking vell today!”
He was bombed out by the Luftwaffe as a boy. He’s allowed to say things like that.
He will be missed.